SHALOM YELLOW FEVER
Updated: Jul 15, 2021
The Social Network depicts Mark Zuckerberg’s journey to found Facebook, but the more important dramatisation played out in the film is the perennial question: why are Jews so prone to yellow fever (not the fatal disease kind of yellow fever, but the hots for Asians)?
At a party hosted by Alpha Epsilon Pi (Harvard’s Jewish fraternity) the characters Eduardo and Dustin ponder whether it’s “guys like me” (aka Jewish guys) who “are generally attracted to Asian girls” or whether it’s that “Asian girls are generally attracted to guys like me.”
Dustin: I’m developing an algorithm to define the connection between Jewish guys and Asian girls.
Eduardo: I don’t think it’s that complicated. They’re hot, they’re smart, they’re not Jewish and they can dance.
Yellow fever is often associated with fetishism, the idea that non-Asians are attracted to Asians often based on harmful stereotypes. But what The Social Network’s dialogue touches on, is the way in which yellow fever can also arise out of very real cultural similarities. Eduardo might claim he’s attracted to Asian girls because they’re “not Jewish” but he likes the fact “they’re smart” ...sound familiar?
Tiger Mum Bond
Let’s start with the mother figure - because let’s be real, it always comes back to the mother.
The Tiger Mother meets her match in the figure of the overbearing Jewish mother, equally keen to oversee her child works hard to succeed both at school as well as pursuits like music, chess - any extracurricular activity that isn’t sport.
If you add into the equation the often shared experience of Jews and Asians being immigrants and outsiders in Western countries, this has often provided both groups with extra incentive to work harder based on the need to achieve their goals as meritocrats.
Fruits of Marriages
The trend goes beyond Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan.
Statistics from the US indicate a growing proportion of intermarriage between Jews and Asians. And the proof is in the pudding; society has been benefiting from the fruits of these marriages with businesses like Shalom Japan, a restaurant run by Jewish-Japanese couple Aaron Israel and Sawako Okochi.
Think matzoh ball ramen (the ultimate comfort food combination) and sake kasu challah (Jewish version of brioche bread made with yeast left over from sake brewing).
Celebrity chef Molly Yeh also draws on the dual influences of her Hungarian Jewish mother and Chinese father, with pastrami eggrolls and scallion pancake challah.
If the food is anything to go by the JewAsian combo is a match made in heaven.
A Pal-Chow Christmas
Yet perhaps the greatest Jewish-Chinese love story of all is that of Jews for Chinese take out on Christmas.
The tradition emerged out of geographical proximity; in the 19th century Jewish and Chinese immigrants to the US lived next to each other on the Lower East side. We know the tradition goes back as early as 1935 thanks to a New York Times article reporting that restaurant owner Eng Shee Chuck brought chow mein to the Jewish Children’s Home in Newark, New Jersey on Christmas Day. Out of the tradition, Rabbi Joshua Plaut, author of “A Kosher Christmas” says the Chinese restaurant became “a safe haven for American Jews who felt like outsiders on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. If you go to a Chinese restaurant, you become an insider.”
In the end the Jewish propensity towards yellow fever extends beyond nerdy guys crushing on a girl at a college party; it reaches deeper into shared cultural values, which unite Jewish and Chinese couples, food and celebrations alike so as to create new traditions of their own.
Bio: Tasha May is proudly Jewish-Australian. She holds an undergraduate degree in English Literature from the University of Cambridge and is currently studying a Master of Journalism at the University of Technology Sydney. As well as interning for Captain Bagrat, she is also interning at The Guardian and a cadet reporter at Michael West Media.