Havurah posed five questions to several Jewish-Asian couples where both partners are believers in Jesus. The print edition of Havurah excerpted the following responses which are given here in full.

  1. What are some aspects of your spouse’s background that you found challenging? (can be in terms of marital adjustment, family interactions, personal comfort level, or anything else)
  2. What are some characteristics of your spouse’s ethnic background or culture that attracted you or that you feel have complemented your own background?
  3. Do you feel as a couple that you are more inclined in one cultural direction than another? In other words, as an Asian-Jewish couple, does your married life have more of an Asian or a Jewish feel to it, or both, or neither? Does one spouse take a greater interest in the other’s culture than vice-versa?
  4. Has being an Asian-Jewish couple given you unique opportunities for ministry, witnessing, or in other areas of life? If yes, give an example or two.
  5. If you have or plan to have children, how do you plan to raise them? In one culture or the other, or in both? Why have you decided that? Give an example of how one spouse’s or both spouses’culture has played out in your child’s life. Is it even a concern for you? Do you consider your children Jewish, Jewish-Asian, or something else?

Oded (Jewish Israeli) and Bimini (Chinese) Cohen

1. What are some aspects of your spouse’s background that you found challenging?

Bimini:

The Israeli culture is quite the opposite of the Chinese culture. In our culture, we express our needs by hinting. We are much more subtle. But I tried subtlety in our first few years of marriage and didn’t get very far. I had to learn to be much more direct. I couldn’t just say, “The garbage can is getting a bit full,” or “The grass is getting kind of tall.”

Also, Israeli women are very strong. They serve in the army. My mother-in-law can move the couch by herself and I think she is almost seventy. For recreation, they go for long walks out in the hot desert sun. But I am from California and feel faint in the heat. My father, even in his 90s, would hold my bags for me, open the door, etc. But when Oded and I first married, he had this car that had a problem with the driver’s side door. It wouldn’t open from the outside. So when he would open up the passenger side, I thought he was opening the door for me, and we would both try to get in the car and bumped into one another. I had to learn to let him in the car first!

It is the same thing when we go to restaurants, stores, etc. He will wait in the car where it is nice and warm, I will do the shopping and unload the groceries while he sits there. So I had to release any expectation of being treated like a “Jewish princess.” It is good exercise, anyway.

Regarding our communication, it took about four years of marriage to learn that when Oded asks a question, he really wants to know the answer. For example, if he says, “Why did you need to buy that?” he is not saying he is unhappy I bought it or objecting in any way. He just wants to know why we need it. I think it is his tone of voice that used to make me think he was complaining or objecting.

Oded:

I think the main challenge was in communication. And the issue wasn’t really the fact that English is not my native language but rather how we interpret the words spoken. Or how I left some words unspoken. As Israelis we tend to be straight and direct, to the point. We don’t play around too much in finding answers. It took me a while to learn that in America you don’t ask a lady about her age, or people’s salaries. Bimini’s culture, on the other hand, is much more subtle and hinting. Many times in our conversation I could have offended her by simply saying something that she interpreted completely differently.

For example, if Bimini bought something or asked me to get her something, and out of curiosity I wanted to know what she needed it for, that’s what I asked. But she would hear me saying: You don’t need that. So it took me a while to get her to understand that that is how I speak, that what I say is literally what I mean.

On the other side of the same coin, when Bimini needed something from me, she sometimes got frustrated that I didn’t get her hint or her subtle way of saying what she wanted. I wasn’t used to having to guess what people are saying or what they mean. For me, if you want something, just say it straight.

Another issue I remember, and I’m not sure if it has more to do with her being Chinese or with me being a kibbutznik. Probably both. But to me it was always clear that in a marriage there is no “mine” and “yours.” I’m not talking about clothing. But the idea of a separate bank account was totally unimaginable to me. Or that I could be debt free while my wife had a significant student loan on her back. This was completely the opposite of what marriage was supposed to look like.

So it took some time to build that trust, that we are in it together, one flesh, and my money is your money, your debt is my debt.

2. What are some characteristics of your spouse’s ethnic background or culture that attracted you or that you feel have complemented your own background?

Bimini:

The Chinese culture in general is not very affectionate or expressive of love. Well, not my father’s generation, anyway. I first hugged my father when he was in his 80s after I came to know the Lord. He could never say, “I love you.” But he did say, “Me, too” in response to my saying “I love you” to him.

Oded is tender, affectionate, and expressive of his love. I find it so refreshing. Oded is also not afraid of intimacy. Early in our marriage, I used to volunteer at an animal shelter and he would come with me. When he didn’t have work (he was self-employed), he would come to the shelter and just wait around for me. We still love to do everything together. When I told him that a couple stopped seeing each other because they said they didn’t have anything in common, he said, “When you really love someone, what does it matter whether you have so much in common. You would just enjoy being with them no matter what they are doing.” Instead of telling me, “I need my space,” Oded would say, “I want you in my space.” We are still like that. It has been almost eighteen years of a truly blessed marriage.

Oded:

Again I’m not sure it has to do with Bimini’s ethnic background, because in most ways I think Bimini is more American than Chinese, But, besides her outward beauty, which does have to do with her ethnic background, there was an inner beauty that just made me feel so comfortable around her. The sense of absolute compatibility was so evident that we were just inseparable from the very first day (OK, maybe the first week) we met. And it is still true today after eighteen years.

3. Do you feel as a couple that you are more inclined in one cultural direction than another?

Bimini:

Food-wise, we are most definitely more Chinese! Every now and then I will have to go eat my annual falafel, but every day I need rice for sustenance. And thankfully, Oded loves Chinese food. Because we are ministering to Jewish people, we are pretty well immersed in the Jewish culture as well. We celebrate all the Jewish holidays. I would say that our home feels more Jewish and our kitchen feels more Chinese, and we have friends from both cultures as well as other cultures. I love it.

I think that the Chinese and Jewish cultures have enough commonalities to make us feel comfortable in both. Both have reverence for older people, make the family a priority, and have a high regard for education.

Oded:

I think we have a good balance of both, or at least the important parts of both. The food is Chinese for sure (Bimini always reminds me: You can take the girl out of China, but you can’t take China out of the girl!) and I have no complaints.

Spiritually and culturally we are more Jewish or Jewish-Christian. Mostly, it’s that because we are ministering to Jewish people, we are constantly immersed in the Jewish culture, holy days, Hebrew Scriptures, the history of Israel and serving the God of Israel.

Bimini definitely takes more interest in Jewish culture than I take in Chinese culture.

4. Has being an Asian-Jewish couple given you unique opportunities for ministry, witnessing, or in other areas of life?

Bimini:

Most definitely. We have been ministering to a Jewish-Chinese couple and also have had opportunities with other Jewish-Gentile couples, often with only one spouse who believes in Jesus. Because I came to faith during our marriage, but a couple years before Oded did, we have a special compassion for and connection to couples who are unequally yoked (one who believes in Jesus, and the other who doesn’t). We remember well what it felt like when only I was a believer, and how sensitive and delicate our relationship was. God built faith in both of us, and our story of how the Lord powerfully saved us is always an encouragement to others.

One example is a Gentile Christian named Jean. When I met her, she cried over her unhappy marriage and over her Jewish husband who wasn’t open to the gospel. She invited us over and we had a nice connection. Eventually Oded ministered to her husband and after a couple years, he was baptized and anchored in a church.

Oded:

I think we are benefiting very much from being a Jewish-Gentile couple in that we can relate to many mixed-marriage couples we’ve ministered to over the years. Especially when one is a believer and the other one is not, since we were in the same situation for a time. And it is easier for the couple we are ministering to, to relate to us.

And then on top of that (and aside from Bimini’s sweet personality!) the fact that Bimini is Chinese is really disarming to many people simply because Chinese people don’t have the same baggage that a Caucasian Christian comes with, in the eyes of the typical Jewish person. In other words, the Chinese people don’t have any history of persecuting and mistreating the Jewish people. And that fact really enabled Bimini and then me to enter many doors that otherwise would not have been open.


Jin (Chinese) and Michael (Jewish)*

*At their request, their real names have not been used as they are planning to move to a sensitive location in the near future.

1.  What are some aspects of your spouse’s background that you found challenging?

Michael:

There’s a couple of things. One, this is not a Jewish-Chinese thing as much as a Western-Chinese thing. Jin was committed to supporting her parents with “X” amount of dollars, which is actually an expected part of the Chinese culture. You support the parents. When we were talking about getting engaged and about marriage, I was working in a youth hostel making $500 per month. I had no income other than that. And Jin continued to talk about the issue of supporting her parents, and I would try to give her a sense of reality. I thought it would finally be dead and then two weeks later the subject would come back to that. It was stressful for me, but I came to the conclusion that it was a non-negotiable for Jin. It was something that would be like not paying your taxes, something you would never consider not doing. That was a real clash of our backgrounds. I think it wouldn’t have been had I been making a normal living like everyone else in the world. But in the end I realized that this was something we were just going to have to do, and that we were going to trust the Lord to provide this. And we’ve never been in a situation where we couldn’t help them. Whether it’s been tax returns or some other way, we’ve done it. People have given surprise gifts. We’ve never been in a situation where Jin’s parents needed help and we couldn’t help them.

I have a funny story about my mother. Here’s my Jewish mother and she’s the only one who could make it to the wedding in Hong Kong. So she flew out there. And Jin’s parents don’t speak any English. My mom had probably been shopping for clothes and the right things to wear for months. And Jin’s parents hosted us for a meal at their apartment on my mother’s first night in Hong Kong. And my mother walks through the steel gate at the apartment, and Jin’s father looks at my mother and says something that sounds like hello. And so Jin’s sister steps up and says, “My father says you must weigh at least 200 pounds.” So that was the first thing actually anybody ever said to my mother in Hong Kong. Those were the first words. And I looked at my mother and for the rest of the evening my mother did not say a word. It looked like her stomach was sour. But For Jin’s father that was like saying, you have a nice haircut: you must weigh at least 200 pounds. It was just a totally normal thing to say in Hong Kong!

On the flip side, interestingly enough, in a conflict the way that we actually forgive is very different. For me I’m a light switch. I get things over with and I’m done with it and it’s over. I could say I’m sorry and it’s still going to take her five, six, seven hours a day. And she’ll say I forgive you but there’s still a process. That I think also has to do with the Asian culture. I don’t know if it’s a Jewish thing too. The whole verbal, emotional component of who I am versus the cool, calculated culture. The wall of China wasn’t built in a day, whereas Nehemiah’s wall was!

Jin:

I would say one aspect is dealing with conflicts, maybe even confrontation. I don’t know if it’s fair to say of all Jewish people, but at least it can apply to Michael’s family. In general, Jewish people are more verbal. Even in conflicts they want to talk, they want to deal with it right away. They want to argue or not argue, but at least talk. For Asians I think it’s more like: take the time, have silence for a while, and when you’re not quite so angry then you can deal with it, not when you’re very angry. You know, you can try to pull a cow to water when it’s not thirsty but it just can’t happen that way.

2. What are some characteristics of your spouse’s ethnic background or culture that attracted you or that you feel have complemented your own background?

Michael:

As far as things that have attracted me to the Asian culture, I think of the whole full circle of Jin’s commitment to her family. You know, they give their family name before their first name, because the family is more important than the individual. And I think that the whole concept of putting others before yourself in that culture, at least in the family, is something I really appreciate. And the work ethic, the way they take education so seriously, is very attractive to me.

Another thing I’ve also learned to appreciate about Jin is the way that she handles pain. And I do think that this is particularly an Asian thing. Jin handles pain very stoically. In Israel when Jin gave birth to our first child, we had a long discussion with the nurse, because I guess everyone knew that Jin didn’t actually make any sounds during the labor. She knew what she needed to do, she wanted to conserve energy, and she was very quiet. She’s my hero. When I watched all our children being born, it was the same. The midwife in Israel, she laughed she said, “You know, when Israeli women give birth they scream, they curse, they curse their husbands.” Part of the verbal thing is Jewish people tend to be complainers. That’s just part of us, we like to complain. Whereas with Jin and her culture, there’s this stoic sense of you just do what you have to do. It’s not going to help to complain.

Jin:

For the Chinese, typically they’re maybe more serious. And so we have no sense of humor. There’s no room for a sense of humor in Chinese. But for Jewish people they can laugh about themselves, and make fun of themselves, as long as they are with their own group of people. That part I appreciate: Michael’s sense of humor, and the laughter in the family. That’s very different from my own background.

3. Do you feel as a couple that you are more inclined in one cultural direction than another?

Michael:

Yes. And I think for theological reasons we’ve committed to instilling a Jewish identity with our children. You know, Romans 11: “I am an Israelite.” And Jin really understands theologically that their Jewish identity is an important God-given identity that we don’t want them to lose. So when our children communicate with people, they’ll never say they’re half-Chinese, half-Jewish. They’ll never say that. They’ll say, “We’re Jewish. Our mother’s Chinese.” And we value Chinese culture. Our children are fluent in Chinese and they don’t speak Hebrew yet. But I think that we both have an agreed sense that it is our job to train our children to identify with the people of Israel.

Jin:

I think because in our family the father’s side is Jewish, I feel like we incline more to the Jewish feeling or atmosphere with the children. I’m not saying this in a negative way. We celebrate the Chinese holidays and the children speak Chinese. And yet they feel like they are more Jewish and also more connected with Jewish holidays and Jewish traditions, that kind of thing.

4. Has being an Asian-Jewish couple given you unique opportunities for ministry, witnessing, or in other areas of life?

Michael:

Interestingly enough, when we were in California we were sitting in a bank opening an account. There was an obviously Chinese lady sitting in front of us, and the funny thing was, her name was Maureen Birnbaum. Right away we started to talk and found that she was in a mixed marriage, so we got to spend some time with her husband also. He wasn’t open to the gospel, but it opened up a door for a relationship where we talked for a bit.

Our children are a magnet wherever we go. And that does open up opportunities for relationships and conversations, because the children do look unique. You know, they’re mixed and people will hear them speaking Chinese, and looking at them, they’re obviously mixed.

Jin:

The children look mixed and always attract people to ask about us, and that opens the door for us to talk about something else with them, like sharing the gospel. People come to us, rather than us approaching them.

5. How do you plan to raise you children?

Michael:

I can tell you a little about what we’ve done in terms of their language. Jin and I already made a decision some time ago that Jin would only speak to the children in Chinese and they would only speak to her in Chinese. If they tried to speak to her in English, Jin wouldn’t answer. And now it’s not even an issue. The reason is because of Jin’s family. That was something we took as being very important, for our children to be able to communicate with Jin’s family back in Hong Kong. And now they have that relationship, because so few of Jin’s family members speak English.


Karl (Indian-Pakistani Jew) and Kristen (Korean) deSouza

1. What are some aspects of your spouse’s background that you found challenging?

Karl:

Maybe trying to learn how to use chopsticks. But seriously, though Kristen can speak Korean and was born and raised in South Korea as a child, she had been living between Toronto and New York City from her teen years on. So there weren’t any cultural or language barriers between us.

I met Kristen’s parents while we were still dating. Her father was a new believer and welcomed me as a son. Initially, Kristen’s mom had a bit more difficulty accepting me because I wasn’t Korean, but she came to love me too. My own family had instilled the notion of parental respect, which I understood was also an important value in Korean culture.

Kristen and her family have had many personal hardships and trying to understand her and being there for her and her family was at times challenging.

Kristen:

I found the first year of our marriage hard. We were living in Toronto at the time and Karl’s family was in Montreal. Karl would be on the phone with them (his mom and three brothers) for hours at a time, and I couldn’t understand why he would spend so much time with them on the phone and not with me.

Meanwhile, my parents were in New York and my one brother was in Toronto. I spoke to them on occasions briefly, unlike Karl with his regular lengthy phone calls. His family wanted to know the details of each other’s lives and I was not used to that kind of family relationship.

2. What are some characteristics of your spouse’s ethnic background or culture that attracted you or that you feel have complemented your own background?

Karl:

Korean food: kimchi (isn’t there a famous rabbi named Kimchi?), bulgogi, kalbi (Korean BBQ) have definitely enhanced my culinary experience. And I really like the language. Also Koreans, generally speaking, have a respect for authority, older people, pastors, and church.

Kristen:

Just before I met Karl, I was exposed to Jewish culture while working at a Jewish hospital in Toronto, learning about holidays, the Holocaust from the survivors there, and a few key words in Yiddish like meshuggeneh. I was also interested in learning more about the Jewish background of our faith. After I met Karl in seminary, I gave him some Messianic music I had been listening to and brought him to his first Jews for Jesus Passover Banquet. When Karl told me that he was an Indian Jew, I was curious and drawn to know more about him and his culture. Korean Christians respect the Jewish people as God’s chosen people through whom God shows his love and faithfulness.

3. Do you feel as a couple that you are more inclined in one cultural direction than another?

Karl:

Our home tends to be more Jewish than Asian. We have a mezuzah on our door and other Judaica around our house, like a seder plate and a menorah. But there are also significant Korean elements you can find at our home. We eat Korean foods often. Our son, Nathanael, is currently a blue belt Tae Kwon Do (Korean martial art) and in that context he learns some Korean words and phrases. Since Kristen is vastly more proficient at speaking Korean than I am, I encourage her to teach our children Korean. I think she’d agree that this is more important to me than to her. I think Kristen is slightly more inclined to Jewish culture and expressions than Korean. But we strive to teach our kids both some Korean and Hebrew phrases and culture. We want to expose our kids to the heritages they come from.

Kristen:

I feel that our family is more inclined to be Jewish. We celebrate Jewish holidays because they are biblical and Messianic. I make the effort to prepare for Sabbath and other holidays and look for Judaica for the home. For Korean holidays, my mom would call me to remind me of Korean Thanksgiving. I can’t keep up with all the holidays. Karl wanted me to teach the kids Korean but I wasn’t motivated (nor committed) to speak to the kids in Korean. Maybe I felt uncomfortable having a conversation with the kids while my husband wouldn’t understand. I’ve taught them a few words like “I love you” and “I miss you” so that they can say them to their grandmother. Actually, Karl has been more proactive in teaching our kids Korean with a dictionary in hand.

4. Has being an Asian-Jewish couple given you unique opportunities for ministry, witnessing, or in other areas of life?

Karl:

Yes. When people find out my wife is Korean, I often get asked how we met, which opens a door to sharing the gospel with them. Occasionally, I tell Jewish seekers that I minister to, how Kristen and I met, the amazing circumstances God arranged to bring us together. Which is that we never previously met before our theological studies, both living and being raised in different cities and different circles. Around March 1992, Kristen was praying in Toronto for the salvation of her future husband just as God was opening my mind and heart to the gospel. I came to the Lord a few months later in Montr?al, in May 1992, shortly after Kristen’s prayer of rededication and for her future.

My first day at seminary, in September 1995, my father passed away and I returned to Montr?al. While I was gone, the Bible college and seminary was praying for my family and me. Kristen, also a new student, upon hearing my name—but not knowing who I was or even having met me—heard a voice saying “This is the one.” Kristen is part of my story on my coming to faith in Messiah Y’shua and a confirmation to me, when I was struggling with doubts about my new faith, that Y’shua is alive and the New Testament is true. I’ve encountered skeptics who just don’t know what to say after hearing Kristen’s and my story. For Jewish seekers that I have ministry to, our story serves as a story on how God is real, personal, and answers specific prayer.

Kristen:

Some people may wonder to whom we can effectively minister, but God has His reasons why He brought us together just as He had good reasons for sending Saul the educated ex-Pharisee to minister to the Gentiles and Peter the fisherman to the Jews. When people see me they don’t expect Jewish things to come out of my mouth. It surprises Jewish people. I tell them about my Jewish husband and his faith in Jesus as his Messiah. Sometimes, it’s easier to hear about Jesus from me since I’m not Jewish and I didn’t supposedly “betray” my people.

One Jewish man Karl is ministering to is interested in an Asian Christian woman. Karl is helping him see Jesus from a Jewish perspective. I’ve shown him that our home is Jewish and that we are raising our kids to know their identity, but most importantly that Karl’s and my faith in our Messiah Jesus is the same.

5. How do you plan to raise your children?

Karl:

We have three children. We plan to expose them to both Jewish and Korean cultures. Our kids identify as both. I myself come from a mixed background: my father was a Catholic Gentile from Pakistan (of Goan origins—Goa is a western province of India), my mother a Jew and also from Pakistan. I wasn’t raised with a particularly strong cultural slant and I think I would have rather identified myself more as Canadian. When I came to believe in Jesus, He made me more excited about who I was as a Jew. This is part of my impetus to expose our children to the rich heritage they have. Both Kristen and I also have the same mind to transmit a biblical worldview to our children. God’s message to the world in the Bible, the Tanakh and the New Testament, was transmitted primarily through Jews, using Jewish expressions and forms, expressing the very hope of Israel and the nations—Jesus, the Messiah of Israel.

Elizabeth, our oldest daughter, took the initiative (with great enthusiasm) to do a class presentation with her Jewish friend on Hanukkah. She even played for her class one of the Liberated Wailing Wall songs! I was very proud of her. She openly identified herself as a Jew. Kristen and I want to expose our children to their background and families. We believe this will provide them with a vital connection to their past, to where they came from, and is important in shaping their persons, identities, and expressions.

Kristen:

We consider our kids Jewish-Asian, and they are beginning to discover their identity. We had kids right away after we got married. We wanted to give them biblical names, have brit milah and bar/bat mitzvah and raise them to follow Jesus. I could have given them Korean middle names but I wanted names with more biblical significance. Actually, only our third child, Abigail, happens to have a Korean middle name, Hannah, which means the number “one”. Sometimes I don’t feel very Korean but I know who I am in the Messiah. I’m honored to follow Jewish traditions as a Gentile Christian who is grafted into the olive tree.


Gary Hsia (Chinese American) and Bethany Bond (Jewish American) (engaged)

1. What are some aspects of your fianc?(e)’s background that you found challenging?

Gary:

It was challenging at first to learn about the different Jewish festivals and how they are celebrated. I was not as comfortable when I first attended some of the gatherings/celebrations because I did not celebrate them. For example, as a believer I understand Passover in the Old Testament tradition, and reflect on how Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice. But I do not celebrate it to the extent that Bethany does with dietary changes such as the unleavened matzah. Likewise I had limited knowledge of Hanukkah. Of course with limited exposure to the different traditions, it was hard to contribute or to challenge her because I didn’t know much.

Bethany:

Actually one of the things that I have found challenging is Gary’s assimilation to American culture. When we were first getting to know each other he described himself as an “all-American boy.” At the time I stifled a laugh but I’ve come to see that it is true. How this is a challenge to me is when it comes to relating to his family. I want to develop good relationships with them, so I ask Gary about Chinese traditions or customs that we can incorporate into our wedding to honor them. But he has never been to a traditional Chinese wedding before!

2. What are some characteristics of your fianc?(e)’s ethnic background or culture that attracted you or that you feel have complemented your own background?

Gary:

I was attracted to the strong emphasis on family and her being rai