There is an argument that the media should have more diversity so more people will feel represented. But, when you’re a Jewish-Catholic Asian finding this representation can be hard. However, I did find something close in one episode of ABC’s show “Fresh Off the Boat.”
This show, which features the life of a young Chinese boy whose family has recently moved to America, takes a good-hearted comedic view of Asian-American life.
Unfortunately, the show never attracted me, as my taste in films and TV shows usually falls in the categories of things blowing up and fight scenes. However, one episode, “Phillip Goldstein,” did pique my interest. This is still the only episode I’ve watched.
Why? Because I read online that it featured a Jewish-Asian kid.
Wow. Possibly something I could relate to.
In that episode, the main character, Eddie (an Asian-American middle schooler), is asked to show a new student, Phillip, around his lower school.
Phillip, a yarmulke-wearing Chinese adoptee, is pompous, nerdy and irritatingly smart.
Although I’d argue that I’m not pretentious or irksomely intelligent, I can identify with some of the scenes in this episode.
For instance, when the boys sit down for lunch, Eddie pulls out stinky tofu and asks what Phillip is having for lunch.
Much to Eddie’s surprise, Phillip replies, “Gefilte fish!”
The two boys then talk about other preferences, eventually realizing that they have nothing in common. While Eddie likes Shaq, Philip prefers Tolstoy. When Eddie says he watches “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper,” Phillip tells him that he can’t watch TV on Fridays because it’s Shabbat.
However, they do have one thing in common – they both eat Chinese food on Christmas Day.
I was amused by the episode, and, frankly, there is no other better way to describe it than cute. However, I can see how one could argue that Phillip’s character plays on anti-Semitic stereotypes.
Because I am not easily offended, I didn’t see it as being anti-Semitic.
Maybe other Asian Jews would disagree.
The conflict begins when Eddie wants to go to a Beastie Boys concert. Eddie’s mother, who disapproves of rap music, won’t allow him to go. However, when Eddie tells her Phillip wants to go, she caves because Phillip is the “perfect” son she’s always wanted. (Unlike Eddie, Phillip is studious and plays music). Seeing this as an opportunity for his own good fortune, Phillip agrees to go with Eddie only if they attend a “Les Miserables” concert beforehand. Phillip needs Eddie’s mother to drive them as it is the Sabbath and Phillip can’t handle money to pay for the tickets. Thus, Phillip uses Eddie as a Shabbos goy.
A Shabbos goy is a non-Jew who performs tasks such as driving, handling money or turning on lights during the Sabbath for observant Jews.
It is generally unacceptable in the Jewish community for a Jew who observes the Sabbath to ask a non-Jew to do work for him, thus defeating the point of the Sabbath.
Unfortunately, Phillip doesn’t fulfill his end of the bargain and slips away after the musical so he’s not forced to listen to rap music. For the rest of the night, Eddie and his mother search the town looking for him.
As a result, Eddie misses the concert, and when he and his mother ring the doorbell to inform Mrs. Goldstein that her son is missing, Phillip answers the door.
He nonchalantly states that he didn’t want to attend the Beastie Boys concert, so he simply didn’t go.
Thus Phillip doesn’t fulfill his side of the agreement, and is called a “bad Chinese boy” by Eddie’s mother.
His act of ditching Eddie is seen as selfish – which it is. And, as she points out, Phillip broke his promise.
Does that mean selfishness and breaking deals are considered Jewish stereotypes?
Either way, I thought it was a shame that the Jewish boy was ultamately portrayed in a bad light.
However, I did thoroughly enjoy the moments of humor when they are discussing their lunches and comparing their respective cultures.
It was such a novelty to see an Asian character outside of the usual Asian stereotype, let alone a Jewish-Asian character.
I am glad, however, that one episode of one TV show in the vast realm of media did indeed have a Jewish-Asian character.
—By Nicole Wolkov