Student Perspectives: Asian and Jewish Heritage Month

May is Asian and Jewish Heritage Month. The DEI Committee in collaboration with the Jewish Culture Club and other committees and clubs, have organized thoughtful conversations and celebrations of culture through food, film and community gatherings. This month allows for students to reflect on the contributions of the Asian and Jewish communities. 

These six Greenwood students further their exploration of their heritage through these reflections as they write about what it personally means to them to be Asian or Jewish. 

Quinn Batori ‘24
When I think of Jewish heritage, the memory of my grandfather, a survivor of the Holocaust, reverberates within me, forging a deep connection that transcends time and space. His resilience in the face of unimaginable atrocities is a source of both inspiration and sorrow. Listening to his stories, recounted with a mixture of pain and strength, I am reminded of the indomitable spirit that carried him through the darkest of days. His survival is a testament to the power of the human spirit and the unwavering will to live. Through his eyes, I glimpse the horrors of a world plagued by hatred and intolerance, but I also witness the unbreakable bond of love and family that sustained him. My connection to my grandfather goes beyond blood; it is a spiritual bond forged by the shared legacy of pain, resilience and the unwavering hope that the world will learn from the past and strive for a future built on compassion and understanding. As I carry his story forward, I feel more and more connected to my heritage as a Jewish woman.

Celebrating Jewish Heritage Month holds profound significance and serves as a powerful opportunity to embrace and honour our collective history. This month allows us to proudly share and showcase the remarkable contributions of Jewish individuals to society. It provides a platform to educate others about our traditions, customs, and values, fostering understanding and appreciation for the diversity within the Jewish community. By celebrating Jewish Heritage Month, we not only reaffirm our own identity but also promote inclusivity and respect for all cultures. It serves as a reminder of the resilience and strength displayed by our ancestors throughout history, inspiring us to carry forward their legacy with pride and perseverance. This celebration brings us together as a community, reinforcing our bonds and rekindling our commitment to preserving and sharing our rich heritage for generations to come. 

It is crucial to acknowledge and celebrate that the Jewish experience extends far beyond the traumatic history of the Holocaust. While the Holocaust was a horrific chapter that left an indelible mark on Jewish history, it does not define the entirety of the Jewish experience. Jewish culture is characterized by a diverse tapestry of traditions, values, intellectual contributions and vibrant communities that have thrived for thousands of years. From the profound wisdom found in Jewish texts to the artistic and scientific achievements of Jewish individuals, the Jewish experience encompasses a broad spectrum of accomplishments, resilience, and cultural richness. By recognizing and appreciating the multifaceted aspects of Jewish life, we can honour the strength and resilience of the Jewish people throughout history and embrace the multifaceted nature of their experience beyond the shadow of the Holocaust. The importance of celebrating Jewish heritage comes in many forms for me.

Jasmine Chen ‘28
My parents were raised in Chongqing China, and went to university in Beijing which is the capital of China, but my brother and I were born in Vancouver. Our parents brought us back to China and I’ve lived there until I was 10. When I heard my parents talking about coming to Toronto, I was upset that I’m going to leave my friends and other family members behind and come to a brand new country, speak a brand new language and learn in a brand new school. 

A challenge my family was facing after immigrating to Canada is we can’t really follow the traditions we usually do in China. For example, I get hongbao (“red pocket”) every Chinese New Year. Instead, my grandparents would have to make a group chat since we can’t get it in person and they have to send multiple of them virtually for all of the grandkids. Depending on luck, you can get a lot of money and become rich in one night (not really). The purpose of giving young children a red pocket is for it to symbolize good wishes and luck for the new year ahead. There are way more traditions/holidays Chinese people celebrate and I’ll keep following them even when I’m not with the rest of my family back in China. 

The process of getting used to everything in Canada is another challenge we face. I started from not being able to have a normal conversation with people in English to writing a whole paragraph, like this one, entirely in English! It’s complicated to explain how, but one thing is certain, I changed from a shy, self-conscious kid who pretended to understand English to an open, confident person. It’s almost the end of the school year now at Greenwood, and I have the funniest group of friends in Grade 7.

Lucy Lapowich ‘25
When I was asked to write about my Jewish Heritage, I didn’t know where to start. How could I explain such a personal topic while providing opportunities for others to connect to it on a personal level? I then realized that by sharing my experiences as an observant Jew, others would be inspired to share their own stories.

I believe that heritage is derived not only from how you practice your culture currently, but is also influenced by where these traditions have come from. My strong connection to my faith can be fully attributed to the values my family has inspired within me. My great-grandparents were survivors of the Holocaust and their stories have helped shape my heritage. If not for their perseverance, determination and faith, I wouldn’t be here today. I aspire to be like them every day, to maintain that same sense of self which they had. I carry the name of my late great-grandmother; Bubbie Lucy, and whenever I hear my name I feel a deep connection to my ancestors and am motivated to embody their strengths. Other aspects of my heritage include the traditions I take pride in being a part of. Shabbat dinners and going to my synagogue are just some examples of these traditions. Through my own engagement in these various practices, I have learned and committed myself to be kind, honest, grateful and respectful. I recognize that these defining features of my identity come from my ancestors. 

The month of May is a time to celebrate my Jewish heritage and what that means to me. During this month, I take time to reflect on my ancestors’ experiences and values. I want to encourage others to do the same. To celebrate our heritage is to celebrate how we have gotten to the point where we are today. I know that my heritage is rich and full of valuable lessons that I have only begun to learn. Let’s continue to learn and grow together. 

Curtis Li ‘23
To me, diversity and equity encompass more than the challenges faced by a particular group. Obstacles were overcome but we are not defined solely by our lowest point. I take Asian heritage month as not just a recognition, but a celebration of my identity. 
My family background is Shanghainese. Although I was born in Canada, I lived in Shanghai in my early life from ages 2-4 and attended a boarding school. Mandarin is the first language I learned but most of my Chinese relatives would say English has become my primary language now.
Shanghai with its captivating blend of modernity and tradition holds a special place in my heart. Growing up, I was surrounded by awe-inspiring sky scrapers that seemed to reach for the heavens. However, I also got to experience the tranquility and beauty of places like the enchanting Yu Garden. In fact, my family owned a restaurant in Richmond Hill that took inspiration from Yu Garden and had some of my favourite dishes like 小笼包 (dumplings) or 白斩鸡 (white cut chicken).
Heritage refers to the legacy you inherit. It provides a link to our ancestors, allowing us to understand and appreciate the roots and experiences that have shaped us. By cherishing and protecting our heritage, we ensure the preservation of our legacy. 
"薪火相传,生生不息" (Passing the torch to future generations).
Phoebe Starnino ‘23
Jewish Heritage Month is important because it serves as an opportunity to highlight Jewish joy and present Jewish life. Often, we dedicate time talking about Jewish identity to antisemitism – giving people something to fight. During Jewish Heritage Month, we highlight what we are fighting for. 

Being Jewish, to me, means actively working to leave the world better than I encountered it. A key value of Judaism is Tikkun Olam (“repair of the world”). This concept calls on Jewish people to give back to their communities, whether philanthropically, through volunteering, or through advocating for a better future. I follow this by volunteering in local elections, standing up for my beliefs, and taking actions to reduce my carbon footprint such as being plant-based and biking as my main form of transportation. 

This year, being a leader of the Jewish Culture Club at Greenwood, Jewish Heritage Month feels all the more important as I work with my co-leaders and Ms. Gottlieb to create a safe and inclusive space for Jewish culture at Greenwood where Jewish pride and Jewish joy are frequently highlighted as important parts of being Jewish in today’s world. Acknowledging and celebrating the accomplishments of Jewish people, past and present, and honouring Jewish traditions serve as key ways to enrich and strengthen our school community.

Chloe White ‘24 
My Jewish heritage has always been an extremely important part of my identity. Judaism has had a great cultural influence on me, not just providing me with a religious influence. It has shown me my family history, traditions, values and delicious recipes that have been passed down through generations of my family. My Jewish heritage is also something that makes me unique from those I generally surround myself with, but can also be something I can connect with others on because of some similar shared experiences being Jewish. 

I would say the most important part of being Jewish to me was when I became a Bat Mitzvah in Grade 7. My Bat Mitzvah really changed my perspective on what religion, and specifically being Jewish, meant to me. My Rabbi, Tina, gave me some words of wisdom after I delivered my Torah portion. Her words gave me the feeling that I really had a place in my religion and that even after all the years of Hebrew school and early mornings, it finally felt like all the hard work was paying off and I was officially a part of my religion. Judaism has allowed me to make new friends, connect with more family and explore my religious identity.

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