Congresswoman Grace Meng hosted a dialogue between leaders of the Jewish and Korean-American communities on Monday night and most discovered they had more in common than not.
The location at Queensborough Community College’s Kupferberg Holocaust Research Center and Archives in Bayside brought one particular similarity to the forefront: the atrocities and war crimes both groups faced during World War II. While the Jews of Europe were rounded up and persecuted in concentration camps, the Korean peninsula was occupied by the Japanese and young women were taken from their homes and used as “comfort women,” or sexual slaves for the invading armies.
Meng (D-Flushing) pointed out more common ground. “South Korea and Israel know a lot about what it’s like to live in a bad area,” she noted, pointing to the fact that they both have unfriendly neighbors, North Korea and Iran, the former of which has nuclear weapons while the latter is working to make them.
And she spoke locally. “Here, our families live, work and go to school together,” she said. “This is an opportunity for collaboration, to make the world a better place for all of us to live and for all of our children.”
The panel included Rabbi Moshe Faskowitz of the Torah Center of Hillcrest; Rabbi Bob Kaplan, director of Intergroup Relations at the Jewish Community Relations Council; Dong Chan Kim, president of Korean American Civic Empowerment; Linda Lee from Korean Civil Services and Consul General Se-Joon Son of South Korea.
Lee debunked the “model minority” myths, that all members of both communities are inherently successful. “There are a lot of needs in our community and poverty, especially among older people. We need to collaborate and help each other out.”
Lee mentioned the growing older immigrant population and its need for “culturally relevant homebound meals” and appropriate services for people with little English.
Kaplan said his community struggles to provide kosher Meals on Wheels because each costs $2 more than the government will reimburse. “We have older folks living on the edge, that have never lived on the edge before,” he said.
Faskowitz too said his Orthodox Jewish congregation worries about basic security, housing costs and poverty.
“People who have been working their whole lives are coming forward and saying they are poverty stricken,” he said. “As a rabbi all I can offer is a blessing, but that doesn’t put food on the table. We need desperately to consolidate with other communities.”
Kim said the two groups can cooperate on human rights issues. He partnered with the Holocaust Center in 2011 to bring comfort women issues to prominence and is advocating for government resolutions.
Son said that while Jews only account for 0.2 percent of the world’s population, they have won 22 percent of all Nobel Prizes, an event widely covered in Korean media that he attributes to the value the Jewish community places on education.
He said both cultures traditionally have family dinners where adults discuss the day with their children, and joked that while Jewish parents are more likely to ask “What did you learn?” Korean parents ask “What was your test score?”
“I am impressed by Jewish Americans’ high level of civic participation,” Son said. “I believe the Jewish community is a model to many, including Korean Americans.”
Faskowitz, however, considers full cooperation between the groups “a futile endeavor right now. We’re older people, it’s not going to happen here. It’s hard to change people who are set in their ways.”