On Sept. 29, the Pennsylvania Asian Pacific American Jewish Alliance will convene for the first time, marking a pioneering local effort to build solidarity between the Jewish and Asian American Pacific Islander communities.
Spearheaded by leaders from the American Jewish Committee Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey and the Pennsylvania Governor’s Advisory Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, PAPAJA “aims to create ties between the two groups, whose backgrounds may be different but have come to have much in common living in Pennsylvania,” according to an AJC Philadelphia/Southern NJ press release.
The meeting falls right after Rosh Hashanah and, in addition to outlining goals, finding cultural similarities and ways to advocate for shared values, there will be an opportunity for AAPI leaders to learn about the Jewish New Year. The alliance is scheduled to meet quarterly.
Talks about forming the groups began nine months ago when AJC Philadelphia/Southern NJ Regional Director Marcia Bronstein approached Stephanie Sun, executive director of Pennsylvania Governor’s Advisory Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs. Six members from each community gathered to discuss ways to unite the two groups in a more official capacity.
According to PAPAJA leaders, both the Jewish and AAPI communities have experienced an increase in hatred and discrimination in recent years.
AJC’s annual State of Antisemitism in America survey, released in October, reported that 82% of Jewish Americans and 44% of the general public surveyed found antisemitism in the U.S. to have increased; 46% of American Jews and 38% surveyed believed that antisemitism is taken less seriously than other forms of hatred.
Since the onset of the pandemic, anti-Asian hatred also has increased. FBI data from October found a 73% increase in anti-Asian hate from 2020 to 2021. Discrimination toward AAPI populations in the U.S. increased around the same time that former President Donald Trump used anti-Chinese rhetoric to describe the coronavirus, Sun believes.
“Not only the Chinese community, but also the Vietnamese, Korean — many Asian communities — they have been attacked physically or verbally,” Sun said.
On Nov. 17, four Asian American high school students were verbally attacked on SEPTA’s Broad Street Line. The same month, two teenagers beat a 27-year-old Asian woman on the Market Frankford Line.
“The incidence of hate has really risen in our cities: Philadelphia, South Jersey, but across the entire country,” said Alan Hoffman, AJC Philadelphia/Southern NJ president and co-chair of PAPAJA. “In joining forces, we want to work together, understand each other’s communities a little bit better and fight against this hate that we continue to be the victims of and is continuing to increase in this country.”
Both populations share similar struggles, such as model minority status and the stereotype of dual loyalty.
“It’s a tool used to even create division between communities,” Sun said. “When people portray us as model minorities, usually the concept behind it is, ‘Oh, Jewish [people], they’re all rich from day one. You just come to this country rich. Oh, those Asians — they’re all doing well; they’re all just lawyers, accountants, bankers. They don’t need any resources; they don’t need any help.’”
Though Sun believes that PAPAJA is the first statewide alliance between the Jewish and AAPI communities, the two populations have a shared history of solidarity, Bronstein said.
In 1905, the Kishinev pogrom, which took place in modern-day Moldova, prompted American Jewish leaders to respond and support pogrom victims. AJC was founded in 1906 in New York.
“It wasn’t only the Jewish community that wanted to do something. The Chinese community in New York City under Joseph Singleton offered to arrange a benefit for Kishinev pogrom victims,” Bronstein said. “And he organized this program at a Chinese theater, and they put on three performances, and the money that was raised went to the victims of the Kishinev pogrom.”
AJC Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey also has a long history of solidarity efforts with other interfaith and marginalized groups. AJC helped to found the Jewish-Latino Coalition in 2013; the Bucks County Christian Coalition Dialogue group, created 30 years ago; and the Circle of Friends, the Philadelphia chapter of the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council.
Bronstein draws on the aphorism that, in times of crisis, one learns who their real friends are. With shared experiences of being the victims of hatred and discrimination, Jewish and Asian Americans, as well as other marginalized groups, can forge deeper friendships.
“It ties into allyship, and it ties into being there for one another and speaking out and affirming that we’re part of the fabric of this great nation,” Bronstein said. “We’re here to strengthen one another and work together.