I once had a Korean tour guide in Toronto who, after showing us the old Jewish district, said, “We Koreans are the Jews of the Asians.” It was a funny statement at the time, but after traveling to Korea, I sort of see what he means. First, it’s in the name of the people. For the better part of a millennium, the Koreans were part of the Chosun Dynasty, so, I think it’s fair to say that they are also the Chosun people.
The Similarities Between Koreans and Jews
We both do big family meals, everyone sitting around a table, picking at lots of different things that most other cultures throw in the compost. I don’t see much difference between fish intestines and gefilte fish. They are, after all, about the same consistency and unless you monitored an old Jewish grandmother or a fish’s eating habits, you can’t really be sure what’s in either one. If you head to the Kwang Jang Market in Seoul it smells just like a house during Hannukah as binde nok, or mung bean pancakes fry on a dozen grills. Even their sundae–pig intestines stuffed with all of the animal’s organs–is the only thing I’ve ever seen to most closely resemble a kishka. Besides the whole pig thing, we’re talking more or less about the same foodstuff. After all, how many foods are there that are designed, most likely, to cram traif inside.
If we examine Korean and Jewish wedding ceremonies and suffering–not purposefully placed in the same sentence–there are a lot of commonalities there, too. Koreans are always holding a canopy over the couple during the event. Who cares if our chupas have spiritual meaning and their chupas are used to just block out the sun? On the suffering front, we can note that during the Japanese occupation, Koreans were forced into labor. Umm, hello. Need I state the obvious about being forced into labor for Jews? (See any Encyclopedia book for the letter H if you’re still not sure what I’m talking about.)
Oh, and how many people live in a country with a democracy that is so clearly divided and threatened by missiles from across borders, but somehow isn’t a country in complete chaos? I can think of only two.
A pair of words: pickle people. Who does it best? Answer: Jews who pickle pickles and Koreans who pickle everything else.
Most places where you hear the word “Jew,” you worry. Oh no, not another country I have to hate or fear or never visit again. But in Korean, ju is a suffix that is often tacked onto words that mean alcohol. (Mocju is beer and we all know soju.) So Jew, if an alcohol is sometimes a spirit, and Jews are sometimes spiritual, and spirituality is sometimes part of a Korean’s way of life, are you seeing the same sort of full-circle connectedness here that I am?
Yeah, okay, there was some recent ADL survey that found 53 percent of Koreans to be anti-Semitic. While not really a substantiated study, I kind of hope it’s true for my thesis because who is more self-hating than a bunch of Jews?