Donald H. Harrison
Watching the U.S. Figureskating Championships on television last night, I
couldn't help but remember the school and college years of my son, David, whose
competitions were much lower profile and far less physical. Nevertheless,
there was something oh so familiar about a finale in which at least two Asians
and two Jews were clustered among those receiving top honors.
Sasha Cohen, who skated to a first-place finish and a spot on the U.S. Olympics
Women's Figureskating team, is Jewish. I don't know what the religious
background is of Kimmie Meissner, who finished second and also received an
Olympics berth. Emily Hughes—whose sister Sarah won the 2002 Olympic
gold medal in women's figureskating—also is Jewish. Emily came in third
in the U.S. figureskating competition last night but was bumped from the Olympic
squad by Michelle Kwan.
Kwan didn't compete because of an injury, but her many
titles as U.S.figureskating champion coupled with previous Olympics performances
earned her another shot. Kwan is of Chinese heritage as is Bebe Liang, the
youngster who finished fifth last night.
This high-profile competition in sports is not the only place
where Jews and Asians have the opportunity to compete with, respect and befriend
each other. You can see the same pattern in many California high schools
David rose through the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program in San
Diego, and excelled in debate and business competitions. He later was
graduated summa cum laude from the Wharton School of Business at
the University of Pennsylvania. Today, he is the vice president of finance
for Jacques Gourmet, a company that manufactures meringue cookies and owns
Champagne Bakery restaurants. Throughout David's school career, Asians
were classmates and fellow competitors. Neither Nancy nor I were surprised when
he fell in love, and married, our wonderful new daughter from Taiwan, Hui-Wen
Chang. She, too, is very, very bright—excelling not only in business but also
Marriages between Asians and Jews are becoming increasingly common, and, perhaps
at the heart of it, are the shared emphasis on academic excellence, and the
similar experiences of being minority group members and either immigrants or the
descendants of immigrants to the United States. There seems to be a
special, wonderful chemistry between our two accomplished peoples.
Even in the controversy over whether Emily Hughes should have been bumped by
Michelle Kwan, I was pleased to note the high respect these competitors appear
to have for each other. "I can empathize with how Emily must be feeling
because I was in a similar situation in 1994," Kwan was quoted as saying in
the Los Angeles Times. That's when she thought she had the third spot on
the U.S. Olympics team, but Nancy Kerrigan—who had to withdraw after she was
hit on the knee by Tanya Harding—was able to recover in time to bump Kwan, and
go on to win a silver medal in the Lillehammer Olympics.
In the San Diego Union-Tribune, Cohen said as proud as
she was of winning the U.S. Figureskating championship, "it definitely
would mean more to me to win nationals with Michelle here. She's won so many
titles in the past and I always finished second. But I'm not complaining."