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2006 blog


Jewish and Asian skating excellence
paralleled in California classrooms, January 15, 2006

By 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 and universities.

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 in music.

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."