Karen Rothstein (44) was adopted from Seoul, Korea at the age of two. Growing up in a suburb of New York City, Karen was the youngest of her three older brothers. Both of her parents are Jewish and raised Karen and her brothers in the reform movement.
Living in a predominantly white community, Karen had a hard time accepting her conflicting identity. She told me about a time in her 20’s when she was living in New York City. She decided she would give dating Jewish men a whirl. When she decided to attend a Jewish speed dating event, the other women pinned her in the corner and questioned why she was there.
“They felt like I was poaching their men. And said ‘I’m actually Jewish.’ I had to explain to a group of little angry Jewish women that I was raised Jewish, I had a bat mitzvah, and I would like to meet somebody Jewish,” Karen said.
She told me multiple other stories just like this one, where she felt like she had to legitimize her identity to strangers.
“On the flip-side of it I often have to legitimize or explain not being Asian enough. So, there’s that kind of interesting intersection between race and ethnicity.”
When Karen married her now ex-husband, she felt keeping her maiden was important to her identity.
“I said I’m not willing to change my name. It’s too much a part of who I am and that experience sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse of explaining myself to people is just almost part of who I am and my identity. I wasn’t willing to just sort of sign it away with a piece of paper.”
Judaism has played a significant role in Karen's life.
“To me being Jewish isn’t much about going to temple to me it’s about three things. It’s about education, improving yourself and always educating yourself, It’s about family, and it’s about food.”