Female Korean rabbi to lead one of America’s largest synagogues

Hey, if you can’t beat the Wall of Jews ™, join ’em.

Anyway, the WSJ reports that Angela Warnick Buchdahl—born in Seoul to a Korean Buddhist mother and an American Ashkenazi Reform Jew father—has become the rabbi at New York’s Central Synagogue.

This is remarkable as she’s a) young, b) female and c) Asian. Descended from King Taejo on her mother’s side, she was raised Jewish, although as the WSJ points out, it wasn’t always easy being the Asian Jew:

For Rabbi Buchdahl, who studied religion at Yale University before enrolling in rabbinical school, her commitment to Judaism had a long evolution. By 14, she was the music teacher at her synagogue; in high school, she argued to postpone student-government votes when they fell on Yom Kippur.

But a trip to Israel at 16 drove home some challenges.

There were no other Asians on the streets. “I was kind of an oddity all the time,” she said.

Her biggest surprise came when fellow students questioned whether she was actually Jewish, since her mother wasn’t. “It was extremely painful and destabilizing for me,” she said.

Israeli daily Haaretz ran a profile of Rabbi Buchdahl yesterday—give it a read.

The WSJ also notes that she’s one of only a handful of people in North America ordained as both a rabbi and cantor. She is renowned for her musical skill, in fact:

Rabbi Buchdahl often contributes original music mash-ups that blend pop culture and prayer. Once, she supported Rabbi Rubinstein’s sermon on his love for the community by reworking Steve Winwood’s hit song “Higher Love” into Hebrew hymn.

Now that I just had to hear, being a fan of the song. And thankfully, there is a Youtube video of it—fast forward toward the end of this sermon:

And classy headline of the day goes to…

MoneyToday, which penned a piece on the tragic death of a young Korean woman in Brisbane under the headline:

“Death of 20-something Woman on Working Holiday. Is It Now ‘Killing Holiday?'”

Well, at least it was better than the New York Post’s front page.

The woman in question, BTW, was accidentally hit by a train.

Interestingly, enough, the Foreign Ministry says there are 34,000 Koreans on working holiday in Australia. Some 5,800 Koreans are in Japan on work holiday visas, and 4,000 in Canada.

MoneyToday warns, however, that unlike Korea, Australia doesn’t have much in the way of nightlife, so when it turns dark, shops close and the streets are deserted, thus crime-prone. In 2012, 99 of 108 crimes committed against Koreans on work holiday took place in Australia. In 2011, 117 out of 121 took place in Australia, as did 99 out of 110 in 2010.

Anyway, I hope Brendan Berne has stocked up on antacid.

So, I take it your Australian work holiday experience was less than satisfactory

The Korea Times dedicated a two-part series to the problems—well, alleged problems—faced by Koreans who participate in the Australia Working Holiday program (HT to Rod).

Two Koreans participating in the program were recently killed in separate incidents.

Anyway, just to give you an idea of what we’re talking about, Kang Tae-ho—who wrote a book critical of the program—complains he was subjected to racist treatment at the hands of his Aussie coworkers:

Working as a janitor in the Working Holiday Program, Kang would often find rolls of toilet paper stuck in china and scores of stickers attached to the floor that he had to clean up.

“I found out that my Australian coworkers put them there to harass me,” said Kang, who stayed in the country from July 2011 to June 2012.

That’s just mean.

Other problems cited were labor exploitation on fruit farms and the temptation for female participants to engage in prostitution due to its legal status and relatively high wages.

In the second report, the Korea Times notes that many participants find it difficult to improve their English because their inability to speak English limits their job opportunities:

But the reality is that participants can hardly land decent jobs which require a good command of English. Their choices are therefore limited to manual jobs in rural farms, menial jobs or working for Korean immigrants which rarely offers an opportunity to improve their English skills.

“I worked at a farm which only hires Koreans. Almost all the colleagues whom I talked with were Koreans so it was hard to improve my English. In fact, we spent most of time working without any conversation,” said a 28-year-old office worker who had been to Australia on a working holiday visa in 2009.

Other issues included exposure to crime due to insufficient knowledge about where they are and exploitation by, ironically enough, ethnic Korean employers.

Brendan Berne, the Charge d’affaires of the Hojustani embassy in Seoul, wasn’t especially pleased with the reports—in a letter to the KT, he says more and more Koreans are participating in the program and participants have shown a high level of satisfaction with it. He concludes:

The feedback we receive from citizens from the other 27 countries who participate in the program is also overwhelmingly positive. Your newspaper is rightly proud of Korea’s impressive achievements. I would ask at the very least that your paper adopt a more balanced approach when reporting on developments in Australia, a close friend of the Republic of Korea.

I wouldn’t blame Berne for being annoyed—some of the recent reporting in the local press has made Australia look almost like something out of a Mad Max movie. Or Detroit on a good day. That can’t make his job any easier.

And in case you were wondering, no, not many Australians come to Korea on the working holiday program. In May 2012, there were only 23 Australians in Korea on working holiday, roughly equivalent—or so I’m told—to the number of Australian bartenders per square kilometer in London. Simultaneously, there were 15,000 Koreans in Australia. In fact, there were only 1,120 people in Korea on working holiday visas, the overwhelming majority of whom from the Evil Island Nation We Dare Not Name (i.e., not Australia. Or Kiwistan). The Korea Herald did manage to find a real live Hojustani in Korea on working holiday, who explained that Korea was not as popular because of a) Australians knew little about the place, b) it didn’t have quite the tourist draw as some other countries, and c) language. I do wonder, though, if perhaps there’s more to it—in 2012, the Canadian ambassador complained that the working holiday program was biased:

Canada requested Thursday that its citizens on the working holiday program in Korea be granted the same benefits their Korean counterparts enjoy in the North American country.

“We have about 5,000 Canadians teaching English in Korea,” David Chatterson, Canadian ambassador to Korea, told The Korea Times, explaining that they were E-2 visa holders and would not be eligible to teach if they were here on the working holiday program.

According to the Canadian Embassy in Seoul, the North American country allows Koreans on working holidays to find work in a broad range of fields, including teaching, while Canadians are not allowed to teach English in Korea.

I have no idea if that alleged bias has since been fixed.

And for what it’s worth, I’ve yet to read press reports of Koreans having a rough time in Canada with the work holiday program. Weird sex cults and cultural “misunderstandings” about corporal punishment, yes, but no bitching about racism. At least none that I can remember, and I’m too lazy to do an archive search.

The Korean dude who heckled President Obama and Korea’s visa waiver status

By now, most American readers will probably be familiar with Ju Hong, the Korean guy who heckled President Obama during—ironically enough—an immigration rally.

Hong has a history of, depending on how you look at it, gutsy political activism or outrageously mocking the people’s laws on immigration.

I didn’t think much about the incident at the time, other than being somewhat impressed by Obama’s handling of the incident and, likewise, somewhat perplexed as to why Hong and his family weren’t immediately placed on a plane back to Korea where he can do his two year’s military service like every other Korean male in his age cohort—I’m sure the ROK military has plenty of need for good English speakers.

Then I read an interview Hong gave with Yonhap News, where he calls immigration reform an “important matter for Korean-Americans and a human rights issue.” But more interestingly, he claims that one in seven Korean immigrants to the United States is undocumented.

The interview is worth reading, as it not only explains how Hong’s family ended up in Migukistan, but it’s also fun to compare its tone with the one Yonhap would have likely adopted had this been Ahmed the Illegal Bangladeshi Factory Worker from Ansan heckling President Park Geun-hye during a presidential speech.

At National Review, Mark Krikorian discusses the problem Hong’s case presents to immigration law enforcement—his family entered the country legally enough, but simply overstayed their visas. And as Hong himself told Yonhap, there are apparently a lot of Koreans doing this:

The salient fact here for immigration policy is that he came with his family on a tourist visa, and never left. Visa overstayers are believed to represent between a third and a half of the 12 million illegal aliens in the United States — and with improvements in border enforcement it’s possible the majority of new illegal aliens are overstayers. That translates to 4 to 6 million liars, people who swore they’d leave when their visit was over but didn’t, something at least as contemptible as sneaking into someone else’s country. Hong came as a child, so he wasn’t doing the lying, but he’s no more entitled to stay than the child of someone who lied on a mortgage application and later lost his home.

There are also more Korean illegal aliens than you might think. For instance, nearly 7,000 South Korean illegal aliens have been amnestied by Obama’s unconstitutional Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (a.k.a. the administrative Dream Act) through the end of August, making it the No. 5 country after Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Krikorian goes on to note that the problem—at least in Korea’s case—is made worse by the fact that Korea is included in the American visa waiver program:

Exacerbating this problem with regard to South Korea and other countries is the Visa Waiver Program. As the name suggests, people from the 37 countries on the list don’t have to get visas for short tourist or business trips. Only those countries whose citizens are very unlikely to overstay are supposed to be included in the program. Unfortunately, the main force expanding the list of participating countries has been lobbying pressure from the travel industry and foreign governments. South Korea was added in 2008 and Greece — Greece — in 2010. This has been a significant driver of illegal immigration; the GAO reported earlier this year that, of a very large sample of apparent overstays, nearly half were people who entered under the Visa Waiver Program.

To be honest, as far as nations of origin for illegal aliens go, you could do a lot worse than Korea, but still, something appears to be broken. Ultimately, it’s up to the United States to enforce its own immigration laws, but I wonder if perhaps there’s room for cooperation with Korean authorities to ensure Korean tourists don’t get lost on their visits, lest this become a bilateral diplomatic issue. You know, much in the way the Korean Foreign Ministry stepped in when a certain, ahem, segment of the Korean community in Australia became an issue.

Murder of Ban Eunji in Brisbane

My sympathies go out to the family and friend of Ban Eunji, the Korean girl brutally murdered in Brisbane, Australia this morning by—it is suspected—an animal out for a thrill kill.

As far as we can tell so far, the attack does not appear to have been racially motivated, although I’m sure that’s of little comfort to anyone involved. It will be recalled that attacks on Koreans in Australia attracted the attention of the Korean press last year.

Pro tip: If you’re going to engage in a hate crime, be sure to get both the nationality and the war right.

A Korean man was beaten in a suburb of Seattle.

As if this weren’t bad enough, turns out he was beaten because the guy thought he was Japanese:

Alford said, “It looked to me like he was going to actually throw him into the oncoming traffic.” Alford ran out onto the street, waved his arms and said “stop, stop.” Two other bystanders joined him to stop the beating and that’s when the attacker started to protest. According to Alford, he said, “Why are you helping him? Don’t you know this man’s Japanese? Don’t you know what we did for them in Vietnam?”

Alford said it was totally crazy talk like that that really made no sense. As Packard walked away from the beating, Alford followed him and pointed him out to police who made the arrest.

The victim suffered only minor injuries. According to charging documents, Packard appeared to be either high on something or mentally ill. They took him to a hospital where he was quoted as saying, “I beat him up to keep the white people safe.”

Fortunately, the victim suffered only minor injuries. The assailant, meanwhile, faces hate crime charges.

Personally, I blame Japan.

Now, I’m no fan of hate crime sentencing, but I suppose tacking on a few years for being stupid wouldn’t bother me any.

Japanese court rules anti-Korean hate speech illegal

I guess one part of me is happy the courts said something to this group of asshats (HT to Aaron):

A vocal anti-Korean group was ordered Monday to stop a “hate speech” campaign against a Pyongyang-linked school, in a rare court ruling against racial discrimination in Japan.

A civil court in Kyoto also ordered the group and its activists to pay some 12 million yen ($120,000) in damages to the elementary school run by affiliates of the pro-North Korean General Association of Korean Residents in Japan.

Members of the group, formed in 2006 to eliminate what they called “privileges” given to Korean residents in Japan, staged loudspeaker demonstrations outside the school three times in 2009 and 2010, the district court ruling said.

They shouted such slogans as “Throw Korean schools out of Japan” and “This is a front for training North Korean spies.” They also posted video clips of the demonstrations on the Internet.

Oh, they’ve shouted much worse than that, including calls for the rape of Korean women. Pure class. At least one demonstrator held up a sign that read “Fuck Korea,” no doubt a tribute to Japanese colonial policy between 1910 and 1945.

Mind you, I dislike “hate speech” legislation (which neither Japan nor Korea have), and I’d be extremely wary of a court citing the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination rather than domestic law, which is what the court did in this case. It also leaves a bad taste in my mouth that the group will be giving money to a school essentially run by North Korea, which means if it’s anything like most things North Korean, there’s probably a fair amount of hate going on.

Also, to be fair to the Zaitokukai, the far-right anti-Korean group in question, they have shown at times that they can be equal-opportunity in their hate:

On October 31, 2009, Zaitokukai protested Westerners in Halloween costumes, waving a sign that stated, “This is not a white country.”

On 24 January 2010, members of Zaitokukai stated towards Caucasian foreigners, “Go home, white pigs!” in a public demonstration against a bill to give foreigners the right to vote.

Frankly, I think the protest against Halloween is pretty cool. Wouldn’t be entirely upset if Ilbe or some other like-minded group would did that here.

Speaking of Ilbe, some on the left-wing of the Korean political spectrum have likened Korea’s largely right-wing social website to Zaitokukai, noting that both began as (and in the case of Ilbe, still remains) online groups. I don’t really read Ilbe, and most of the complaining I read about Ilbe comes from sources I don’t always trust, but even a cursory glance at some of their stuff turns up some gems. Where I think the real comparisons can be drawn, however, are with groups like those described in this post last year written following the election of Rep. Jasmine Lee.

Well, at least Rudd has a future as a hagwon teacher after the next general election

Hojustani PM Kevin Rudd—a.k.a. the Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Oceania—told a church full of Koreans that Korean would join Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian and Hindi as a priority language in Korean schools:

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced the language would join Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian and Hindi while visiting a Uniting Church in the Sydney and LNP-held seat of Bennelong.

With help from an interpreter, Mr Rudd told the room, largely of Korean background, that the country’s future would be strengthened by Australians being able to speak Asian languages.

“Australia’s future lies so much in Asia so in our schools we now have four priority languages – those Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian and Hindi,” he said.

The “priority language” thing goes back to late last year, when the Australian government decided on a series of initiative to boost ties with Australia’s Asian neighbors.

While he was at the church, he paid a visit to a classroom where local Korean kids study English. Here, the PM was upstaged by 5-year-old Joseph Kim:

Give the PM credit—he handled the whole hagwon thing like a boss. At no time did he lose his cool, which is no mean feat for him. He even had words of encouragement for the young students:

“You keep learning hard and one day I’ll learn Korean,” the Prime Minister, who speaks only Mandarin and a folksy Queensland dialect loosely related to English, promised.

Props to The Age’s Tony Wright for writing the funniest thing I’ve read all week.

Hollywood Cashing in on Koreans Behaving Badly

Speaking of movies, let’s take a look at what’s on the docket.   So what’s Sofia Coppola up to?  The co-star of “GodFather III” and the director of “Lost in Translation” has been working on a movie about the  string of burglaries masterminded by Korean American teenager (18 in 2009 when the crimes were perpetrated) Rachel Lee.  The title?  The Bling Ring.   You got Hollywood remaking Korean movies and now you have Hollywood making films about Koreans.  Here’s the trailer.

So, who are they having to play Rachel?  A full Asian actress?  Heavens no.  Remember, it’s Hollywood where a full Asian lead in a non-martial arts movie is rarer than a martian.  They are having one quarter Korean Katie Chang play the role.

Oh, and here is another movie about a Korean-American misbehaving in the works.  Remember Lisette Lee?  The woman who claimed to be a Samsung heiress?  Apparently there will be a movie about her as well based on the crazy Rolling Stone article of the same title.  The movie sounds like it is early in pre-production but it should be an interesting flick if it’s half as good as the article.

Another Korean, another offensive coffee receipt

Or, as The Gothamist put it:

Another day, another racist receipt: A NJ woman is suing CVS, accusing a worker of changing her name to say “Ching Chong Lee” on her receipt.

Hyun Lee, who is Korean, says that she ordered photographs from CVS online and when she went to pick them up from the Egg Harbor City branch, the receipt said, “Lee, Ching Chong.” She emailed CVS, saying, “Do you think it’s funny? It’s very disturbing to me!!!!… why doesn’t he just call me Chink! It has the same derogatory meaning!!!!!”

When pot, gyopos and USFK mail collide

Seoul’s Finest have busted a Korean-American by the name of Park for not only turning his Yongsan home into an indoor pot farm, but also using USFK mail to smuggle pot in from the United States (HT to Mryouknowwho).

Park was growing 57 pot plants at him home, where he built in indoor greenhouse. Even had CCTV cameras installed for security.

According to MBC, Park had been deported from the United States after getting busted for marijuana possession. Personally, I find this difficult to believe—if beating your girlfriend and then getting fingered by Russian intelligence as a possible jihadi isn’t enough to get you thrown out of the United States, I can’t imagine ICE showing a Korean dude the door toking up.

Park is claiming he was growing it for his own personal consumption since life’s been tough and growing it is cheaper. Plus, it’s got that whole DIY hispter cool factor.

Park was caught with 435 grams of gear, enough to sell to 8,700 people. He’d also been using USFK’s post system—which receives easier screenings by customs and is punished lighter for violations (or so says MBC)—to smuggle pot in.

Four months ago, a former GI was arrested for using USFK mail to smuggle in some new sort of drug.

A customs official at Incheon International Airport said with drug smuggling via USFK mail on the rise, USFK and the customs office were closely cooperating. Last year, Incheon Airport customs caught 2,800 grams of drugs being smuggled through USFK mail, over seven times the amount of the previous year.

The Strange Story Behind New York Based Pyongyang Soju Importer

Meet Il Woo Park, a 64-year-old South Korean national with legal permanent resident status in the United States, who owns New York based Korea PyongYang Trading U.S.A., a company that imports soju from everyone’s favorite pariah state: North Korea.

Keumsan Restaurant, Palisades Park NJ by you.

However, Park is more than a immigrant businessman.  He may have also once been a South Korean spy and was also, at one point, arrested by the FBI.  Oddly enough, despite his extensive North Korean connections, Park was only sentenced to 18 months of probation and a $300 fine.  The man must have some friends in high places.

Keumsan Restaurant, Palisades Park NJ by you.

So, is he a legitimate business man? A North Korean spy?  A South Korean spy, or maybe even a freelancer working for the Americans?  Who knows, but TPM posted an interesting article on him here.