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Members of PAPAJA standing together for a photograph.
Photo credit: Eliot Olaya/AL DÍA

Alliance between Asian Pacific Americans and Jews launches in Pennsylvania

The PAPAJA held its opening ceremony, with several prominent members of the Jewish and Asian Pacific American communities giving remarks.

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On Sept. 29, 2022, the Pennsylvania Asian Pacific American Jewish Alliance (PAPAJA) was formally initiated within the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia.

As incidents against the Pacific Asian American and Jewish communities rise, prominent members of both communities seek to bring both groups together to connect over their mutual struggles and experiences living in Pennsylvania.

The opening remarks presented during anz introductory news conference were given by Marcia Bronstein, the Regional Director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Philadelphia/Southern NJ, and Stephanie Sun, Executive Director of the PA Governor's Advisory Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs.

The AJC is an organization devoted to strengthening and empowering Jewish communities worldwide as they seek to improve conditions for the Jewish community, while the PA Governor's Advisory Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs is dedicated to ensuring that the state government is accessible and accountable to Asian Pacific American communities across Pennsylvania.

“Today, we push back against threats to democracy that take on extremist forces that seek to erode the fabric of our society. We are delighted to be launching this initiative in the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish history,” Bronstein said.

Sun opened with a discussion about the Commission’s recent work, such as their initiatives to improve vaccine clinic services and voter registration. Both initiatives reach out to not just the Pacific Asian community, but also Philadelphia's Black and other diverse communities.

The Commission also works with the city’s Muslim communities and provides outreach in multiple languages, including Spanish, Swahili, Masala, Somali, French, and Arabic.

“Here will unite to fight antisemitism and anti-Asian hate targeting these two communities with deep understanding of each other, between each other, and cultivating knowledge on unique common struggles,” Sun said.

Stephanie Sun speaks at a podium besides Alan Hoffman and Marcia Bronstein
Stephanie Sun speaking at the podium beside Marcia Bronstein (middle) and Alan Hoffman (left). Photo credit: Eliot Olaya/AL DÍA.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf recorded a brief message for the event, extending his gratitude towards the AJC and the Commission for working together to form PAPAJA.

After the Governor’s message, Sun brought attention to the continuation of hate fuelled incidents against Asian Pacific Americans, citing the deadly shooting in Atlanta over a year ago that targeted Asian American women.

Sun additionally recalled another hate fuelled incident that happened two days before the anniversary of the shooting: a 67-year-old Asian woman who was assaulted in New York.

Alan Hoffman, President of AJC Philadelphia/Southern NJ and co-chair of PAPAJA, spoke on rising antisemitism, including the hostage situation in the Colleyville, Texas synagogue that occurred in January this year.

“Many of us changed behavior, or hid our identity because we are Jewish. That can't be who we are as a nation today; can't be who we are in the state of Pennsylvania. And that's why having allies to help amplify that message is so important,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman made a point of reminding the attendees that in the Holocaust, no one within Germany stood with the Jewish community, and that at the same in the U.S., Japanese and Asian Americans were held in internment camps.

He emphasized that as no one stood up for either community, they would have to stand up for themselves and that the forming of an alliance between both groups would help protect both communities.

As of late, both Asian and Jewish communities have seen an increase in hate fuelled incidents. For Asian Americans, a report published by the Center for Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University found that from 2020 to 2021, hate crimes targeting Asians increased by 339% nationwide.

Similarily, as Hoffman mentioned, antisemitic hate crimes continue to impact the Jewish community, with reports of 4 in 10 Jews have changed their behavior or concealed that they were Jewish for their own safety.

“The fight against racism is not a zero sum game. I've said it so many times and I will say it again. But it is only if we lift each other up, if we stand on each other's shoulders, it is only then that we have a shot to see over the wall of hate to get to the other side,” said Nydia Han, 6abc Anchor, Consumer Investigative Reporter, and PAPAJA member.

Other speakers at the commencement ceremony were Pennsylvania State Representative Jared Solomon and Lois Kang, Chief of Staff speaking on behalf of Councilman-at-Large David Oh.

Both made remarks about their full support of the new alliance as it seeks to push back against Asian American and Jewish hatred.

Bronstein gave the closing remarks, emphasizing the need to speak out and stand together as a community to combat hate incidents.

“We will not allow hatred against the Asian Pacific American community or the Jewish community to become normalized. We won’t tolerate hate. Instead we’ll speak out and we will work together,” Bronstein said.

Other members of PAPAJA include Dr. Hai-Lung Dai, Former Vice President of Temple University; Dr. Francis Jeyaraj, M.D., a medical doctor and Southeast Asian community leader; Adam Kessler, community leader and past director of the Jewish Community Relations Council; Roberta Liebenberg, Senior partner at Fine, Kaplan; Jonathan Segal, Partner at Duane Morris LLP; and Joe Zuritsky, Chairman of Parkway.

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