LUNAR: The Jewish Asian Film Project sprang to life shortly after project co-creator and creative director Jenni Rudolph took part in a Jubilee Media YouTube video titled “Do All Multiracial People Think The Same?” published in March last year. The video, which has garnered over 2.4 million views online, brought together six individuals of different backgrounds to discuss various aspects of their mixed race identity.
Gen Slosberg, the co-creator and producer of LUNAR: The Jewish Asian Film Project, came across the video and immediately resonated with Rudolph since they both shared a similar multi-racial background being Chinese and Ashkenazi Jewish. The two connected online and filmed a short video conversation of them with a few other Chinese Jewish women that would serve as a precursor to LUNAR.
LUNAR: The Jewish Asian Film Project aims to showcase and celebrate the stories of Asian American Jews through a video series, interviews, community events and more. The team works to facilitate “nuanced, honest conversations about identity” covering themes like media representation, the model minority myth, racism, antisemitism, belonging and inclusion in Jewish spaces, family, culture and fusion food. The project’s team — which includes co-creators Rudolph and Slosberg in addition to filmmaker Jared Chiang-Zeizel and Graphic Designer Davi Cheng — recently premiered the first episode of the LUNAR video series on YouTube which focused on examining Asian American Jewish identity through the lens of food.
Filmmaker Jared Chiang-Zeizel said one of the reasons he got involved in LUNAR was in light of the rising anti-Asian racism and antisemitism that has occurred recently. We sat down with Chiang-Zeizel to discuss the ongoing video series and what the team hopes to convey through their work with LUNAR. The following interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
CAAM: What was it like filming this project, especially given circumstances due to the pandemic?
Jared Chiang-Zeizel: We did the main filming in five separate groups with about four to five people per group. We had a list of different topics and things we wanted to ask participants and essentially hopped on a two and a half hour Zoom call with each group, prompting them with questions like “What does food mean to your identity?” and seeing what they had to say. Beyond food, we got more into thoughts on community and the model minority and there’s a whole lot about self-identity in the sense of how individuals view themselves and how that fits into being welcomed into a Jewish or Asian community. So the structure of how we made the project was doing these long interviews, getting lots of footage and now we’re in the process of finding all the gems and trying to show that we’re exploring a whole bunch of different experiences but that there are similarities and things that connect us.
CAAM: Why did the team decide to call the series LUNAR?
JCZ: We named this project LUNAR because it is an accessible, clear way to represent the intersection of Jewish and Asian-American identities. Both Jewish and some Asian cultural holidays are based on lunisolar calendars, and the moon holds symbolic significance in many Asian cultures and literature traditions. The moon also represents how many multicultural folks navigate our connection to our distinct yet fluid identities. Different facets of our identities can cause us to present different “faces” based on the space or community we are in, just like the moon.
Additionally, we wanted to move away from naming in Hebrew, a practice common in Jewish communal organizations, because both creators had experienced feeling as if Jewish content was not accessible due to the use of Hebrew words without explanation or context. We wanted to hold that as multicultural Jews, we have varying (dis)connections to our Jewish identity – while Hebrew/language in general is a powerful tool of connecting to Judaism for some of us, for others it may be an additional barrier to further engagement with Jewish life.
CAAM: Each episode of LUNAR focuses on a different aspect of Asian American Jewish identity. Why did the team decide to explore food as the first topic of the series?
JCZ: There were a lot of discussions about what we wanted to start with. Should we dive in super deep right at the beginning and get right to all the troubling identity stuff and the racism people experienced? Or do we start a bit lighter with food, even though there are discussions in the food episode that are very heavy and serious. We ultimately decided that every culture understands the connection we make with food since food is such an important part of staying alive but also just because that’s when we spend a lot of time with our families and the pinnacle of holidays often is around the meal. So it was very much a way for the viewer to kind of be pulled in and guided into this world because right off the bat, everyone had a connection to food and we figured that if our participants are talking about food, people would be like, “Okay, they’re talking about sitting down and eating with their families, that’s something I do.”
CAAM: Why do you think it’s so important to shed light on the mixed race experience and what do you hope viewers take away from watching the series?
JCZ: There’s a degree of importance in just acknowledging the different mixes that are out there and the struggles that mixed people face. Obviously in America, race and prejudice are pretty much on the forefront of every other news story and that was something we were very aware of as Americans because there’s a lot of discourse about it. But often the discourse is very focused on monoracial individuals and a lot of the microaggressions that mixed people experience can get swept under the rug. I think it’s important to share all this so that people are just aware of it. When people think of Jewish people, they don’t necessarily envision anyone Asian being Jewish and vice versa. We hope that as we raise awareness about Asian Jews, it increases the awareness of mixed people overall no matter what their mixed background might be. So I think it’s a two-fold thing of awareness and sharing of stories but also building a community because one thing that many participants said was that filming the project was the first time they had interacted with that many Asian Jews. So I think in a way, it’s forming a new community and that if a kid in the middle of the country who’s Asian and Jewish and doesn’t feel fully welcomed in their community, they might come across us like, “Oh wait a second, there are a whole bunch of other people who are just like me who have experienced similar things” and can hopefully reach out or just feel a little less lonely in the world.
Look for new episodes on the LUNAR: the Jewish-Asian Film Project YouTube channel.