Latkes and Tempura

A Jewish Asian story about navigating our changing world

During this time of rapid change, divisions and challenges we face as a nation, many Americans have been inspired to write books about their heritage and lived experiences.
    A plethora of these are books by Jews of varied identities looking at our need for connection, belonging and the celebration of our rich Jewish diversity.
  Some rely on Jewish values to understand how technology, the fast pace of our lives, and the larger culture around us affect our feelings, behaviors, and choices. The Jewish multicultural mix and the spirit of B’tzelem Elohim (all humans are created in G-d’s image) have brought forth stories exploring Jewish values, often at the intersectionality of race, ethnicity and personal identity.
  The Jews of Color initiative reports that 17% of American Jewish families are multiracial and 1 in 7 young adult Jews identify as non-white or multiracial. The 2020 Pew Research report tells us that as Jews, we are “the most diverse of any living generation.” This is especially significant in the San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys where we enjoy and celebrate a multitude of traditions and cultures with our neighbors, friends and family.
  Happy For You, Claire Stanford’s debut novel features the Jewish Japanese American protagonist Evelyn and explores themes of race, religion and navigating the world with a mixed identity. As a Jewish Book Council selection, it was described as “poignant, touching and wry”. Although fiction, many of the themes reflect Stanford’s growing up, as well as facing adult challenges with a mixed identity. The tender description of Evelyn’s recollection of becoming a Bat Mitzvah touches on the richness and complexity of growing up in a multicultural, multiracial family.
  Stanford herself became a Bat Mitzvah at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley in 1998. “It was a really meaningful experience for me,” she remembers. “Everyone who knew me from the Temple came, and my dad’s family and my mom’s Japanese side of the family came. Both sides of the family were there and interested. I just loved that day and sharing it with all of my family.”
  Stanford’s Japanese American mother embraces Jewish culture, “making the best Latkes ever for Chanukah”, says Stanford. “She is a really great cook and she always makes tempura and rice to go with the latkes.”
  Happy For You begins when Evelyn is thirty-one years old and struggling with a PhD thesis in philosophy that just doesn’t seem to come together. She is offered a high paying position at the “third most popular internet company” that is seeking to increase happiness through an app that is being created and tested on their staff.
  Evelyn struggles with the concept of quantifying and oversimplifying happiness and wonders if the seemingly ever- present beeping of the app is counter intuitive.
  Evelyn tells her boss that “You think that people want to be told they are happy, but really I think people want even more to feel understood.”
  Meanwhile, Evelyn’s life seems to be taking many twists and turns as she grapples with issues of marriage, motherhood and how she fits into her community and her world. “She is a woman who feels out of place, uncategorizable, and this reflects everything about her life and choices,” explains Stanford. “The way technology has developed has put more pressure on her. She feels like technology should allow her to control everything and she’s learning that life is unpredictable, and she doesn’t have control of everything.” Stanford says.
  Jenni Rudolph, co-Executive Director of the LUNAR Collective—“a space for Asian Jews to connect with their tribe,” proclaimed “I love this book.” We all want to feel seen, heard fand understood,’ she said. ‘Many Asian Jews grow up feeling different and wanting to connect. One of the themes of the book that stood out for me was Evelyn’s search for joy. Joy is written off as unimportant. But really, it is part of the journey we are all on. Joy is what keeps our community together,” says Rudolph. 
  This book holds many emotions and nuanced subplots. The multiple themes are seamlessly woven together in a graceful story that may surprise the reader with insights far beyond Evelyn’s search for self- identity.
  Stanford holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota and a PhD in English from UCLA. She is an assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. She is grateful for the Jewish teaching of Tzedek (Justice) which guides her in “how to run an equitable, diverse, anti-racist classroom that promotes social justice.”
  Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center welcomes Claire Stanford and Executive Director of Q Talk Radio, and Producer and Director of Pasadena Media, Xavier Mejia, for a conversation about Happy For You, Q & A, book signing, and a terrific dessert reception on Thursday, March 28, at 7 pm. The event is free, but reservations are required. To reserve space,, or call (626) 798-1161 ASAP, as seating is limited.
  For information about LUNAR Collective, log on to

Diane Burr is a contributing writer to Jlife Magazine.


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