Until I met Alx, a Conservative Jew, religion had never been a huge factor in my life. My father is a non-practicing Baptist and my mother is religiously confused--she was influenced by a Christian missionary as a small child even though her father was a Buddhist. I've always been a spiritual person even though I don't attach a name or organized religion to the powers that I believe to be. It was a new experience to enter the fold of such a tight knit tribe with such specific rules, rituals, and rites of passage.
I fell in love with the culture of Judaism. It reflects a richness that balanced my own spiritual ties. My mother is Japanese and my father is what I like to call a Dr. Pepper: 23 flavors all in one bottle. He is a mix of African American, Cherokee, French and Trinidadian. Alx's roots wove effortlessly into my cultural tapestry. We celebrated our differences and similarities, sharing and trading bits of ourselves and creating a beautiful, vibrant multi-faceted life.
Alx's family welcomed me with open arms and invited me into the fold unconditionally. Over the years, I've learned a great deal about Judaism. There have been countless Shabbats, Seders and, unfortunately, shivas. My eyes had been opened to a new and mysterious way of life and intellectuality. I accepted Alx completely and he accepted me. We didn't encounter any issues with our differences in traditions or religion until we were blessed with our son, Raiden.
|Raiden Lu J. Block
I had never pondered the subject deeply but when faced with the realization that I might have to circumcise my son, I felt a cold, heavy sickness in the pit of my stomach. You see, it goes against my nature to alter a child unless there is a life-threatening medical need for it. Deep in my gut I felt that it was not my right to make a decision of such consequence that my child would have to live with for the rest of his life.
When I questioned the circumcision, Alx felt as if I was questioning whether or not the child should be a Jew. It was an extremely emotional subject for both of us. His spirituality had never been challenged in the way that I was now challenging it. I wanted a solid answer to the question "Why do we have to circumcise?" The answer that he gave, "Because of the covenant between Abraham and God," didn't cut it. You see, for a Jew that one sentence carries the weight of the world, but for me, he might as well have said, "Because Papa Smurf said so."
After many hard conversations and full-blown fights, Alx began to understand that I was not expressing reluctance to raise our child Jewish, but a need to truly understand the ritual. I began to understand the importance of this gesture for Jews. It was a long, hard journey but we finally reached a place where we were both comfortable with the decision: if we had a son, he would have a bris. When Raiden was born, it became a reality.
Another important issue remained to be solved: how to pull-off a multi-cultural, all-inclusive, 21st century ceremony that wouldn't alienate the more traditional of the bunch. Discussions, research and soul searching turned up a Reconstructionist rabbi who specialized in gay/lesbian and multi-faith ceremonies: Rabbi Kevin Bernstein. With his guidance we seamlessly wove traditional ceremonial practices with threads of my culture and both of our modern sensibilities.
It was an intimate affair with immediate family and the closest of friends. The catering was a mix of Jewish staples and Japanese appetizers.
For the ceremony we focused on the idea of l'dor v'dor (from generation to generation) which we felt encompassed what we hold dear to our hearts: our families and the love, knowledge, and tradition that they've passed down to us. We allotted time for a beautifully moving speech prepared by Alx expressing this sentiment. Taking that idea further, we set up a table to honor our special loved ones who had passed. We also incorporated my mother in the ceremony not only to insure that she felt welcome and included but to also reiterate Raiden's cultural spread. She and those from the generation above us laid hands on Raiden and metaphorically passed him to us, from generation to generation.
We gave Alx's family the honor of giving Raiden his Hebrew name, which was to be revealed to us at the bris. Alx's mother gave a speech that brought the room to tears. Lavi Yehudah Ben Shimon is beautiful and fitting. Alx's speech also included the cultural breakdown of Raiden's full name, Raiden Lu J. Block: a multi-cultural and multi-generational cross section of us. Raiden is Japanese and means thunder and lightning which is how he certainly came into this world. Lu represents Alx's grandfathers, both Louis, and it is also the first syllable of my name, Lula. The J. represents my last name with my father's lineage and Block is Alx's family name. The ceremony was embroidered with quotes from poets, writers, and musicians that moved us and put the finishing touches on a magnificent piece.
One would think it impossible to fit so much heart and spirit into one ceremony but the power that is, whatever name it goes by, was with us through it all. It felt like we were going to unravel on several occasions, but we realized that the bottom line is that we fell in love with each other for who the other is. And nothing, not religion or culture, stands in the way of that love; it only makes the tapestry more intricate, more vibrant and more worth living for.
Read Alx's story about Raiden's baby naming, Whose Ceremony Is it Anyway?