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Whose Ceremony Is It Anyway?

When I met Lula, who comes from everywhere, I knew that our story was just beginning. Her father is a black man of French, Trinidadian and Native American descent who met her mother while stationed in Japan. His Air Force career had moved them from Montana to Germany and everywhere in between. Her mother left the world that she knew to move stateside and raise a family. When they landed in Texas after her dad retired Lula was very far from having ever met a Jew … let alone a vegetarian Jew from Philadelphia. Her story brought her north and we met when she became the manager of the bookstore where I worked.

When Lula became pregnant with our "Baby Bean," it was really the first time that we began to speak about religiosity and how it pertained to our world. Lula had become accustomed by this point to my odd Jewish family and our odd Jewish ways. Why did we starve ourselves for a full day in September? What is so important about bright pink horseradish on gross crackers? Why do we always answer a question with a question? My mother, who is a very spiritual woman and a non-denominational minister, always had a way to explain things to Lula so that that she could understand. She always took the time to discuss each ritual and allowed Lula to ask as many questions as she needed. This is where the learning began.

Raiden Block
Raiden Lu J. Block, quite a musician.

Since we didn't know the sex of our Baby Bean we didn't know if we were going to have a brit milah or a simhat bat so we began to talk about having both. Lula understood (or at least I think that she understood) why I felt the need for such a ceremony. She understood that it was important to me to have this baby be Jewish just as I understood that the welcoming of our "We are the World" baby needed to involve both of the ways that we identified.

We tried hard to learn all that we could about circumcision medically and the need for it in Judaism. These were not pleasant conversations. Lula did not understand the need to alter our baby if he were born male. Why couldn't he keep the foreskin? Would it hurt? Would he remember it? Why is it so important in Judaism? Why is it so important to you? The conversation became more and more uncomfortable for me the more I realized that I had a lot to learn and a simple "because of G-d's covenant with Abraham" was not a good enough answer. We were on a quest to find a better one.

By the time that our son, Raiden, our little Nin-Jew, was born, we were left with more questions and ideas about what we wanted and less that we agreed on. A rabbi friend of ours had agreed to talk to us about the significance of a Brit Milah but we were never able to connect. We didn't want to find a mohel (a trained circumciser) who was going to give us a cookie-cutter ceremony. We were lost somewhere between Japan and Rittenhouse Square with too much imagination and only eight days. When we found a Reconstructionist rabbi who specialized in interfaith and gay/lesbian Jewish ceremonies--who also happened to be a mohel--we began to breathe a little easier. He talked us through each step of our ideas and allowed us to mold the ritual, while retaining the parts that are more traditionally required, in a way that created a unique piece of prose. He helped us to create a ceremony that was worthy of our son.

We broke the ceremony into two basic pieces: the naming and the circumcision. I began the ceremony by giving Raiden his English/Japanese name:

Raiden Lu J. Block is a name suited for a child whose parents met in a bookstore. Each piece placed together to represent a final product. A story. A cumulative history that can be shared in a single person. Two odds that come together to represent a greater whole. A whole that represents the past the present and the future. The domestic the foreign and everything in between. Raiden Lu J. Block is the world. He is the past and he is our future. Our cumulative future and his name must tell that story. Rai-Thunder. Den-Lightning.

My speech explained the Jewish concept of l'dor v'dor, from generation to generation. I pointed out why we chose Raiden's name and how it represents the four corners of our family. His name tells our story.

My side of our family was given the task of creating his Hebrew name and my mother was charged with revealing it to us on the day of the bris: Lavi Yehudah Ben Shimon."Lavi means Lion and Yehudah means gratitude," my mother began. "May you have courage to live your dreams and the humility to be thankful for all the gifts of your life." She went on to explain the significance of the Hebrew letters of Lavi Yehudah using gematria, a Jewish mystical technique. She added up the numbers represented by the Hebrew letters to add a wonderful secret meaning to his name.

Here he was. Our Raiden. Our thunder and our lightning. Our Lion. Our gratitude. Our "Great" "Prince", "he who loves me" and "he whom I love." One person. All of us.

We designed every aspect of that day to bring us all together so that we could take a look at this generation and breathe the air of new life. Our future. The next generation. Raiden teaches us that we need to honor our history because it is his history. With this ceremony he goes forward into the world. He will be a Jew. He will be part Japanese, part Trinidadian, part Caucasian, part Buddhist and Baptist and Agnostic. He will be Lula and he will be Alx. But most importantly, with great honor I can say, he will be Raiden Lu J. Block.

Read Lula's story about Raiden's baby naming, The Bottom Line.

Hebrew for "covenant of circumcision," a ritual for Jewish boys when they are 8 days old. It is commonly known as "bris," which is the Ashkenazi or Yiddish pronunciation of "brit." A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Hebrew for "circumciser" (Yiddish term is "moyel"), the person who performs a ritual circumcision. The feminine form is "mohelet." Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation. Hebrew for "covenant," often referring to the ritual for Jewish boys when they are 8 days old ("brit milah" - "covenant of circumcision"). It is commonly known as "bris," which is the Ashkenazi or Yiddish pronunciation of "brit." God. In traditional Jewish circles, it is forbidden to write or say God's full Hebrew name. This custom has carried over into English by some, who write "God" without the vowel (o) and replace it with a hyphen. Some use variations of this, such as G!d or G@d.
Alx Block

Alx Block is an associate at the Jewish Publication Society. He has a degree in Spanish Linguistics and Literature from Temple University. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and son. He can laugh in 87 different languages.

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