A couple of weeks ago, Becky and I went to an interfaith event sponsored by the JCC. It was free and at a nice restaurant in Cambridge and we hadn’t been out as a couple since two days before Sam was born for Becky’s birthday. Initially, we had gone back and forth about going to this, and in the end we decided to go for it. One of the issues that we went back and forth about was some chat postings that Becky had read about these events. Most of them were written by people who had decided to raise their children Jewish, which was not what we had decided on doing. Instead, we had decided to raise our children with every part of their heritage in some way represented.
Before we got married, while we were still deciding what kind of ceremony we wanted, we looked at a number of interfaith resources. In general, the resources had a lot of white couples where one was Christian and the other Jewish. In many cases, they might have had a blended ceremony, but raised their children one way or the other. We decided then that wasn’t what we wanted. For us, we did have that basic Christian/Jewish aspect, and our ceremony reflected that. But we also had a European-Japanese-Hawaiian aspect as well. In our ceremony/reception, it manifested itself with Jewish music and dance, a huppah, lots and lots of origami cranes on the huppah, the cake, and in the shape of a mon (Japanese family crest), a banzai cheer, aikido demonstration, I wore a lei, and Contemporary Hawaiian music for both the wedding march and the first dance. The trick over the next few years has been how this all affects Maya and Sam.
For some, all this might overwhelming and confusing for them. But I disagree. The truth is they have a very rich heritage that they need to be aware of as they grow up. How that richness is passed on to them requires a lot of thought and tinkering. For example, we don’t have a Christmas tree at Christmas. Shabbas is done in a low-key manner, always with candles and sometimes with challah. O-Shogatsu is also similarly truncated. This is all by necessity—we can’t do everything. Sometimes, like the wedding, we can mix the cultures, but at other times we can’t or don’t while still needing to “trim” the artifact to suit our lives. We’re coming up on what was Girls’ Day in Japan, and this is a good example of cultural adaptation. Like some Nikkei, I still observe the traditional days. We don’t have the big display though. Mom sends a different doll each year, but they are not traditional. I’d like to one day get a few of the traditional dolls for Maya, but not a whole big set. Here, the larger cultural picture is subject to the smaller familial observance.
Family history and the family culture is the central part of our Jewpanese teachings to our children. Like all family lessons, they are living culture, things actively and consciously done. The family’s culture also depends on similar values and outlooks by those adults. Much of what we read said to choose one in order to not confuse the child, but I wonder about the wisdom in that. In fact, I doubt it. If both parents have an equal attachment to their culture, aren’t they eventually teaching children one of the cultures is irrelevant, one side of the family means less, hoping that sometime in the future their children will learn the nuance of their parents’ decision? Additionally, if the parent of the other culture continues to live and treasure that culture openly, what is the lesson to the children? Mom or Dad, whomever it is, is not really a part of us? For Becky and me, these questions didn’t have answers or answers that were good enough, because for all the talk of telling them that we love and treasure the other side, the truth is you’re not doing it. Through action, you’re teaching a child to value one parent less, and that is not acceptable.
There may come a day when Maya or Sam or both will choose to be “Jewish” or “Japanese,” but if that were to happen, they would always have something of the other side within them. Like the taijitu, there would be no one side as an absolute. It is possible that if they chose one side or the other, they will run into people who’ll say they aren’t “real” Jews or Japanese, but somehow I think that will happen less and less. At the rate both groups in America “marry out” (and sometimes to each other), this is an adaptation both communities, the Jewish American and the Japanese American, are and have already adapted to. It’s not a theory; it’s a fact of life.
For the differences in the Jewish and Japanese cultures, the personal and familial similarities outweighed them. When Becky and I attended the dinner it was pretty clear that we were not alone in how we thought. For a few years now, I’ve gotten kind of used to being the one Asian (or non-white) face in the crowd at Becky’s family functions, just as she’s often the only White face at my family’s. This group, however, had a lot of different faces, African American, Central/South Asian, as well as a few East Asian faces like mine. I feel good about our decision to raise our children with a mixed cultural background. It’s also good to sometimes see that we’re not alone.