A former black hip-hop rapper has completed, along with his wife, the conversion as Orthodox Jews and married – along with another black couple who converted- under the chupah in Seattle. The ceremony took place in March but has not been widely reported until now.
“D-Black” used to rap about the violence, gang activity and drugs of his African-American ’hood and now he is Nissim Black, who attends a Sephardi synagogue in Seattle and writes songs that he describes as rap/urban alternative that “speak a message of hope and inspiration.”
The shift in his musical message will be on full display with his new album, Nissim, due for release July 16.
The changes in his personal life were underscored earlier this year, when the 26-year-old musician was one of two grooms in a double Jewish wedding ceremony that became a community-wide project.
The story starts in 2008. Newlywed with an infant girl and then called Damian Black, he found himself at a crossroad after a friend was shot and killed at a nightclub where Black had been performing. Soon after, he lost his day job working with autistic children.
“I had a ton of questions and no answers,” Black recalls. There were questions about “religion, about God, about Christianity, about why aren’t Christians Jewish if Jesus was Jewish.”
Black began researching religion, reading about the Torah and begging his wife, Jamie, to study with him.
“We almost got a divorce,” he says. “We didn’t see eye to eye.”
But, the more she read, the more she, too, found herself attracted to Judaism, ultimately taking the Hebrew name Adina. “If this is something that can give me answers, I wanted it,” she says, adding that she felt like Judaism, unlike Christianity, welcomed questions. “It’s like a breath of fresh air.”
Adina began urging her younger sister and best friend Sheree to study with them. Nissim and Sheree together pulled in Bradley Brown, Black’s close friend since kindergarten, fellow musician and Sheree’s future husband. They, too, have taken Hebrew names, Chana and Yosef.
By 2010, the two couples — each with two young children — had moved to an Orthodox enclave in Seattle’s Seward Park and were studying for conversion at Sephardic Bikur Cholim Congregation. Their conversions were finalized with visits to the mikveh, ritual bath, on Feb. 27. As is traditional with a conversion at the congregation involving someone already married, a Jewish wedding ceremony was next.
That’s when the four of them came under the wing of congregant Beth Balkany, who was determined to make the couples Jewish wedding celebrations they wouldn’t forget.
Under Balkany’s direction the double wedding became a community project. Through the local bridal “gemach,” a lending resource, she found gowns that required just hems for each of the women. Nissim and Yosef provided a playlist for the DJ. A couple getting married the previous day donated their flowers. The caterer donated his time, and the photographer did the same.
Someone contributed money for a videographer; someone else makeup for the brides.
Balkany pulled off a sit-down dinner for 170 people, and Rabbi Simon Benzaquen officiated at the two separate ceremonies, with his wife, Cecilia, walking each bride down the aisle.
The guests came not only from their congregation, but also from Bikur Cholim Machzikay Hadath, the Seattle Kollel and Ezra Bessaroth, Seattle’s other Sephardic synagogue.
“We had no idea that it was going to be as big and as fabulous as it was,” Adina says.
Her sister Chana added, “The love you felt in the room – it was just amazing.”