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the bris

I was convinced we were having a girl, so while Dave and I decided early on that we would do a bris if it was a boy, I didn’t really think we’d have to worry about it. Circumcision is actually a bit controversial around here, and there are some who see it as borderline abuse. A lot of the reading in our birth class was decidedly anti-circumcision, saying that while it used to be done regularly for better health and hygiene, it’s now seen as completely unnecessary an therefore should be reserved for ritual purposes only, if that.

So why would we, two generally non-practicing Jews, decide to do this to our little boy?

Other than a handful of cultural similarities, a certain Jewish “look” and the choice to celebrate or not celebrate a handful of prominent holidays, there are few things that really define you as a Jew and even fewer ways to assert that Jewishness. You can choose go to temple, you can choose to celebrate the Jewish holidays, you can add Jewish elements to your wedding or
other big life events, you can have a bar or bat mitzvah (I did, Dave didn’t – our parents’ choice mostly). The one thing you don’t really choose – you just do – is get circumcised. Dave and I both question every choice we have to make (in life, and especially with this baby) so it’s a little strange that we didn’t question this thing that is so traditional and potentially painful for the baby, but it’s just what Jews do. And even if we never go to temple, and only vaguely celebrate a handful of Jewish holidays (and celebrate Christmakkah with the Woulfins every year), we are still undeniable Jewish – and that is something we have passed on to our little boy.

Most people who have their boys circumcised these days do it in the hospital or pediatrician’s office, and this was another choice we had to make. Did we want to do this quick and clinical in the sterile setting of a hospital? Or did we want to go traditional and hire a mohel? We actually did a bunch of research about this. In the hospital, they strap the baby to a board, numb him up with anesthetic, and make the cut. There is no ceremony or recognition of the event – it’s just snip and done. With a bris, we could be at home – comfortable and warm and quiet. We could have our friends and family there. It costs a lot – more than I would have thought. (But then again, would you want to hire a bargain mohel? Don’t think so.) The mohel uses anesthetic as well (though he doesn’t wear gloves), and he supposedly does it faster than regular doctors. The baby is held by a family member on a pillow – surrounded with people who love him. There is a lovely set of prayers read in his honor – about being a good person, emphasizing community and education. And his name is formally “announced” to the Jewish community. Oh – and the baby gets wine! Deservedly so I think.

Dave and I had had enough of the hospital, and we loved the Jewish rituals that we incorporated into our wedding, so it made sense to us to incorporated some tradition into this event as well. We opted for the bris. And while I was completely dreading it in the days leading up to it, it really wasn’t so bad. Z didn’t cry any more than he does when we change his diaper, and he pooped on the mohel which I thought was pretty funny. The Rabbi emphasized that Ezekiel in Hebrew means strength (which seemed especially appropriate at this ceremony), and she talked about the friends and family surrounding him who would love and take care of him for the rest of his life. And then it was over – so fast – and I had him back in my arms and he (and I) slept for most of the rest of the day.

Am I glad we did it? Yes. Would I want to go through it again? Certainly not. But luckily, this is one of those things that you do one time only – and it defines you in some way for the rest of your life.

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