My youngest baby, Hope, is fast approaching 7 months old. Though we are not currently members of any synagogue, our lack of shul membership doesn’t necessarily translate into a lack of faith. My husband and I are Jewish and we want to raise our children Jewish. And while one of their first introductions to this faith will be the ceremony where we give our child a Hebrew name, we haven’t done it yet. But it’s time to start planning.
In Judaism, the naming ceremony for boys is part of the brit milah or bris, the ritual circumcision that most Jewish boys receive in the first week after their birth. It’s a straightforward, if not uncomfortable process that looked something like this with my son: I was eight days post-partum and was largely a walking ball of emotions. Our house was filled with some close friends and family but mostly extended family that I did not know or recall or even like. A mohel (one who performs ritual Jewish circumcisions) showed up and claimed he had circumcised nearly every little boy in the tri-state area. He said a couple of blessings that I did not understand over my tiny helpless son who lay sobbing on top of our card table, and he carefully removed my son’s foreskin. Everyone celebrated as my baby screamed. Someone removed the baby and the iodine and replaced it with a platter of rice that my husband’s grandmother had made for the occasion. A group of old women sat down at the exact same table where this whole ridiculous scene had just taken place and started noshing and kibitzing. I grabbed my son and the rugelach tray and hid in my bedroom where I sobbed and binged on pastries.
In every way, this ceremony felt like it was more about religious to-dos and tasks and less about faith. I recognize this was my personal experience with my son’s bris, but nonetheless it cut me sharply (no pun intended) that his first introduction to Judaism was seemingly so full of ritual, yet so lacking in spirituality.
With our second child, Ruby, we felt free of what we’d been through with our son Dylan. A brit bat (the naming ritual for girls) is a relatively new concept in Judaism and is much more free form. We knew we could do something more formal in a shul with a rabbi but we hadn’t yet made that connection with any one place. We wanted to create a ritual that honored our traditions in a way that felt inclusive and warm.
Here’s what we did instead: We called everyone to our backyard on a sunny day in the spring. We pulled white chairs in a circle and filled them with our closest and most favorite people. We spoke about my mother, our daughter’s namesake, about all of the things we loved about her, and about what we wished for sweet baby Ruby. We blessed our daughter. We welcomed her with love into our faith.
And so now, with Hope, we have a precedent, a path by which to hold a ceremony unique to us and the space that we have created for ourselves and our family within Judaism. This time it will be a crisp fall day. We will gather the people we love in our backyard and ask for their grace as we stumble rather artlessly through some blessings and give our daughter a Hebrew name. We will tell her that with her arrival, she made a unique space in our hearts that reminds us to stay soft, stay open. Perhaps this space is the only place in which true love and change and a belief in a higher power itself is even possible. Because of this, because of her and her brother and her sister, we have faith. We have Hope.
And with our own unique rituals and deep humility, we will introduce her to our unique brand of Judaism. We will welcome her into our faith with love.