Sep 9 2014
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. Read the rest of this entry →
Sep 3 2014
I’m planning a Hebrew naming ceremony for my children. They aren’t twins. And they aren’t babies. Rather, despite their different ages, they haven’t already experienced this lovely rite of passage because I was ambivalent about my Jewishness. While I was raised Jewish and never questioned my religion, when my first husband insisted that I have my mother’s Jewishness “checked” by an Orthodox rabbi, this changed. According to this rabbi, my mother’s conversion wasn’t kosher, and in order to be married in an Orthodox ceremony and for any future children to be considered Jewish, I would have to study and undergo a full conversion. I was shocked.
As a child, I had dressed up like Queen Esther on Purim, endured matzah on Passover, had my apples dipped in honey for Rosh Hashanah, fasted on Yom Kippur, and decorated a sukkah in the fall. For a number of years, I accompanied my mother to Harold’s Kosher Market because she kept a kosher kitchen and Shabbat was a weekly observance. I was told we were Orthodox growing up, yet there was the official opinion: I was not Jewish–enough. This was not deduced from what was in my heart, my knowledge, or my soul. Rather, it was based solely on my mother’s conversion paperwork, signed by a rabbi not known to be from an Orthodox background. Read the rest of this entry →
Aug 22 2014
Lately, being Jewish on North Haven–the small island in Maine where we live–has felt like a non-issue, though I still tend to think of myself as the only one. Which made it all the more surprising when, as I was getting ready to leave the seasonal bakery I run and go pick up 3-month-old Penrose, my friend Rosa, one of the nearly 1,000 summer visitors we get out on the island, stopped me.
“The girls and Mark and I were talking and we wanted to organize a naming ceremony for Penrose if you’d like,” she said. “I bet it will be the first one ever on North Haven!”
I paused, momentarily stunned. I had considered a simchat bat ceremony for her, but real life took over, and between recovery, my husband’s return to work, and opening the bakery, we never got it together. I had also never been to one, and other than the bagel and lox spread at the end, I didn’t know what it would entail. To have someone else run it for us would be amazing. Read the rest of this entry →
Jun 17 2014
I glanced at the invitation, stroking a finger over the shiny silver and blue stripes. The teddy bear applique was sweet. I looked at the date and sighed. If it were almost anyone else in the world, I would have sent my regrets and a thoughtful gift. Attending this party required a 600-mile round trip with a 3-year-old and a toddler, and would be bookended by close-of-the-school-year madness. The idea alone was exhausting. I massaged the bridge of my nose.
I knew we had to go. This baby naming was hosted by one of my husband’s closest friends. They had grown up together, through high school and college, into careers and relationships. They served as best men at each other’s weddings. (His wife is actually the reason my marriage is legal. When my overwhelmed fiancé left our marriage license at home, she sped to retrieve it before the start of the ceremony.) Our firstborn daughters are three months apart, and they are already friends. They talk sometimes over Skype, proud dads grinning in the background.
I glanced at the invitation again. Wait a minute–a baby naming? For a boy? Read the rest of this entry →
Aug 27 2013
So last weekend was my daughter’s simchat bat, or baby naming ceremony…
First of all, I’ve got to say that the baby naming was SO much easier to deal with than the brit (circumcision) was for my son J. Of course for starters, you don’t have to worry about any snipping. My wife was thankful for that if nothing else.
Also, it was really nice to be able to decide for ourselves when the ceremony would take place. The eight day requirement is kind of restricting. For E, we were able to look at a calendar and say, “Hmm, when would be the best time for us to do this? When will family be able to come for sure?” Plus the fact that you can basically create your own ceremony that fits your style is really nice, too. So, for all those reasons, there was a lot less stress with the baby naming than the circumcision.
However, the second child’s ceremony does introduce a different type of stress–how to take care of the elder child. J is at that unique age where he isn’t young enough to totally ignore everything that is going on, while still not being old enough to fully understand why people would all be gathered for his baby sister who doesn’t really do much and certainly can’t play with trucks or trains like he can. Read the rest of this entry →
Dec 24 2012
My beautiful Little Bird recently had her first birthday. In preparation for her big day, I decided to plan a decent sized party at a restaurant. As a photographer, I also decided to have a friend take some photos to commemorate the day.
Ok, so you are probably thinking, “Why the hell would you want to spend money on a photographer for a first birthday?” Or for that matter, why pay for a photographer to document other important events in your little one’s new life, besides the obvious newborn shoot and maybe 1-year photo shoot. But I can tell you, I have shot my fair share of brit milahs, baby namings, baby showers, and first birthdays and it is nice to be able to look back and remember those moments. Not having to be the one behind the camera or relying on a friend or family member for the photos makes it even better. Read the rest of this entry →
Dec 6 2012
“How do you pronounce it? Ah-vee-tle? Ah-vie-tle?”
“It’s pronounced Ah-vee-TAHL.”
“Oh…yeah. I get it. That’s pretty.”
I always dreaded the first day of class from ninth grade on. Because on that first day you had to sit through roll call–where they ran down the list, calling out students one at a time, checking off attendance and putting faces to names. It shouldn’t have been that big of a deal. But my name? It always seemed to cause a stumbling block for folks, at least outside the Jewish community. Before entering the public school system, I attended a Schechter elementary and middle school where the name Avital never caused anyone to bat an eye. But once outside that comfortable Jewish space? There was no telling how my name would be butchered. Usually, teachers would mess it up a few times before I had to pipe up to correct them, drawing the stares of everyone in class. Read the rest of this entry →
Nov 19 2012
In about one month’s time, God-willing, my newest niece or nephew is scheduled to make an initial appearance in Dallas, TX. The following week, family from all over the country will descend on the Lone-Star State in order to welcome him or her into our family and into our covenantal people. I, however, will be making the trip alone. And it saddens me.
Different families have different approaches, I have discovered, when it comes to family simchas. As far as my family goes, presence at a family celebration, be it a college graduation or a baby naming, is de rigueur. Even when it involves cross-country flights. Distance was never considered a barrier to attendance. Neither, to the best of my knowledge, were finances. Somehow there was always a way for the family to be together.
Which is why my decision to travel solo next month is a painful one. Read the rest of this entry →
Nov 13 2012
Time flies! It’s hard to believe I have a 3-month-old baby and will be heading back to work after the Thanksgiving holiday (boo!). Since she wasn’t a boy, we weren’t rushed to have a bris, but I always knew I wanted a Baby Naming Ceremony. I have been to many ceremonies, usually just a small moment in a Shabbat service, and never really thought too much about it, until it was my baby.
Read the rest of this entry →