Oct 23 2014
As soon as the ultrasound revealed that my wife, Abi, was pregnant with a boy, I started worrying about the bris. Not worrying about who would perform it, or where we would order the cold cuts from, but about the conversation I would inevitably have to have with Abi about the fact that I didn’t want our son to have one.
Being an accomplished catastrophist, I have a knack (and a formalized strategy) for making things seem worse than they actually are, and when it finally came time to have the dreaded summit with Abi about the dissection of my future son’s penis, it didn’t go anything like I had anticipated. It wasn’t stilted or awkward or painful, it wasn’t violent or even dramatic. I said, “Look—I don’t want Elijah to have a bris. It’s a medical procedure and it should be done in a hospital by a physician.”
She patted me on the shoulder and replied, “Gabe, I know you hate being Jewish; it’s OK. We’re having a bris and that’s it.” Read the rest of this entry →
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 →
May 12 2014
My husband Marc was Jewish, I was not. We hadn’t decided, not entirely, what that would mean for our kids. We already had a 3-year-old daughter, and she was happily celebrating Christian and Jewish holidays with both sides of our extended family. But having a son made any theoretical discussion suddenly incredibly real.
For Marc, the idea that we wouldn’t circumcise our infant son wasn’t an option. It was an absolute. This wasn’t a topic for discussion, not like whether or not we’d have a Christmas tree or should we not give our toddler cheerios during the week of Passover. I had to honor Marc’s right to make this decision. I had known he was Jewish, I had chosen to create a family with him. I had to respect his feelings on this topic, but I was surprised at the strength of his conviction.
I knew about circumcision. All of the little boys in my family had been circumcised in the hospital before coming home, so it wasn’t a foreign idea for me. Having it done at home was new, but my husband (and a Jewish friend who was also a resident at the local hospital) convinced me that having it done by an experienced mohel, as opposed to an exhausted and inexperienced resident, would be the best choice. If we had to do it, at least it would be done in a loving and gentle environment, by someone who was incredibly experienced and competent. Read the rest of this entry →
May 7 2014
All the Jewish celebrity parent gossip you (n)ever wanted to know.
-In her new book, “The Kind Mama: A Simple Guide to Supercharged Fertility, a Radiant Pregnancy, a Sweeter Birth, and a Healthier, More Beautiful Beginning,” Alicia Silverstone explains why she decided against circumcizing her son, Bear. The anti-circumsion site Beyond the Bris offers this quote:
“I was raised Jewish, so the second my parents found out that they had a male grandchild, they wanted to know when we’d be having a bris (the Jewish circumcision ceremony traditionally performed 8 days after a baby is born),” she writes. “When I said we weren’t having one, my dad got a bit worked up. But my thinking was: If little boys were supposed to have their penises ‘fixed,’ did that mean we were saying that God made the body imperfect?”
While the rest of the book offers some questionable medical advice, Silverstone’s view on circumcision is becoming increasingly widespread among Jewish families. (JTA) Read the rest of this entry →
Jan 16 2014
Deep in the Grickle-grass, some people say, if you look deep enough you can still see, today, where the Lorax once stood just as long as it could before somebody lifted the Lorax away.
One page into Dr. Seuss’s timeless classic and Jewish symbolism is abundant. The presumed gravesite of the Lorax, protector (creator?) of the trees, is surrounded by stones. In the animated movie adapted from the book, the Lorax and forest creatures bring stones to surround tree stumps after they have been cut in vain. Similarly, in Jewish tradition, small stones are placed at grave sites and when we bring these tangible stones and roll them around in our fingers, we can still feel our loved one; we can still feel the impact that has been made on this life.
The Lorax is often mentioned when we talk about Tu Bishvat, the New Year of the Trees, the Jewish holiday associated with environmental conservation. In Genesis, Adam is placed in the Garden of Eden to “keep it and watch over it.” And the value of bal tashchit, “do not destroy,” has become the Jewish earth day anthem. The book absolutely teaches us that trees are sacred, but if we look deeper there is so much more. Read the rest of this entry →
Jan 8 2014
For most Jewish couples expecting a son, the decision to have a bris isn’t really a decision at all. It is a time honored tradition, a mitzvah, a tenant of the Jewish religion.
I, however, wasn’t so sure. Our daughter was our first, so when I got pregnant with my son, it was the first time I really gave a bris any thought. To be honest, I just wasn’t sure I wanted the circumcision to take place outside of a clean hospital without a physician. After much thought, and knowing how much this meant to my husband and family, I agreed to the bris. And since I am the consummate planner and organizer, I planned the details down to where we’d get the bagels and lox.
As I entered my third trimester I had a typical plan in my head for my baby boy’s first week. I knew I was having a C-section so after four days in the hospital we would go home and on his eighth day, our family and friends would celebrate my son’s bris. There is a Yiddish phrase that translates to “When you make a plan, God laughs.” When I had a placental abruption at 33 weeks and my son was whisked off to the NICU for what would turn out to be a month-long stay, my plans went out the window. Read the rest of this entry →
May 13 2013
Last Monday morning, my family gathered for the bris of my new nephew. He’s the first in his generation, and after several rough years with many funerals, my family was really ready to celebrate. I had offered to bake for the bris, and my sister (the proud mama) accepted, so I spent Saturday night baking up a storm, making some classic family recipes that are delicious, and that would bring the memory of my mother and aunt into the celebration.
Standing around before we got started, the women of the family looked at the trays of goodies that I had baked, and immediately began the traditional recitation of guilt. “Uch, this is SO BAD. I should NOT eat any of this.” “Don’t let me have ANY of this.” “This isn’t going to help me stay good.” And on and on. 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 →
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 →
Oct 3 2012
Naming a Jewish child comes with much responsibility
Naming another human being is a tremendous obligation.
It is the first of many duties of a parent and the name you choose will grace your child from the moment they are born. It is how you as parents will come to know your baby and how his friends will eventually call to him on the playground.
Naming a Jewish child comes with added responsibility. A boy’s Hebrew name will be spoken by his parents during prayer and blessing. It is the name by which he will be called by the Rabbi to the bimah on his Bar Mitzvah and the one his wife will lovingly commit to under the chuppah. And, God wiling, after a long, fruitful life, that same name will be whispered in Yahrzeit by his children and grandchildren.
One of the main sources of inspiration we use when naming our children, for both their Hebrew and English (secular) names, is a family tree. My husband and I both come from diverse backgrounds and we feel compelled to give our children meaningful names that reflect what we have passed on both historically and genetically. Read the rest of this entry →