From the moment I learned we were expecting a boy, I’ve been imagining how the bris of my first-born son would happen. Our families in New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, and California would travel to Virginia, where we live, and we would gather at our local synagogue. My dad would bring bagels from my favorite place — David’s Bagels in New City, NY— and, as a family, we would welcome our baby boy into Jewish life.
Now, however, this fantasy has been upended and I don’t know what to do. My due date is less than three weeks away, and, like so much of the world, the novel coronavirus has found its way into our small Central Virginia community.
As I enter my final weeks of pregnancy, I quickly learned that there is very little I can control from now on. This is true whether or not there’s a pandemic: Baby boy will decide himself if he wants to come on my scheduled C-section date, or if he wants to make an earlier appearance.
But one of the few things I do have control over is the bris — and, being a plan-ahead kind of person, I did as much advance work for this Jewish rite-of-passage as possible. I called mohels in the area, found one I liked, and arranged to call her when he makes his arrival. We reserved our synagogue’s social hall and sanctuary, told our family members what honors they would have, and what hotels to book.
But then, a marine at nearby Marine Corps Base Quantico tested positive for novel coronavirus last weekend; a day later a resident of neighboring Spotsylvania County tested positive. I am a school teacher in a community in between these two areas. On Tuesday, the school board canceled all field trips, events in which a large number of guests are expected to attend, and are starting spring break a day early — and then, this past Friday, our governor closed all Virginia schools for at least two weeks.
Amid all the developments, my husband and I quickly called my sister in California to discuss what to do next. Should she fly out from California for the week he is born, as we initially planned? Do I tell my 80-something year old grandma not to travel from Northern New Jersey? My mother in law works in a senior center, is she at an increased risk for catching or spreading the virus?
Since then, the situation has become even more dire, with many school districts closing throughout the country, and some municipalities shutting down nonessential businesses. And, like everyone navigating this strange new world, I don’t have the answers — about any of this and my son’s bris, in particular. How do I balance having this lifecycle event and keeping my new son safe? One of my biggest worries since relocating to Virginia has been that I will assimilate too much and lose my Jewish identity. If I have my son circumcised at the hospital, am I turning my back on a thousand years of history? If we don’t have the bris, is this that first step toward turning away from custom and tradition? Am I being selfish? Am I overreacting? I don’t know if I can bring myself to have him circumcised at the hospital. I feel selfish for saying that, but tradition is so ingrained. I clearly remember the brises for my cousins: my great grandfather, the sandek, and three generations of the family, welcoming the baby with love. I want that for my son.
I just can’t imagine not having my dad here, not being the sandek, and holding his first grandson. It’s hard to think about having bris without my sister present, stepping in for our mother who passed away three years ago, and for whom my son will be named. But as much as this pains me, I think we are going to err on the side of caution While my OB has not offered any input but to wait and see, I spoke with a family friend who is a pediatrician and he said if we are having the service with the minimum number of people necessary we should be fine. I have reached out to the mohel, who is also an OBGYN, and have yet to hear back from her.
My favorite suggestion so far is to have a small bris with the Jewish community here and livestream it for family who can’t travel to be with us in person. (I wonder, though, if livestreaming a bris violates Facebook policy?) Once the worst has passed — hopefully soon, when the weather warms — we could have a welcoming party (or a “sip and see” as we call it here in the South) in New York, where most of our family are located.
For now, we will tell those who can and are willing to travel that we would love to have them. And those who can’t, there’s always that livestream, Facebook “community rules” be damned. Jewish law teaches us that protecting one’s health is paramount, with that belief in my heart, I will follow the advice of the medical community, with input from the rabbis and my family.
My grandmother always tells me to trust my gut; it will tell me the right thing to do. It hasn’t yet in this situation, but grandma’s advice has never let me down before. I don’t see why it would now.