Rachel recently told us, by way of sympathizing about the burden of putting on a bris, “It’s not fair. You come home from the hospital with a newborn and have to to immediately plan a bar mitzvah. At your house.” It’s true. It wouldn’t be Jewish nachas if it didn’t come laced with anxiety, or at the very least some tension about how big to make the deli tray.
Thankfully, we were able to turn over ownership of the event to Ezra’s very helpful grandmother Amy, leaving us to sweat the, um, small stuff. In the days leading up to the circumcision, it was mostly me who was getting the fantods. Sarah was taking it all in stride, and Ezra was blissfully ignorant. (I couldn’t bear to tell him.) Most fears were eased on Friday with a visit from the mohel, Cantor Larry Elsberg, who explained the whole circumcision process and our responsibilities afterwards in careful and empathetic detail. I felt we were in good hands. Or, more to the point, Ezra would be.
I’m not going to get into a thing about the ethics or medical properness of circumcision. The Internet is lousy with screeds from both sides. We researched and discussed it in the months leading up to Ezra’s birth, and we both felt that since that there are advantages to either choice, we’d rather opt for the one that follows tradition. The bris is a celebration of introducing a child into his family, community and Jewish culture, and it’s a way to get the family together at once to meet the new addition. That’s important to us. When in doubt, side with tradition.
The bris started at 9 AM. (Tradition again: it’s considered lucky to hold it in the morning.) By 9:20 the crowd was collected in the living room, listening to the mohel explain the procedure and the tradition behind it. I stood by, holding a very docile, sleeping Ezra. Parents are not actually required to be an integral part of the bris; it’s can be brutal assault on their tender sensibilities. Cantor Elsberg warned us not to decide in advance about what we’d do, but rather to wait until the show began. As it did, Sarah and I found that we both had more stomach for it than we expected, and we stood by, hugging Adrienne and Syd, as the mohel brought clamp to foreskin. Grandpop Peter was at the boy’s side, acting as the sandek, keeping Ezra boozed up with drops of wine. (Actually, we failed to get the necessarily grape Manichewitz, so instead we went with sugar-treated port. Poor guy will never be able to enjoy an apértif again.) The prayer was said, the knife was raised, the boy screamed, the crowd turned, and the deed was done.
And suddenly, it was over. Another prayer, some words about the name, then we hustled the screaming child into the other room where the mohel gave us the care instructions. He also took a moment to comment on the kid’s prodigious foreskin. A diaper change — by the mohel, as I was still a little queasy at the sight of my boy’s bloodied package — and then we all retired for a long, therapeutic feeding session. Ezra to his mother’s breast, and the rest of us to the deck for lox, bagels, and shots of slivovitz.