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Our Son's Bris Shalom, or Welcoming Covenant

Names have been removed or changed for the privacy of the family.

I prepared this alternative bris ceremony to welcome our son into the world on his eighth day. He was born April 29, 2001. This ceremony is alternative in two ways. First, it is largely a secular ceremony. Second, it does not include a ritual circumcision. Our son was left intact. I am a secular Jew, married to a non-Jew. My husband and I have agreed to raise our children culturally as Jews. We are members of Machar, the Washington Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in Washington, DC. Several of the blessings in this ceremony are taken from the sample baby naming ceremonies available in The New Jewish Baby Book by Anita Diamant. This ceremony also borrows a sentence or two from the alternative bris ceremony, "Brit Shalom--Covenant of Wholeness," formerly available on the web at www.nocirc.org. We hope others will freely use this ceremony for their own alternative bris or baby naming ceremonies. For a listing of people who perform brit shalom ceremonies, go to www.circumstitions.com.

The Ceremony

Bubbe [my mother] carries the baby in. Grandma [my husband's mother], the sandeket (female grandparent who holds the baby during the ceremony), is seated and holds him throughout most of the ceremony. Everyone else stands.

Part I - Introductory Blessings and Prayers

Me: Ba-ruch Ha-bah (blessed is the one who comes)

Blessings

In every birth, blessed is the wonder
In every creation, blessed is the new beginning
In every child, blessed is life.
In every hope, blessed is the potential.
In every transition, blessed is the beginning.
In every existence, blessed are the possibilities
In every love, blessed are the tears.
In every life, blessed is the love.

My husband: This Bris Shalom, Hebrew for Greeting or Welcoming Covenant, is our naming and welcoming ceremony for our son, [Name]. In following at least part of ancient Jewish custom, we mark the beginning of our commitment to raise him in the Jewish tradition culturally. We invite you--in a few minutes--to also share any blessings or well wishes for [son's name].

Me: We are gathered here today, to welcome the first baby born in our families in this new millenium. Today we have a profound and unprecedented insight into our humanity, we now know that each of us is fully human from the moment we are born, able to feel and remember all the richness of each and every moment's experience.

My husband: We wish to recognize some of the people who will be important in his life:
His grandparents.
His uncles, aunts, and cousins.
He also has two godparents who can't be here today: our longtime friend and my sister-in-law.

Candle lighting

David's cousin lights candles.
Bubbe says the blessing over candles:
Ba-ruch a-ta Adonai, Eh-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-o-lam, bo-rei m'o-rei ha-eish.
Let us bless the Source of All, Who creates the illuminations of the flame.

Me: There is a new light in our hearts and in our home.
These candles celebrate the birth of our child. One candle for each of his parents. A third for his big sister. And we kindle a fourth for our son, the new life in our family.

My husband: Out of the creative darkness of the womb he has come.

Me: These candles celebrate his emergence into light.

My husband: Blessed is the woman who bears a child, for she knows how love covers pain.

Me: Blessed is the man who fathers a child, for he makes a bridge between earth and heaven.

Both: Child of light, you know not yet the love and joy overflowing from our hearts.

Kiddush: blessings and drinking of wine

Me: Ba-rukh kol khai ba-olam
Precious is every living thing in the world
B'ru-kheem ha-kha-yeem ba-adam
Precious is the life of humankind.

My husband: In addition to symbolizing the fruit of our union, we drink wine to follow age-old traditions. We drink wine from this special Kiddush cup. Today, it is filled with the wine of a life just begun and from it we taste the sweetness of the great joy that having a family has brought us.

My husband and I drink from cup and give our son a taste. (He dips a finger into the cup and wets our son's lips with wine.)

Part II--Covenant

My husband: With each child the world begins anew. By this ceremony your mother and I formally welcome you to our world and our family. As we name you today, our sweet son, we undertake our traditional responsibilities as your parents to take you forward into the world as we know it, to love you, to guide you, to educate you, and to cherish you. You are whole, complete, and perfect. We promise you, before our family gathered here today in your honor, to do our very best for you each and every day hereafter.

Me: [Son's name], we dedicate you to Torah--to a never-ending fascination with study and learning. With a book, you will never be alone.

My husband: [Son's name], we dedicate you to chuppah (wedding canopy)--to never-ending growth as a human being, capable of giving and receiving love. With loving family and friends, you will never be alone.

Me: [Son's name], we dedicate you to ma-asim tovim--to a never-ending concern for family and community, justice and charity. While you care for others, you will never be alone.

Both: [Son's name], as you begin your journey through life, we pray that you will find sustenance in ma-yim cha-yim, the living waters which Judaism offers to all who draw from the well of this tradition. May we learn and grow in these traditions together.

Part III--The Name, Readings, and Conclusion

Me: As we prepare to give you your name, we wrap you in this tallit (prayer shawl)--the same tallit my grandfather wore at his Bar Mitzvah.

My husband: [Baby's full name], we name you in loving remembrance of your great great uncle, Lisa's great uncle, and my maternal grandfather. We have chosen Efron as your Hebrew name in remembrance of Lisa's paternal grandfather. [Baby's name] means [insert meaning]. Efron means bird. May you always be [explain meaning of names].

My husband: Your grandfather couldn't be here today. He wrote this for you:

My uncle was truly an original, who marched to his own drummer.

As a teenager, he hitched his way to Hollywood to make his fortune in the new industry of movie making, and soon was publishing America's first magazine on the use of movies for educational purposes. He later became the movie critic for the New York Daily Worker, and the editor of several Jewish publications in NYC. His interests extended to a love of ancient Jewish music.

Material things never mattered to him. His home was furnished with other people's throwaways (early Salvation Army was the theme if there was one). The assorted people I met there awed me. That was the first place in my life that I ever talked to and met educated black people, Indians from India, Eastern Europeans, diplomats, writers, intellects, etc. The common denominator for all of them was a concern to make the world a better place to live and most of them were communists.

During the Great Depression of the thirties, a lot of intellectuals, including my uncle, embraced socialism as the obvious successor to capitalism, which had apparently failed.

A man richer in thought and ideas and a kinder man, I have never known. He continued to lecture and write well into his eighties. He published a book on the history of the movie industry and his music collection now belongs to The New York Public Library. A few years before he passed away, New York's Museum of Modern Art, honored him for his contributions to the movie industry.

Young [Baby's name], I hope your life will be as rich and as rewarding as my uncle's was.

Your loving grandfather

Grandma: Share thoughts about her father

Me: We invite guests and family to share thoughts, blessings, well wishes. Our son's godfather couldn't be here. But his fiance is here to share some of his thoughts.

All family members: [Baby's name], all of us bless you and pray that you, together with us, share a life of wholeness and hopefulness and peace. Amen.

Part IV--S'udat Mitzvah, the Celebratory Meal

Blessing over the bread

[Friend]: Ba-ruch a-ta Adonai, Eh-lo-hei-nu meh-lech ha-o-lam, ha-mo-tzi leh-chem min ha-a-retz.
Let us bless the Source of All, Who provides us with the staff of life.

Me: Bread is the symbol of sustenance and honey the sign of sweetness. We dip the bread in honey in hope that our daily strivings will be sweetened by our love for each other. Please share bread and honey with us symbolically to wish [son's name] a sweet life.

(Baby's sister breaks the bread and his cousin dips the bread in honey. A third family member passes it around for all to share.)

Our son did not cry during the ceremony.

Hebrew for "son of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish boys come of age at 13. When a boy comes of age, he is officially a bar mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bar mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The female equivalent is "bat mitzvah." Female version of the Hebrew word "sandek," which means ?godfather,? the word is specific to the role of holding the baby during a brit milah ceremony. Hebrew for "canopy" or "covering," the structure (open on all four sides) under which a Jewish wedding ceremony takes place. In its simplest for, it consists of a cloth, sheet, or tallit stretched or supported over four poles. Hebrew for "sanctification," a blessing recited over wine or grape juice to sanctify the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Hebrew for "prayer shawl," a ritual item that is worn and has knotted fringes (tzitzit) attached to the four corners. Yiddish for "grandmother." The first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), or the scroll that contains them. Hebrew for "covenant," often referring to the ritual for Jewish boys when they are 8 days old ("brit milah" - "covenant of circumcision"). It is commonly known as "bris," which is the Ashkenazi or Yiddish pronunciation of "brit." Hebrew for "covenant," often referring to the ritual for Jewish boys when they are 8 days old ("brit milah" - "covenant of circumcision"). It is commonly known as "bris," which is the Ashkenazi or Yiddish pronunciation of "brit."
Lisa Rosen

Lisa Rosen is a research director for a nonprofit sustainable development organization in the Washington, DC area. She has two children. She and her husband are an intermarried couple committing to raising their children culturally Jewish. They are members of Machar, the Washington Congregation for Humanistic Judaism.

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