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Strangest Looks

May 2004

You get the strangest looks when you mention hacking off the tip of your baby's penis. Especially when you mention it'll take place at a party.

At your house.

On top of the dining room table.

Especially if you're Jewish and your husband is not.

rugelachAfter seven years of marriage to Jake, this was the first moment when religion became a problem. Jake and I shared the same values, if not the same traditions, and because he felt no connection with another religion, he was open to mine. He okayed the Jewish wedding and mezuzahs on the door, and gamely ate the gefilte fish and matzah ball soup at Passover seder every year. My in-laws kindly wrapped our Christmas packages in Hanukkah wrap. And everyone accepted that we would raise our kids Jewish. So everything went smoothly until the birth of our second child--a boy.

Not two minutes after the birth, my father was on his way to call the mohel. My mother was rocking my brand new son and planning how much rugelach she'd need for the guests. Neither of them thought twice. A bris is tradition, after all. It's a given for a Jewish boy, and this little scrap of soft skin and brown hair was Jewish. To be honest, I never thought twice about it either.

Then, I mentioned it to my husband's family and I got the look. You know the look. They didn't have to say a word--I could hear what they were thinking.

"What!? Is she crazy? She can't be serious! Is she still groggy from the childbirth?"

It seemed that circumcision done in a sterile hospital room was okay but a circumcision at home--in front of a crowd--was odd.

Different.

As a Jewish girl growing up in Arizona, I was accustomed to being different. In fact, I was proud of it. I was proud to be Jewish. I raved to everyone about bagels and lox and the brilliance of Einstein, Freud and Dr. Ruth. I bragged about eight nights of presents and four glasses of wine. I was proud defender and enthusiastic supporter of all that was Jewish. So at that moment I wanted to say, "Don't look at me like that. A bris, a ritual circumcision, is a wonderful thing." I opened my mouth to say exactly that and--couldn't. That's when I realized I had a problem. It wasn't my husband or my in-laws. It was me. I suddenly wasn't sure. Is a bris a wonderful thing? Or is it a hurtful, painful, unnecessary thing?

That was the first question and like sympathy cards on a yarzheit, more questions kept pouring in.

"Just because I'm Jewish does that mean I must embrace everything Jewish? How far from tradition can I get and still be Jewish? Can I do this to my baby? Why am I doing this? Does God want me to do this? Is God watching? What does this mean? Why couldn't I have had another girl?"

I thought about it a lot. I read everything I could. I spoke to friends and to the mohel. I listened to my heart. And then, on the eighth day, we had the bris. Not because it's what you do if you're Jewish, but because all those questions had led me to a new understanding.

I realized that for me, the bris is a way to keep faith with God. It's a connection to the past and a commitment to the future. It's a memorial and it's an act of hope. And somehow, it seemed like an appropriate way to celebrate Judaism with its unique mixture of pain and joy.

So, we did it. Kyle screamed and my in-laws looked terrified, and you know what? I was a little terrified, too. But five minutes later we were all eating rugelach and the baby was content in my arms.

My son is now 7. There have been a few more bumps along the road and I imagine there are more to come. The truth is, melding traditions is one of the hardest things about an interfaith relationship. But I also think it's one of the best things. It has forced me to ask questions. It has challenged my beliefs. It has provoked thought and discussion.

And isn't that a fundamental part of the Jewish tradition?

That's why, in some strange way, I think marrying out of the faith has brought me closer to it.

Yiddish for "stuffed fish," a patty made of ground up varieties of fish, matzo meal and spices, boiled in fish broth. A popular dish on Passover, sometimes served on Shabbat and other holidays as well. Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods. The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach." Hebrew word for an unleavened bread, traditionally eaten during the holiday of Passover. Hebrew for "circumciser" (Yiddish term is "moyel"), the person who performs a ritual circumcision. The feminine form is "mohelet." Hebrew for "order," refers to the traditional course of events, or service, surrounding the Passover and Tu Bishvat meals. 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."
Amy Dominy

Amy Dominy is an MFA playwriting student at Arizona State University. Her first play, "Oy! It's a Boy," dealt with circumcision in an interfaith family. Amy makes her home in Phoenix, Ariz., with her husband Jake, and their children Rachel and Kyle.

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