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Five years ago--and a full eight weeks before his expected arrival--our son Canyon was born. For his parents, it was quite a shock; we quickly turned all our energy on our tiny baby. It also marked an end to what we had been considering: an alternative to the traditional brit milah or bris. Instead, we waited five weeks and--for medical reasons--had a circumcision performed in a pediatric office.
I was disappointed that our son did not get the welcoming part of any ceremony, Jewish (his mother's culture) or Christian (his father's). So when we learned, by ultrasound, that our second baby was a boy, our thoughts turned once again to a non-traditional naming ceremony: a brit shalom, or Covenant of Peace.
I sought out Eva Goldfinger, a rabbi at Oraynu Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in Toronto. It was Eva who had introduced me to the brit shalom originally. The ceremony could be "anything we want," she'd told us. The only problem? I had never witnessed such a ceremony, and was quite confident that none of our friends or family had either. And in fact, they hadn't. No one--Jew or Christian--had ever heard of a naming ceremony for a male child.
As Rabbi Goldfinger described it, we would essentially create it with her assistance. No two ceremonies are the same, she said, since they are individualized by the parents. The beauty of the brit shalom is that it focuses on the values and beliefs that the parents want to instill in their children. To my mind, this is the key to bridging our families and their Christian and Jewish traditions.
In our initial consultation with Rabbi Goldfinger, she had made a number of suggestions for the ceremony, including, if we so desired, godparents. But that wasn't all: there could be a candle lighting, poetic readings, Hebrew readings, wine and flowers. We opted to not include any Hebrew prayers out of respect for those in attendance who might not be familiar with them and might otherwise feel excluded.
Through the ease of email, Rabbi Goldfinger provided a first draft of the ceremony based on our discussion and after a few modifications we were set with the final version. We selected a Sunday morning in August when Britain was eight weeks old to host the ceremony at our house. We did not send out formal invitation--a phone call or email made the task much easier. We were met with a number of quizzical eyebrow lifts and queries about the nature of the event. We had successfully generated confusion amongst all of our closest.
The ceremony began under the warm morning sun with Rabbi Goldfinger welcoming our friends and family and helping them to understand the intent of the gathering: to welcome Britain into our lives, and our community, and to bestow upon him the gift of a name. David and I were asked to stand and give our son his name and officially welcome him into our diverse family. Rabbi Goldfinger provided the rationale for Britain's names, secular and Hebrew, including the honor of our loved ones.
It was a touching moment for all, which was exactly the point. We wanted to include everyone in this special ceremony, especially our parents, who we wanted to feel honored as grandparents, and also Canyon, who we felt should understand the significance of his role of big brother. Later on, the "wine ceremony" provided an opportunity for this family participation. A goblet sitting atop the table was lifted for all to see--a symbol of Britain's "cup of life" into which each family participant was to pour wine to represent their hopes and wishes for him. It was explained to Britain, as well as the guests, that the proverbial village is necessary to help raise a child and that our closest have a responsibility to help Britain along his path. Our parents and Canyon poured wine into Britain's cup of life while Rabbi Goldfinger shared the list of values that David and I had earlier selected which we felt represented them individually or as a couple.
This is about harmony, after all. Harmony and equality. The last thing we did was recite our own values, along with words from a song selected by Rabbi Goldfinger. We held Britain's cup of life and made one last recitation before each placing a drop of wine on Britain's lips and then taking a sip ourselves. With the ceremony coming to a close, Rabbi Goldfinger addressed Britain one last time with words of love and the encouragement that he may be part of tikkun olam.
The ceremony ended as beautifully as it began, and soon the crowd had dwindled to just our immediate family. For our family, it had been a long journey, and as David and I reflected on the ceremony, we were pleased to have found and created a common ground from which to build something new, something as unique as we are, something that was just "us." It did not matter that we are from different religions; it was a blessing in itself to be able to share the message of love, commitment and values with our friends and family and to welcome our son to the world in our special way.