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A Jewish Ukrainian Catholic Family’s Pandemic Bris

An interfaith brit milah (bris) in a pandemic… sounds doable, right? 

Except for telling everybody in our little town of Framingham, Massachusetts, well, I forgot to tell my grandmothers about the bris—a Jewish circumcision ceremony. 

This might sound like a tremendous oversight, I’m sure, but here’s the thing: We’re in the middle of a pandemic and it seemed like small potatoes. I didn’t even think about a bris until we found out we were having a boy, and suddenly people like my aunt had opinions about our son’s genitals. He isn’t even born yet, I thought. 

Here’s the thing, my husband—a Catholic from New Jersey—and my family hadn’t even attended a bris before. My family is from Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union, where I knew from a young age that being Jewish was NOT considered a good thing. It was to be kept secret, even in the 1980s when I went to elementary school there. So, my Jewish grandmas never even asked me about having a bris, thinking there’d be no way we’d do such a thing. 

But when I had sat down to talk to my husband, it was a surprisingly easy chat. The thing about being in an interfaith relationship is these discussions and decisions don’t just stop. Even though we had decided before we got married that we would raise our children to be Jewish, every time there is a major life event, we talk about how we will handle it.  

Our wedding was “Jew-ish,” with a ketubah and a reading from the Corinthians. We celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas, we have Easter brunch and read from the Dr. Seuss Haggadah on Passover. Our home is a blend of family and food traditions, with more of a focus on values than religious observance. And that’s what we did with the bris. Our son would be circumcised with a traditional Jewish celebration. 

Renata and her son.

Eight days after he arrived, masked up and with a bottle of hand sanitizer sitting next to the ceremonial wine, we invited our mohelet (a woman mohel—the person to perform the circumcision) into our home. She set up her medical bag and chatted about Cinderella with my 4-year-old daughter, and I logged into Skype to call my grandparents and sister (who I had by then remembered to invite). My mom was staying with us for the first two weeks, and so she acted as our sandek (the person who carries in the child). 

To everyone’s surprise, the bris was more emotional than anyone could have anticipated. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, and not just from the guest of honor. Something about being welcomed into a community, and the prayer for mother and baby’s health touched us all. 

After the ceremony ended, including a traditional bagel and lox spread for brunch, I called my grandmothers. Both of them told me how proud they were, how unexpected this had been. They told me they didn’t even think there’d be a bris, and they wanted to know if my husband was OK with all of it. “Of course,” I said. “We talk about everything, and will continue to do so.” Who knows what will happen next? 

Renata Breytman Kersus

Renata Breytman Kersus is a marketing professional living in Massachusetts. She’s in an interfaith marriage and raising her children Jewish, one challahday at a time.