Being pregnant was an overwhelming joy. As first time parents, Eric and I took the requisite birthing classes and read the “What to Expect” books. Also, as an interfaith couple, we began discussing how we would formally welcome our son (an ultrasound revealed we were having a boy) into the Jewish faith in a way that would be comfortable for both Eric’s Jewish family and my practicing and non-practicing Christian family members.
Having never attended a bris, ritual circumcision, I was somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of having my fragile newborn circumcised in our home. Moreover, when I explained the ceremony to my family (all of whom are open-minded people), the same sense of discomfort overcame them. They were not familiar with the historical and religious significance of the ceremony and therefore, I was not certain that they would feel completely involved in the ritual.
Eric described the brises he had attended as wonderful gatherings for family and friends. He shared his impressions that they were all very moving occasions, with tears shed at the overwhelming happiness of the moment. The actual circumcision, he said, was a very brief and completely safe procedure that made no one the slightest bit uncomfortable, “and then,” he added, “we eat!”
Eventually, after learning more about the meaning and tradition of the bris in the Jewish faith, I felt comfortable with the idea of having one. Yet I was still somewhat conflicted. I was not used to the concept of having different ceremonies for boys and girls, since this distinction had not been made with christenings in my family. I also knew that I could not endure the reality of hearing or seeing my baby cry out during the circumcision, even if it was only for a few seconds in an otherwise happy day.
We decided that we liked the tradition of having a naming ceremony for a baby, female or male. It was a more flexible ceremony that allowed us to include both families as we welcomed our son and any possible future daughters into the Jewish faith. We began talking to local rabbis who were open to interfaith families raising their children Jewish. Fortunately, we met a wonderful woman who had done naming ceremonies for boys in the past. She shared some of the previous ceremonies with us and asked that we read them and come up with something that would specifically meet our needs. This was easy to do. We came up with a ceremony that felt right to us, and that would be spiritually enriching for all members of our families, as we took the needs and expectations of both sets of grandparents into consideration.
Our son was circumcised in the hospital the day after his birth. We had a naming ceremony for him in our home a few weeks later on a Sunday morning. The rabbi provided handouts of the ceremony to our immediate family members, with transliterations as well as English translations of the Hebrew.
The ceremony began with our passing our son through the arms of both sets of grandparents, thus welcoming him through the generations and into both families. The rabbi shared some traditional blessings in both Hebrew and English. We chose Jewish blessings that would also be poignant and meaningful to the non-Jewish family members because they stressed universal themes of gratitude for having been blessed with a child and the importance of a religious community rich in history and in tradition. After this, there was a responsive reading, with all family members participating. Eric and I then spoke about the gifts we hoped to give our son, such as an appreciation of tradition, a strong identity in life and in the Jewish faith, our unconditional love, and a love of humanity. The rabbi talked about two meanings of our son’s Hebrew name, which are “stone” and “to give strength.” Although the literal meanings may be relatively unromantic, she spoke in a rich and eloquent way of her hope that our son would have strength of character and be grounded in life. Eric’s father and my mother then spoke about their deceased mothers and our grandmothers, since we had decided months earlier to name our son after these remarkable women. This was a particularly emotional moment in the ceremony, as our parents reminisced about the characteristics they hoped our son would inherit from his two great grandmothers. The ceremony then ended with some traditional Jewish prayer and song.
And then, of course, we ate! Our house was filled with an undeniable sense of warmth and love that day, beyond religious labels or specific name. It was a feeling brought about by the strong shared love for the newest member of both families. It was a day filled with great happiness and a religious ceremony that, on many levels, transcended our religious differences and brought our families closer together.