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    Entries in judaism (5)


    to my children on Yom Kippur

    It may be years before you can read this, and will certainly be years before it makes sense, but I'm sorry. I'm sorry for snapping at you; I'm sorry for expecting and often requiring that you adopt my priorities as your own. I'm sorry for the times I have hurt your feelings with harsh words, inattention, dismissiveness or misunderstanding that I don't take the time to repair in the moment. I'm sorry for not allowing your personalities to develop unadulterated by my own hang-ups; I'm sorry for consulting books to make sure you're not sociopaths. Despite that I can almost guarantee that I will yearly ask forgiveness for the same thing, I'm sorry for my frequent inability to nurture your psyche before I foist reason upon you. I'm sorry for the times I inadvertently embarrassed you though I will no doubt continue to do that, too. I'm sorry for the times I tried to make you be different than you are.

    May you be sealed in the book of life, which I don't believe in, except in your cases (I'm sorry for my uncharacteristic inconsistencies). I will tell you abridged versions of these at bedtime, as the sun sets, and you will ask for an apple or offer a hug; your hands will repeatedly, noisily "blast off" and your fingers will walk up my nose and into my hair (I'm sorry I make no attempt at hiding how annoying I find that) while you interrupt me to talk about a new kind of car you've invented. Please forgive me for the times I've taken these scenes for granted. Thanks for sticking with me while I try to do better.



    Intact and Jewish on NPN

    I have a guest post up on the Natural Parents Network today. If you haven't read enough about George being intact, check it out! Sorry, George.


    passing over

    As I think is the case with anyone who has ever had children, tradition became more important once I had a kid. Where holidays were stupid or creepy or commercialized or boring or patriarchal before, they are now kind of... not so bad. This year saw our first Passover seder with George and my first Passover seder in a long time. Atheists can hang during most Jewish holidays, but Passover is heavy on God, the "reason for the season" looming too large to work around, the very basis of the celebration being so literally religious rather than cultural. No doy, right? It's a religious holiday. But so much of Judaism is about being Jewish, about being together, remembering, about righting wrongs and doing good and eating and having fun. If you don't like the closed-minded aspects of orthodoxy, you can leave them in favor of the easy-going, loving arms of Reform. All this is great until you start talking parting seas, plagues and killing firstborn sons; then, you lose me. Because I don't walk under ladders and I hold my breath as I drive past cemetaries, but smiting and miracles? God offing kids to make a point? No. Thus, I've always pretty much opted out of Passover.

    But now? I have a firstborn son. A son I want to have a cultural identity and childhood memories to support that identity. I want to give him traditions to pass down, or at least roll his eyes about with his siblings when they go out for Chinese food on Christmas Eve. The gift of relative universality -- of being able to accept an invitation to a new friend's home to eat a nasty sandwich of horseradish and matzah, sing familiar songs and know without a doubt that you will leave wine-drunk -- it's no college education or heirloom jewelry, but everything we inherit can't be one of the hits. I'm learning that I can participate without agreeing. Say the words for their own sake. Swallow my indignation and suspend my disbelief while we tell a round-table version of one of the world's oldest stories, whose moral is of perseverance and vindication. I can teach my own firstborn who, according to legend, would've been spared, not to take his own privilege for granted. I can teach him that not everything requires such a critical eye. 

    If George grows up liking once-a-year kugel and flourless macaroons, knowing the best places to hide the afikomen and able to sing songs in sloppy Hebrew, well, that may not be the explicit purpose of Passover, but it's good enough for me. 


    a conundrum

    I regularly read the news from places where I used to live, places where my friends and family have settled, places that I know well and in which I feel I have a vested interest. So, a couple of months ago, when I saw a few stories about a proposed ban on infant circumcision in San Francisco, I took notice. Most of the articles I read at the time dismissed the man gathering signatures as a weirdo, and the idea as too farfetched to ever succeed. Well, weirdo or not, Lloyd Schofield's measure may actually end up on November's ballot, and I'm really, really conflicted about that possibility. 

    Firstly, I'd like to say -- though I've said it before and will, undoubtedly, say it again -- I am completely opposed to the practice of circumcising infants and children. It is, in my opinion, a grievous violation of another person's body. A cosmetic surgery that, in the first world where I live, serves no medical purpose. A betrayal of your child's innate trust in you. There is no situation in which I consider it excusable, and I say that as someone who chose a bris shalom over a brit milah to varying degrees of protest from friends and family. With full understanding of and respect for the Jewish tradition, we could not fathom marring our son's perfect body, least of all without his consent. 

    That said, the reaction to the proposed ban on circumcision, now that it's making more than local headlines, has surprised me somewhat. I never expected to receive a thank you card from my son in twenty years, expressing his gratitude that I made such an enlightened decision, but I've read some male perspectives ranging from "I was circumcised and I resent the implication that my parents mutililated me" to "Who cares?" Very few responses have been supportive of the proposed measure, and I've read exactly zero men's opinions that lean in fervent favor of the ban. What gives? 

    As someone who fights with voice and vote for body autonomy -- for the rights of every person to make his or her own choice about the only thing we each (should) own inalienably -- I'm shocked at the lack of response this is getting from pro-choice feminists. Women who would go to the mat over my right to do what I want with my uterus aren't willing to so much as argue for my son's wang. And I think I know why, at least in part. It's an uncomfortable subject, and a valid sticking point for those who might otherwise vote to ban circumcision: antisemitism. Is it possible that I'm engaging in antisemitism by being an intactivist? I say no, and here's why (though, YOU may be an antisemite, so you know... check that shit):

    1. To get this out of the way, Jews can be antisemitic. Self loathing takes many forms. This is not that.

    2. You would be hard-pressed to find a reasonable member of any cultural or religious group that believes wholeheartedly in every single tenet they are supposed to uphold. I think 'reasonable' is key here; I appreciate that we allow zealots their beliefs, but I also appreciate that the zealot's right to be zealous ends at another person's body and/or wellbeing. This fact is decreasingly true, but mostly holds for now. 

    3. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is defined by the World Health Organization as a procedure that intentionally alters or injures genital organs for non-medical reasons (sound familiar?). It is internationally recognized as a human rights violation. This, too, was a difficult issue as FGM's prevalence in some African and Asian cultures brought up questions of racism and ethnocentrism. Since the WHO first began actively discouraging the practice and campaigning for changes in public policy in 1997, it has been outlawed here in the US. I doubt you could find anyone willing to come out in favor of the removal of an infant's clitoral hood or partial removal of her labia.

    4. It is obviously unfortunate to kick an entire culture while they're down, and Jews, like African immigrants to the United States, have certainly had enough outright assaults on our traditions. Being downtrodden, however, does not make us automatically right. Those who need social justice the most are the most helpless members of already oppressed groups. 

    Despite all this, I still don't know how I feel about legislature barring observant Jews (and Muslims, for that matter) from participating in a tradition they hold dear. Part of me wishes everyone would just wake up tomorrow and decide that it's mean to cut up a baby, regardless of the history, what Moses said or the cruelty of boys' locker rooms. I know, though, that the discussion is what will facilitate change. I hope sufficient discussion happens before November, because a thousand dollar fine won't help any more than my wished-for inexplicable overnight revelation. In the meantime, I'll be rooting for you, Lloyd Schofield, because everyone deserves a turn on the ballot whether I've made up my mind to agree with him or not. 

    (Readers, what do you think about this ballot measure? I'm especially interested if you live in SF!)



    the naming


    It's been a (long) half month since George's birthday, birthday party and naming ceremony. The week was a little harried, a little different than I'd imagined, but in the end everything worked out beautifully. The fog lifted in San Francisco just in time for George's aunties to make it and in the absence of challah or a mohel, my baby got his Hebrew name just the same.

    When I was researching the bris shalom, I found very few resources online for parents who, like us, were trying to welcome and name their son in a gentle and respectful secular way, not incorporating circumcision. The local synagogue provided a less than receptive community, but a couple of friends recommended Barbara Gilday, a lay minister who works with the Unitarian church in town, and she turned out to be a really good fit. If you, like us, live in a town without a very big, active or liberal Jewish community, but you'd like an officiant, as we did, you might have similar luck with your nearby Unitarian fellowship.

    Barbara isn't terribly knowledgeable about Judaism, but this turned out to be sort of helpful. She had very few preconceived ideas about how the bris shalom might go, what was traditional and what we "should" be doing. We found some scripts and sat down together to craft a ceremony with only the meaningful-to-us and none of the extras or concessions. The result was a short, sweet and informal gathering with babies running around, friends and family sharing well wishes, bread and honey and -- most importantly -- an intact baby boy with a brand-spankin'-new Hebrew name.

    Here is the script. I realize this won't be a riveting post for most people, but my hope is that someone might stumble across it while researching for their own son's bris shalom, and find a useful bit or support for the somewhat thankless task of naming an intact Jewish boy. Without further ado:

    *     *     *

    Cast of characters:

    Barbara: officiant

    Stefanie: mama

    Nathan: papa

    Tara and Alena: godmothers

    Barbara: 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.

    Nathan: This Bris Shalom, Hebrew for Greeting or Welcoming Covenant, is our naming and
    welcoming ceremony for our son, George Singer. In following part of ancient Jewish custom,
    we mark our commitment to raise him in the Jewish tradition, culturally.

    Stefanie: We are gathered here today to welcome our baby boy into our circle of family and

    We wish to recognize some of the people who will be important in his life:
    His grandparents
    His aunt and cousin
    His godmothers

    (during this recognition we named George's immediate family, including those who weren't able to make it, and his godmothers, who held him during the ceremony)

    Barbara: Precious is every living thing in the world
    Precious is the life of humankind.

    In addition to symbolizing the fruit of Stefanie and Nathan’s union, they drink wine to follow
    age-old traditions. They drink wine from this special Kiddush cup. Today, it is filled with the wine
    of a sweet young life and from it they taste the sweetness of the great joy that having a family has
    brought them.

    (Nathan and Stefanie drink from cup and give George a taste.)

    Nathan: 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, 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.

    Stefanie: George, we dedicate you to Torah -- to a never-ending fascination with study and
    learning. With a book, you will never be alone.

    Nathan: George, we dedicate you to chuppah -- to never-ending growth as a
    human being, capable of giving and receiving love. With loving family and friends, you will never
    be alone.

    Stefanie: George, 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.

    Nathan and Stefanie: George as you begin your journey through life, may we learn and grow in
    our wisdom together. (One after the other.)

    (Here, during the actual naming part of the ceremony, Tara, one of George's godmothers talked a little bit about the woman for whom George was named -- Jane Schaffer. She explained the meaning behind his Hebrew name, Ro'i, which means shepherd, as does Schaffer. She then read the Mary Oliver poem "Wild Geese" which Jane and I both love[d].)

    Stefanie: Now we would like you to please share any thoughts, blessings, well wishes for
    George. (Here, a few people shared their wishes.)

    All together: George, all of us bless you and pray that you, together with us, share a life of
    wholeness and hopefulness and peace.

    Stefanie: 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 to symbolically wish George a sweet life.

    Here we passed around and ate the bread.

    Alena (Godmother 2): May this child thrive with his mother and father and let his name be known as
    Ro'i bar Nathan.

    Barbara: Thank you for coming. Nathan and Stefanie now invite you to stay and enjoy refreshments.

    *     *     *