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1/4/13: A Celebration Like No Other: Sephardic Circumcision

Brit Mila Celebration

Brit Mila Celebration

For those of you who are not familiar with Jewish, religious traditions, it is Jewish law, dictated by the Torah, that all male children be circumcised on their 8th day of life; and as if getting “clipped” (as we like to call it) isn’t bad enough, let’s through in a lot of people staring at you and then throwing a party to commemorate the loss of a certain, well, let’s just say piece of skin! A Briss (yiddish word for circumcision; Brit Mila in Hebrew)  is a right of passage, and, as with most every right of passage, Jews celebrate with a lot of people, and even more food! However, and this is very important, I never truly appreciated the cultural differences between Ashkenazic Jews (Jews of Eastern European descent, like myself), and Sephardic Jews (Jews of Spanish, North African, and Arab descent, like my o so exotically wonderful boyfriend) until I attended this celebration.

Because I was still suffering from some residual flu symptoms I was a bit hesitant about going to be around a newborn baby, but I felt reasonably well, and told myself I would stay a safe distance away from the baby so as to not pass on any bug that may still have been running rampant in my system. The ceremony was in the city of Ashdod, where most of Stephane’s family resides, so at around 11 in the morning we headed to the central bus station to catch an auto going in that direction. Unfortunately because it was Friday we had to be vigilant of the time so as not to miss the last but back to Tel Aviv (busses stop running early on Friday for the Sabbath). We were some of the first people to arrive to the location of the ceremony, and as we made our way to the foyer I noticed food everywhere; and I mean everywhere. There were stations outside the hall filled with trays of fried eggrolls, chicken ordervs, fried cigars, veggies, potatoe dumplings, etc. and the many tables inside the hall were adorned with trays of humus, chopped liver, cabbage salads, eggplant dips, and what seemed like an endless array of tasty things to eat. After getting situated at a table fairly close to the front where the circumcision would take place, we put off eating long enough to get up and congratulate Stephane’s cousin and his wife for their very special day. The baby was so small and so adorable I didn’t know how the mom would let him go from her arms long enough to have the procedure carried out!

Sweet baby boy

Sweet baby boy

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Stephane's cousin, his wife, and their newborn

Stephane’s cousin, his wife, and their newborn

Once all of the approrpiate greetings were given we decided to begin the feast! I’m very glad Stephane warned me not to eat beforehand because the amount of food at this place was beyond belief. As I said before, I was under the impression that the fried goodies outside, and everything that was on the table, were the meal, but I really couldn’t have been more wrong. After I had stuffed my face full of fried food, which is quite filling as you can imagine, waiters came by to take my order of either a meat dish or a fish dish… After Stephane and his cousin had a good laugh at the fact that I had NO idea how Sephardic celebrations were carried out, as evidenced by my shock when I heard there was more food, I decided to try the fish dish. It was so tasty, despite the fact that I was exploding, and upon completion of the fish, the waiter was back at my side again asking, this time, for me to chose between a chicken dish and a beef dish… I was dumbfounded. I thought us Ashkenazim knew how to eat… Ya… NO! At this point I was really bursting, and not happy about my decision to wear skin tight jeans, but luckily most of his family was trickling in now so I could hide the fact that I was taking a breat from eating behind conversation with his various aunts, uncles, and cousins. Finally, after what seemed like 75 courses, the ceremony was about to begin.

As our food was being cleared away from the tables a little, Sephardic rabbi, with the most intoxicating voice, began chanting the prayers to being the ceremony. The baby was brought, on a very fancy silk pillow, to the lap of another religious man (usually it is the grandfather or great grandfather of the baby, but in this case it was a third party) who was sitting on what resembled a regal throne, as all of us gathered around to watch the procedure (a bit morbid, I know, but it is tradition).

The event hall with all 9 million members of Stephane's family :-)

The event hall with all 9 million members of Stephane’s family 🙂

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Delivery of the baby!

Delivery of the baby!

Dad saying a prayer for his little one before circumcision

Dad saying a prayer for his little one before circumcision

Father and son

Father and son

And now it was time. Never having been to a Brit Mila before I really had no idea what to expect; how I would feel, how I would react, how other people normally react,etc. After the baby was placed on the religious man’s lap, a few more prayers were said, and then the moyle (religious man who performs the circumcision) approched the baby, lifed up the robe he was dressed in, and performed the circumcision. I couldn’t  look, but I also couldn’t turn away. The moment the baby cried I’m sure every woman in the room had tears in her eyes (myself included), and I couldn’t help but look at the baby’s mother who was, quite understandably, a mess. It was so emotional but at the same time so beautiful to know that our people have been performing this tradition for thousands of years, and to hear the prayers, and see it all take place, was so powerful. To see Stephane’s whole family (5 generations were present) gather around and inaguarte this newest member into the family community, the Jewish community, and the Israeli community, was powerful beyond words. When the circumcision was complete, Stephane’s grandfather (the baby’s great grandfather) said a prayer, followed by a community prayer wishing him a  long, healthy, prosperous life as both a good Jew and Israeli, and that was special beyond words. At that very  moment I felt such a sense of pride in my traditions, and it was not hard to feel a rush of excitement as all of the women in the room made the typical, Arabic (la la la la) noise done so often in celebrations (I LOVE THAT STEPHANE AND HIS FAMILY ARE MOROCCAN!).

Passing around the baby post Briss

Passing around the baby post Briss

Stephane's grandfather getting ready to say a prayer

Stephane’s grandfather getting ready to say a prayer

What joy for a great grandfather to see

What joy for a great grandfather to see

Such a special thing to see

Such a special thing to see

When the ceremony was complete, naturally, there was more food, including a salad dish and one more meat meal, then dessert, then time for some good, Sephardic music and conversation before heading back to the bus stop that would take us home to Tel Aviv. It was an event like no other to wittness, and to be apart of it was something that meant so much to me. Slowly, slowly I’m really starting to feel like I”m apart of his amazing family, and that is so nice for me since my family is small, and all of them are so far away (and let’s be honest, he has enough family members to share :-p). It was a perfect day and it made my future transformation into a full fledged Sephardic woman much more exciting 🙂

Stephane and his beautiful aunt Tzipi

Stephane and his beautiful aunt Tzipi

Stephane, his aunt, and cousin

Stephane, his aunt, and cousin

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdRGm8Yce0g –> click the link for a quick video clip of the ceremony!

Until we meet again ya chaverim <3,

Jordana Simone

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