My son, the Juban Princeling, recently attended his first bris. I know what you're saying: wasn't his own bris, his first bris? To which I laughingly answer: no, it wasn't. Because he didn't have one. I am a bad Jew.
The Princeling was circumcised in the hospital when he was about 26 hours old. One afternoon when I still could barely get out of bed, the ob/gyn on call came in and wheeled him out. My father said, "Now it's time for you to make your covenant with God, because that's what the men in our culture do." Two hours later an orderly wheeled him back in to our room. My father said, "Welcome to the Tribe, little man," and that was that.
If it makes any difference, that day was Yom Kippur. I like to joke, and will do so for the rest of my son's natural life and in front of all his future girlfriends, that he already atoned for any sin he might commit later on.
Unlike what my parents did with my brother, we didn't have a ceremonial bris for the Princeling. If anyone asks, I've decided that his Hebrew name is Ya'kov (Jacob) because I like that name. Other than that and the menorah my brother bought the Princeling last year for his first Chanukah, that's about it for my son's exposure to Judaism so far.
The weekend before Thanksgiving, though, one of my oldest and dearest friends in the world, Yentl, an Orthodox Jew, had a gorgeous and healthy baby boy. I love Yentl like a sister. She was my maid of honor and even broke kosher for the first time IN HER LIFE in order to partake of my wedding cake. So when she sent me an email with the details of her son's bris, in Long Island at 9 a.m., the Sunday after Thanksgiving, it would take an act of HaShem himself to keep me from going.
But first things first.
My mother extended her Thanksgiving trip up here to keep me company while my husband went away on a last-minute business trip this week. And, I had a cold last week. I called up Yentl early Friday morning before the Sabbath.
No, she didn't care that I had a cold, so long as I didn't use her son's Onesie to blow my nose.
Yes, it was fine that my mother came along. In fact, my mother was a welcome addition to the bris.
Yes, we should arrive early, as she was counting on me, my husband, and now my mom to keep her company and keep her sane before the bris.
No, she and her mother didn't care if my mom and I wore pants, but FYI, we'd be the only women there in pants.
Since my mom wanted to buy Yentl and her son some gifts anyway, we took the Princeling shopping on the Saturday before the bris. We thought we'd buy ourselves some long skirts to wear to the shul so we wouldn't stick out like the sore thumbs/former shiksas/technical half-Jews we are.
Just our luck, then, that Yentl decided to have a baby boy in the ONE SEASON when long skirts aren't in fashion. Target, Old Navy, and Marshall's had zero long skirts to speak of. But we did find some cute matching knit hats to cover our hair with.
The morning of the bris we had to improvise. My mom wore my long, frilly, summer skirt with a bulky sweater and flat shoes, along with her half of our matching hats.
I, however, had to wear - sigh - an old maternity dress. The one I wore to my baby shower. The baby shower that Yentl spent a great deal of time and energy helping my mother plan and execute. Thankfully, without my third-trimester baby belly, the dress came down to below my knees. I paired it with my only pair of non-sneakers closed-toed flats and my half of the matching hats. Jewed-up to within an inch of our lives, off to the bris we went: the former shiksa, the technical half-Jew, the Juban Princeling, and the Cuban-American shaygets.
Of course, Yentl is one of the classiest, most gracious people I've ever met in my entire life. She is the second-best person I know, after my husband. So our efforts to Jew-up for the bris were not lost on her, and she repeatedly expressed her appreciation for our respect for her (our?) traditions.
I always feel like an imposter Jew around Yentl. Suddenly, my Reformed upbringing and eight-week study abroad program in Israel seem puny compared to her full-on, by-the-books, hardcore Orthodox ways. During the bris, Yentl, my mom, and I were separated from the men by a high partition in the synagogue. Some of the men wore teffilin; all wore a tallit. When the baby cried out during his circumcision, Yentl had to pray. When the rabbi came to the part where he gave the baby his official name - which had not yet been uttered except for Yentl and her husband to choose it amongst themselves before he was born - Yentl cried, and I held her hand and rubbed her shoulders. The baby's grandmothers cried. The women all whispered the name amongst themselves. My mother, who has been a Jew for twice as long in her life as she was a Catholic, held back her tears and embraced Yentl like the daughter she considers her to be.
Suddenly, something that was little more than a technicality to me became the first real event in this boy's life, and the first act of Jewish motherhood for this woman I consider a sister to me. I hugged her, told her "mazel tov," and told her how proud of her I was.
And then we all went downstairs to eat bagels and mini-cupcakes.
And with that, the Princeling not only attended his first bris, but went to his first synagogue. Someday when he and Yentl's son are older the Princeling will probably trick him into eating bacon. ("It's soy bacon, I swear!") And even if they have little else in common but a shared heritage, they'll at least have this event - the first time in a synagogue for both boys.
Welcome to the Tribe, little man.
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