Sunday, April 10, 2016

Really important people show up for the bris


     Politics has become such a free fire zone, the tendency is to blast away at everything, big or small, without any sense of balance. Thus Hillary Clinton can be assailed for a policy statement, for something her husband did 20 years ago, for her relationship with Wall Street banks, and her smile, all in the same breath, all with the same vigor, as if those were all equivalent. 
     I try not to do that. Given Donald Trump's utter unfitness for president in thought, word and deed, between his preying upon the darkest impulses in the submerged American psyche and his tacit union with xenophobes of all stripes, who cares whether his wife posed for risque fashion shots or that his hands are tiny? Why traffic in trivialities?
    So it is not significant that the man skipped his own grandson's bris to campaign. If the three marriages don't show that Trump doesn't hold family life in high regard, nothing will. Though the delicious irony that Trump has the White Supremacist vote locked up; the existence of his Jewish grandkid must be one of the many things they don't know. Reading a story laying out the whole situation—Brisgate, we'll call it—it struck me that the average, non-Jewish reader might not get the significant of brises, something that I explained back in the 1990s, when I hosted a pair. 

     Elsewhere in the paper today, my colleague Jim Ritter has a calm, sober look at the current state of the art of medical thinking regarding the practice of circumcision.
     Poor guy.
     I wish I could have gotten to him beforehand and warned him: Jim, buddy, don't do this. Listen to me, the voice of experience. Write a story about podiatry.
     You see, I, too, wrote a story about circumcision, about 10 years ago. And have found myself, ever since then, placed on the mailing list of NO-CIRC, the California group that feels circumcision is the greatest atrocity visited upon mankind since the Romans crucified slave rebels along the Appian Way.
     So every quarter, for the past decade, the NO-CIRC newsletter lands in my mailbox. It's an arresting document, filled with tales of botched circumcisions, of doctors who now see the light, of men declaring their lives ruined by circumcision (they speak of not being "complete"). There are all sorts of heretofore unimagined practices, such as submitting to reconstructive surgery to have the little bit put back.
     I should be strong and just pitch the newsletter out, unread. But that would take a more solid will than my own. Curiosity always gets the better of me, and I need to flip through it, marveling that what is for me and everyone I've ever met a forgotten bit of surgical business buried deep in our unremembered pasts is, for these people, a defining wrong and peerless crime they set their lives to fighting.
     Hope you enjoy it, Jim, because they've got your number now.
     Of course, I'm biased. Circumcision is one of my people's rituals. Eight days after a boy is born, you get everybody over to the house. A mohel - or rabbi trained to do the deed - shows up, puts on a little show, does a few deft slices, and then everyone breaks out the Crown Royal.
     I've hosted two bris ceremonies in the past three years and would love to host another, if the opportunity arrives. They're fun. True, there is a certain anxiety among the male guests, who tend to whistle silently, their hands folded in front of them, protectively. They stare with sudden interest at the light fixtures while the act itself is being performed.
     But the newborn boys, snockered on Manischevitz sucked off a piece of gauze, took it like, well, men. A little crying, and then back to normal. Maybe they'll hate me someday for it and join NO-CIRC, but I sort of doubt it.
     And the ceremony had meaning to me. Not so much the ageless covenant going back to Abraham, an unbroken chain from Chicago leading to the sands of the Sinai Desert. No, what I found most amazing was that people showed up. A bris has to be done at a set time - eight days after the birth, during the day. Which means that it is rarely conveniently scheduled. People don't come out on a Tuesday morning because they want to watch a surgical procedure and grab a free bagel. They come out because, I assume, they care about you, they're proud you've had a boy and want to share in it.
     A good thought. I concluded, after the two bris rites, that as a general rule the people who took the time to attend were the people I was going to expend energy worrying about. Several times, when faced with a friend's less-than-friendlike behavior, I comforted myself with the thought, "Heck, they didn't come to the bris — what did I expect?"

     —Originally published in the Chicago Sun-Times, March 2, 1999

14 comments:

  1. There are very few people I dislike as much as Donald Trump but 1) he's not Jewish and thus so I can't expect this ritual to be important to him...would I place the same importance on my grand kids christening as their bris. No. And if my father in law were not Jewish I would totally understand him skipping the whole thing. 2) one of the few things he cops to is to not doing a great job of being an involved grandfather. He's not pretending otherwise. 3) watch the movie made about Rich Kids when Ivana and Donald Jr were teens Almost all of the children of the ultra rich come across as reprehensible. Ivanka and Don come across as mature and serious 4) the kids I know who know Tiffany Trump (a senior at Penn) say that her father was very involved in her life given that she lived in California and that he showed up for the important events in her life.

    So of all the many things I find unacceptable about Trump...all the things that bring a chill to my heart about the Fact that he's gotten this far, this ain't one of em

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  2. A non-issue. He's not a Jew and should not be expected to abide by Jewish ritual observances. Truly alarming news about Trump is in a recent Politico article revealing that an early mentor and associate was Roy Cohn, who, after Joe McCarthy dropped off the twig, spent some years as a legal hit man for the rich and unsavory in New York until news that he was dying of AIDS made him persona non grata.

    Tom Evans

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    1. Yeah, I hadn't been aware of the Cohn/Trump relationship, although I must say it's totally in character. As for Cohn being treated as a pariah after coming down with AIDS, maybe that wouldn't have happened if he weren't himself a relentless gay-basher who sought out the company of like-minded individuals.

      Bitter Scribe

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    2. @Tom --

      You missed the point. If your daughter were marrying a Jew, and you didn't going, instead saying that, as a non-Jew you were not expected to "abide by Jewish ritual observances," that would say something about you, and not something good.

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    3. Well O K. But you said it's not significant that the man skipped his grand daughter's bris to campaign. Maybe that's what threw me off.

      TE

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    4. Grandson. It's not significant for Trump, as I said because he's so unfit for so many other reasons. But skipping a bris has significance. That was my point today.

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    5. Well it has significance for you. You and I have no idea whether it has that much significance to Ivanka that her father skipped to the bris. I can't believe like other posters that I'm defending Trump but in her situation ( and I've certainly been in the situation of having given birth to a baby )I would've said "neither I nor the baby will be at our best at that time and since you can only take a limited time off the campaign trail don't come now. Come when you can enjoy the baby and I can enjoy your visit."

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    6. For the record, if my daughter were marrying a Jew you couldn't keep me from the wedding. And I would welcome an annual invitation to a Seder. I would probably prefer to beg off an invitation to a bris, but if I thought not going would cause hard feelings would certainly attend.

      I Know circumcision is important to Jews (and Moslems), but most Christians have no such religious or historical obligations. Ever since Saint Paul, in the early days of the faith, realized a sentimental attachment to their foreskins made his mainly Greek audiences hard to convert and gave them a pass. All in all, I prefer it being a medical option, but at this stage of life it is not a matter that consumes my attention.

      TE

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  3. Now, if you had written about No-Circ on the first day of this month, I would have dismissed it as an obvious parody of Peta. I guess the old saw about "two sides to every story" is literally true, no matter how self evident one side may be.

    john

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  4. It doesn't matter that Trump isn't Jewish. He should have gone to the ceremony, it's his grandson. Attending is a sign of care and respect. I'm not religious, but I've attended christenings, bar mitzvahs, and the like. The ceremonies aren't important to me personally, but they are to the ones holding them. The people who invite you want you to share in something big in their lives.

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    1. But you're not running for President. I can't belive I'm defending Donald Trump, but presidential campaign events are big deals to the many people involved, and the candidates are expected to make personal sacrifices in fullfilling commitments. Not knowing anything of the people or the circumstances I'm inclined to think it might be considered a forgivable ommision.

      You are right, of course, in saying it doesn't matter that Trump isn't Jewish. The same points could be made if it were a christening, except for the fact that a bris can't be scheduled with any certainty well in advance.

      TE

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  5. Odd white racist has a Jewish daughter and son in law. If you hate his politics fine but stop the propaganda and name calling.

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  6. as the parents of 2 now nearly grown boys , we did not circumcise nor vaccinate our children as it seemed they could not consent to either of these medical decisions. i know this makes us wackos to many, as neil you have recently made clear. the boys have chosen to get some of these inoculations prior to traveling abroad but have never indicated any interest in having the foreskin removed from their penises. how would they feel if i forced them to now? not thrilled I'm sure. possibly resentful maybe enraged. so why is this acceptable? i have no fricking idea. and to publicly embrace such a thing with pride and ridicule people who object to such a barbaric act. oy!

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  7. I once noted in an online forum that there are genetic predispositions that are best handled via circumcision, and was flabbergasted at the venom this aside brought forth. I learned first hand just how unhinged the anti-circumcision crowd is. You would have thought I was an ax murderer.

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