‘A really holy moment’: Celebrating a bris at Chabad synagogue

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About 100 people attended a bris ceremony Wednesday morning at the Chabad of Snohomish County synagogue in Lynnwood’s Perrinville neighborhood.

A little background: It is tradition in the Jewish faith for a newborn boy to be circumcised on the eighth day after birth. This is done by a professional mohel.

The ceremony lasted about 15 minutes, and started with the mother handing the baby to others in the ceremony who represent great significance to the family. One by one, they passed the baby forward to the front of the room, finally reaching the father. The baby was then placed on a pillow and held by the sandek, a person of honor who holds and comforts the baby during the circumcision. In this case, the sandek was the baby’s grandfather.

The mohel recited a blessing and proclaimed that a mitzvah, or commandment, would be carried out. This is a tradition that has been performed for thousands of years. The mohel asked the mother, “Mommy, we have 613 mitzvahs. Which is the hardest one to do?” The mother said, “This one.” Those in the room laughed in support.

I asked the mohel how I could act reverently when photographing the event. He said, “No flash photography,” so there are no distractions. Otherwise, I was free to take pictures of the ceremony. I asked the father of the baby what was going on in his mind. He said, “He’s my son. He carries on the tradition.”

The circumcision was performed in only a few seconds. I didn’t even realize it was over. The baby did cry, but not for long. I looked at the mother, who was standing in the back of the room, and she was getting a little teary-eyed.  But the baby was soon calm and sleeping.

Until now, no one knew the baby’s name. The father turned to the mohel and informed him of the name, which the mohel announced to the guests: Menachem Mendel. He is named after the Rebbe (a Yiddish word derived from the Hebrew word rabbi), who was the Jewish leader of the post-Holocaust era and taught unconditional love and acceptance. He inspired millions of people to know their invaluable God-given worth and to make every day meaningful.

The men danced around the baby, and soon thereafter, the guests were invited to partake of food and drinks.

In one of the photographs, the baby’s father, Rabbi Berele Paltiel, puts the baby on the grandfather’s lap.” The mohel is standing beside the rabbi.

“A bris is a really holy moment,” said Rabbi Paltiel. “You don’t invite people to a bris. You notify people about a bris. Because the occasion is so great, and so special, that if you’re invited and you don’t come, it shows great disrespect. The bris is perhaps the most significant part of a Jewish boy’s life. A bris represents the essence of who we are as Jews. Everything else are the garments: You take it off, you put it on. But the bris represents who we are, our identity.

“And there’s times — we all experience this — when we’re so busy with everyday life, with the challenges of the moment, that we stop and we say, ‘What happened? I have no mitzvahs,’” he continued. “But we stop and we realize, ‘You know, what I do have is my soul. That’s who I am at my core. The rest are the building blocks upon that foundation. That’s what the celebration here this morning is about.”

For more information on bris ceremonies, visit:  www.jewishsnohomish.com/library/article_cdo/aid/144122/jewish/Brit-Milah-Circumcision.htm.

You can also view a video of the bris celebration here.

The Chabad of Snohomish County is located at 18717 76th Ave.W., #B, in Lynnwood.

— Story and photos by David Carlos

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