Monday, May 21, 2012

Shabbos Bris: A Sequel to Shabbos Pains (March 2011)

Faygie Strauss stayed euphoric for almost twenty-four hours after her son was born. It was after ten o’clock on Saturday night when her husband left the hospital and her brave words of the night before came back to haunt her.

“Don’t worry,” she had told Chaim. “A bris on Shabbos is nothing compared to giving birth. Everything will be fine."
Now, by herself in the hospital room, with her body aching with the discomfort of childbirth, she realized that she had been a little too optimistic.  Sure, her cousin had given birth to a boy on Shabbos and they had made a beautiful bris, but that had been in Borough Park. Borough Park was a long way from Sunnyvale where they had come to do outreach work.

Borough Park had an eruv, so her cousin had been able to push the baby carriage to the synagogue. All the family lived within a few blocks from the shul.  They had their choice of a half dozen mohels in the neighborhood. Kosher caterers who did Shabbos catering were no problem. Sunnyvale had none of the above.
After tossing and turning for almost an hour Faygie sat up, turned on the bed light, and pressed the call button. Thank goodness she did not have a roommate. She begged some paper and pencil from the nurse and began making a list of her concerns.
Where would they have the bris? Should they camp out at the synagogue? And speaking of camping out where were they going to put all of their relatives? Her mother was planning to fly in Monday and her father was coming with her little sisters Thursday. Perhaps they could all squeeze into their tiny duplex, but what about Chaim’s parents and his grandmother and his married brother with his wife and three children? There were no mohels in town, at all. And what were they supposed to feed everyone who came to the bris? There wasn’t even a kosher bakery in town.  
Faygie’s head spun looking at her list.  Then she wadded it up and tossed it to the trash. HaShem brought us to Sunnyvale for a reason, she told herself, and He gave us a baby on Shabbos for a reason. So, she decided, I can depend on Him to make sure everything will work out okay. Having made her decision, she turned off her light and fell asleep.
Sunday morning her first phone call came right after she had finished nursing the baby.
Mazel Tov!” Yochie’s friendly voice made Faygie smile. The Strausses had moved to Sunnyvale from New York with Yochie and her husband, Dov. Faygie could not have asked for a better friend.
“Guess what!” Yochie continued. “My brother and sister-in-law are taking the kids to Disneyland by way of Sunnyvale. They’ll be by us for Shabbos.”
“Which brother?” Faygie asked, practically holding her breath.
“Mutti, the mohel!” Faygie squealed
Thank you HaShem!  “One problem down,” she told Yochie.
“What other problems do you have?” Yochie’s voice conveyed only concern.
“For starters, where can we do the bris? Should we camp out at the shul?”
“I don’t think so,” Yochie laughed. “Your back yard is big and the fence keeps it private. The weather is supposed to be nice. Why don’t you do it there?”
Faygie caught her breath at the idea. “I like it!” she exclaimed. “I’ll see what Chaim says.”
He arrived a half hour later bearing breakfast. Now that the birth was behind them and he had had a good night sleep, he had returned to his normal, confident self and he had some good news. “Rabbi Borenstein said we can put all our family up at their house.”
“That’s great!” Faygie felt her euphoria returning, along with her appreciation to the Almighty. The rabbi of the day school lived down the block. He had a big family but all were either married or away at school. No one would have to camp out anywhere.
Chaim was just as enthusiastic about using their yard for the bris as she had been to hear about the Borenstein’s house. And he was absolutely thrilled to hear about Mutti.
“Now, all we have to worry about is food,” Faygie said.
“No, you don’t,” a voice from the doorway said.  Mrs. Borenstein smiled at the young couple. “You have not been in Sunnyvale long enough to know how our community takes care of each other. Miriam Levi has already arranged food for Friday night and is working on cakes for the bris and shalom zachor. Now we have to decide on a menu for the bris.”
Faygie’s mouth fell open in gratitude, but she was not surprised. Obviously, HaShem was planning the bris. Mrs. Borenstein’s soothing voice soon lulled her into sleep and she woke up an hour later to discover the rabbi’s wife was long gone.  It had been decided that everyone who came to morning services on Shabbos would be asked to walk the three blocks to the Strauss’s yard for the bris and the following meal. For some it would be their first time to attend a kosher bris.
The day school would provide tables and chairs and someone would help Faygie’s mother buy all the paper goods and drinks. Mrs. Bornstein was in charge of borrowing crock pots and making sure they would be filled with cholents. Miriam would extend her calls to include salads. Everything was under control.
It stayed that way all week long and through Friday night. Things only began going wrong Shabbos morning after Faygie had nursed the baby.  She came into the kitchen to get a drink and decided to take a peek at all the crock pots sitting on the kitchen counter. Mrs. Wolfman’s cholent smelled delicious, as did Yochie’s and the one her mother-in-law had made. The same could not be said for Mrs. Karp’s.  The smell of rotting meat wafted through the kitchen and Faygie’s heart sank as she saw the crock pot’s plug was loose.
“Ma!” she called, trying not to sound hysterical.
“What!” her mother had just poured her cup of coffee and stayed calm as Faygie explained the problem.
“There won’t be enough food for everybody!” Faygie concluded her explanation.
“Nonsense,” her mother declared. “There was leftover chicken from last night and…”
“Only a few pieces,” Faygie interrupted.
“Six, big ones” her mother countered. “And we have egg salad and mayonnaise. We’ll have a big chicken salad. You go back to bed and rest. You’re not supposed to worry about anything except the baby.”
Faygie meekly followed her mother’s instructions until she heard her little sister’s excited voice coming from the living room. The only words she could make out were “all wet” but she pulled herself out of bed to find out what was going on.
This was even worse than a spoiled cholent. The sprinklers from the duplex next door were malfunctioning and splashing over the fence and into their yard.  Half the tables were soaking wet. Faygie didn’t want to know about the grass.
“Why don’t we move the tables to the front yard?” her mother was asking her sister calmly.
“You can’t do that!” Faygie shrieked. “There’s no eruv!”
Her mother, startled by Faygie’s shouting, dropped her coffee cup.
“Oh, Ma,” Faygie blinked back tears.
Her mother just smiled. “This is great. Bad things always happen in threes. I’ll clean up this mess. The girls and I will move the tables to the other side of the yard. Soon your mother-in-law will be here and we’ll put out the tablecloths. You go back to bed and stay there until it’s time to get dressed for the bris”   
Again Faygie listened to her mother, reminding herself that HaShem was in charge. She did not leave her room until it was time to give the baby to Yochie who would be giving him to her husband. Dov proudly handed the baby to Faygie’s father and Mutti stepped forward.
Sitting at the back of the crowd Faygie expected to hear the familiar circumcision service. Instead she heard agitated murmurings.  Something appeared to be wrong and it wasn’t her mother’s broken coffee cup. Chaim made his way to her.
“There’s a problem,” he mumbled uncomfortably. “The baby has pink eye. Mutti won’t do the bris and Dr. Levi agrees with him. The baby’s immune system is too young to tax it with an incision if he already has an infection.”
“But, but,” Faygie stuttered. “I didn’t see anything wrong with his eyes.”
“He has a lot of mucous coming out of his left eye.”
“Should we take him to the hospital?” Both of Faygie’s eyes welled up with tears.
Chaim shook his head. Before he could answer Dr. Levi was at his side. “Give him some mother’s milk and he should be fine in day or so.” 
Faygie nodded. “What?” she asked in a quivering voice, “are we going to do with all the food?”
“Have a Shabbos meal!” Chaim exclaimed.
They did. The food was good. There were nice words of Torah and spirited singing but no bris. Faygie tried to be happy and reminded herself that HaShem has a reason for everything. The guests were kind and supportive. Mutti even told her that they would not leave for Disneyland until after they checked the baby’s eyes.
Sure enough, just as Dr. Levi had said, the baby’s eyes were fine the following day. Mutti checked him early Sunday morning and declared him fit to enter the covenant of Avraham. Phone calls were made and a small crowd gathered at the synagogue following the morning prayers. Bagels were bought from the freezer section of the local supermarket, along with Philadelphia cream cheese, some vegetables, potato chips, and orange juice. There were leftover cakes from Shabbos and a lot of happiness. It certainly wasn’t a Borough Park bris but it was a memorable one. For years afterwards, the people of Sunnyvale remembered the Shabbos Bris that wasn’t and the Sunday morning one that was.    

Bris: circumcision ceremony
Shabbos: Sabbath
Eruv: technical boundary that allows Jews to carry in public areas on Shabbat
Mohel:  The trained person who performs the Bris
Mazel Tov: literally good luck, figuratively congratulations  
Shul: synagogue
Shalom zachor:  a party made Friday night to welcome the baby into the world
Cholent: a Shabbos stew

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