Someone Else's Simcha Boaz Yosef Taubin's Brit Milah: A Tale of Two Cities

Halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, two families come together for the chaotic yet poignant business of welcoming new life into the community.

Ron Ben-Tovim
Ron Ben-Tovim
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Ron Ben-Tovim
Ron Ben-Tovim

Location: "Yedid Nefesh" Conservative synagogue, Modi'in.

Time: 18:00 P.M. One week before Shavuot, on Jerusalem Day.

Weather: A chilly afternoon with clear skies.

In the neighborhood: A relatively sleepy street lined with white two-story houses in a spanking-new and ever-expanding city halfway between Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem. Massive trees shade the street, busy with after-work traffic.

Venue: A new ("built in 2007"), off-white, one-floor structure, with a small garden and a brick walkway. Inside, five plain tables are set throughout the main hall, covered with cream-colored disposable nylon tablecloths. The Holy Ark's doors are inlaid with squares of abstract painted glass. A glass lighting fixture painted deep blue and complete with a fluorescent aura, hangs from the office-like popcorn ceiling.

Underfoot: Beige ceramic tiles reflect the florescent lights overhead.

Simcha: Boaz Yosef Taubin's brit milah.

A brief history of time: Boaz is Mordechai (Moti) and Yael's second child and first son, and little brother to Maayan (~2), who trots around the room with her blonde pigtails, intermittently calling out "da!" and dropping her water bottle ("oy!").

Fact #1: The bris is taking place two weeks into Boaz's new life, as opposed to the traditional eight days, following a short health scare after his birth. Moti: "We pushed it back since we were very worried. But now that I think of it, it does make a difference if it's eight or 14 days. He's already a part of the world, of our routine."

Home: Moti (30, schoolteacher) was raised in a secular but traditional family in Kfar Adumim near Jerusalem, a small community settlement mixing religious and secular residents. Yael (29, spokeswoman for Kav LaOved, a nonprofit organization that aids low-wage and migrant workers) was raised in a secular home in Ra'anana, 20 minutes north of Tel Aviv. The family moved to Modi'in after spending a few years in Alon, a communal settlement with both secular and religious residents just east of Jerusalem. While not necessarily adhering to the finer points of Jewish law, the couple constantly seeks for ways to introduce a sense of Jewish spirituality into their everyday life.

Number of guests: Around 90. Moti: "It wasn't a pressure situation. We didn't even expect anyone to RSVP. If it's okay for you, and not completely out of your way, it'd be nice if you came."

Family history: Nearly two years ago, Maayan was introduced to Yael and Moti's family and friends in a ceremony held at a Conservative synagogue in Jerusalem and led by a female rabbi. Why Conservative? Yael: "Maayan's ceremony felt loose, like it was our own. This time it's much more masculine and restricted, so I wanted people to be able to sit comfortably, without having to separate men and women." Moti: "I felt, coming into this, like I had to reacquaint myself with a lot of the religious texts in the ceremony, to make sure I agree with them."

Music: Hebrew songs, barely audible over sounds of chatter and munching bouncing off the cream walls.

Rites: Protagonists: David, aka the godfather (Yael's grandfather, 93, wrapped in a yellowing tallit with black stripes); the mohel (trimmed black beard, blue and white tallit); Moti (all-white tallit); Zalman (Yael's father, wearing a white buttoned-down shirt and slacks and no tallit); Yael (striped blouse and black pants); Yael's sister Michal (blouse and slacks) and one diaper-wearing and yet-to-be-named baby.

The Crowd sings along to Ehud Banai's song "Coming Out to the Light," accompanied by guitar. Yet-to-be-named baby is then passed down the maternal lines of both families: from Yael to Yael and Moti's moms and grandmothers, until finally returning to Zalman (Zami). Stop! - mohel time.

After giving the baby to David, seated on Elijah's chair, the mohel gets down to business. One woman, wearing silvery slacks and a fitted blouse, turns away. The mohel: "You can use this time to pray for IDF soldiers and for Jonathan, son of Malcha Pollard." A teary-eyed Yael holds the hand of her unnamed baby until the mohel is done ("You can let go now, you don't have to hold on until his Bar Mitzvah").

The big name reveal: "Boaz Yosef" - room explodes with applause. Moti: "We picked Boaz because of the proximity to Shavuot and because Yael liked it. Yosef was my maternal grandfather." Mohel's blessing: "May he accept the Torah and partake in good deeds - no ponytail, tattoos, and earrings." Yael recites Birkhat HaGomeyl.

Yael's sister Michal takes the reins, overseeing the non-religious part of the evening. Friends and family greet the newborn, continuing a line from the national and traditional to the personal": Friends; Moti's dad, Moshe, who "thanks" Boaz for making everyone come to Modi'in on Jerusalem Day ("It's a respectable place, but no Jerusalem"); Yael's parents, Rocha and Zami, who address Boaz's older sister Maayan ("We both love the way your parents are raising you"), Moti's brother Doron and finally, the somewhat shaken young family ("We thought it best to share this moment with our family and friends").

Food: A bagel-and-spread buffet laid out on one long table. Tuna spread in a bowl, garnished with lemons and cucumbers, stands in the middle of a plastic tray, with satellites of cream cheese, plain cheese and lox. Large vegetable salads flank the table, along with big baskets holding assorted bagels (courtesy of Holy Bagel). Yael: "We didn't want it to be all 'fun-music-food' like weddings have become nowadays, when everything is about the high standard of food and alcohol. That's not our focus."

Drink: Family-sized soda bottles are scattered throughout the room (Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, and a variety of fruit nectars and iced teas); wine; a bottle of whiskey.

Word in the ear: Zami: "When we were their age, we wanted to do things our way, and our parents didn't always agree. So it was important for us to let them have their way, do whatever it is they feel they want to do. Not all parents are like that."

In my spiritual doggy bag: The ability to navigate a respect for tradition along with an insistence on adding your own personal flavor.

Random quote: The mohel gives newly named Boaz a piece of napkin soaked in wine to calm the ol' post-circumcision nerves. On the other side of the room, a middle-aged man holds up tiny plastic cup filled with white wine: "Maybe alcohol will quiet me down too," to which a younger man, smiling, says: "I don't think alcohol can quiet you down."

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