According to halachah (Jewish law), conversion to Judaism requires mikvah (ritual immersion) for both boys and girls, and brit milah (circumcision) for boys. Both are traditionally done in the presence of a beit din (a rabbinical court of three).
Because Alek was circumcised in a hospital when we first came home, he will have a hatafat dam brit (ritual reenactment of the ceremony) in which they will draw a drop of blood from the circumcision site and recite the prayers of brit milah. We are having this done on Friday morning at Beth David Synagogue in Greensboro, NC. Immediately following, the children will be immersed in a mikvah as an act of renewal and rebirth. The water of the ritual bath recalls the mystical source of all water and thus all life – the river whose source is Eden. The ma-yim cha-yim (living water) of mikvah also represents the physical source of human life, the waters of the womb.
This is different from the Christian ritual of baptism which uses water as a sign of identification with the death and resurrection of Jesus, and as a sign of welcome into the Christian community. Jewish baby ceremonies, including those with water, all signify a child’s entry into the Jewish covenant with God. The Hebrew word for covenant is brit.
Ana & Alek will be receiving their Hebrew names at Beth David (in Greensboro) on Saturday, June 1st at the Shabbat service beginning at 5:45pm. Two years after we went to court and were given legal custody of them. Their Hebrew names will be announced at that time (not before then)! These are the names they will use on religious documents and are the names they will be called when called to read from the Torah scroll (the first 5 books of the Hebrew bible). Choosing a Jewish name is a complicated gift. It begins with the task of shaping the human being – the mensch – the child will become. By placing this important choice within a Jewish context, we have already begun to give our children an identity, a community, and a way of being in the world.
We went Friday morning and sat down with the Rabbi's to ask the children questions about being Jewish. I had been quizing them all week about the holidays and going to temple. Only we sit down and they don't ask the kids anything! All the questions were for us! Are we both Jewish, are we sure, was our mothers jewish, their mothers and so on (yes). Do we keep a kosher home (no), do we light candles (sometimes), how do we intend to bring Judaism to our children (long answer), will they get Bar & Bat Mitzphad (already planning the party), How did we grow up jewish (long answer), Who was our Rabbi growing up (Mitch actually knew that one!) And lots of stuff like that. We were nervous. It was worse than going to court in Ukraine!
But we must have passed the test because then it was time for Alek's "circumcision". They open up the lance and HANDED IT TO ME!!!!! I thought one of the Rabbi's would do it! (BTW - I'd been trying to talk to the kids to get them ready and when I asked them how they were going to become Jewish, Alek answered "The 3 men say 'show me your parts' Alek say 'OK, sure' then we play in the big giant bathtub!" ...We had a long talk with the boy when it was over!!!) So the look on Mitch's face was 'don't even think about giving it to me' so I had to be the brave one. I'm still having nightmares! They show me where to prick him and I think it took me 10 minutes to do it and... I missed! Alek seemed OK but I was a wreck! I finally try again (after they tell me he won't even feel it) and Alek screems out "OWWW, you hurt me Mommy!" I was crying worse than he was and when I watched the video later [waist up only], you can see that he was smiling into the camera and then his face just slowly turns into a cry! There still wasn't any blood but I couldn't do it again so we were all trying to squeeze it until we got some. ...It seems much more comical now than it did then!
So we all sign papers and go down to the Mikvah. My parents, Mitchell's parents and My sister and her husband all came to watch. Mitch and I got to wear bathingsuits and I was a little nervous because I was still lightheaded but Alek was happy as could be!
On Sat. we all went to services and some of our friends came too! I did the readings before and after the Torah reading and the children were publicly given their Hebrew names:
Ana is : Atlee Eliana (אתלי אליענה) which means: You are mine, My God has answered.
Alek is : Avinatan Rishon (אבינתן ראשון) which means: God has given, the first son.
After the service the Head Rabbi gave us some whiskey to do a toast to the children! It was very nice.
Then on Sunday ...
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