Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
For those of you who remember my very pregnant Passover post, you’ll be happy to know I made it through a crowded and joyful seder at the end of my third trimester… and welcomed a sweet baby boy into the world later that month! And now that he’s three months old I feel like it’s the appropriate time to start sharing stories about him on the Internet that will someday embarrass him.
From the moment we found out he was a boy, the questions started to percolate. Would we have a bris? Was there a Mississippi mohel nearby? Just as importantly, would we be able to get decent bagels for the celebration?
To make your own bagels, try this recipe.
Turns out the answers were yes, but in our own way; no; and kind of (if you’re not TOO picky about your bagels).
Those were just some of the big questions – at the top of a very long list! The uncertainty of planning for a baby is unlike anything I’d ever experienced before in my long history of event planning. When would we have the bris? Where? Who would be invited? What would he wear? I did a lot of Googling, and it turns out like many Jewish rituals these days, everyone does things a little differently! So for all the soon-to-be-moms out there, here is my Southern Jewish take on my baby’s bris.
Friend and coworker Rabbi Matt Dreffin helped us plan a beautiful and meaningful Brit Milah ceremony to bring friends and family, near and far, to our home in Jackson to celebrate the southern simcha (happy celebration). It was a first bris experience for most of our guests, so I was careful to help guide people’s expectations by letting them know that this ceremony would be following a standard hospital circumcision.
In my postpartum, sleep-deprived haze I joked my way through planning this party. Feeding 50 people just days after giving birth? Hey, we found the humor in how the importance of the “nosh” made it a truly Jewish event. Traditional party foods like “sausage balls” and “pigs in a blanket” took on hilarious new meanings. At some point I decided I needed iced cookies. You know, those pretty party cookies, typically in the shape of a cross? They’re on hand at most baptisms and christenings, with little baby initials piped in white frosting. Well, after three phone calls to three bakeries who didn’t have a Star of David cookie cutter (“No, a five sided star won’t work”) I had to take the matters into my own hands. Luckily a quick call into the ISJL office and I had cookie cutters from our own Education Department, that I delivered to the bakery in order to make it happen!
And then the day came, and it didn’t rain, and we gathered to shower the baby with blessings of love and support. Our son wore what we affectionately dubbed his “bris-ening” gown, a sweet gift from his thoughtful grandmother, who texted me photos months beforehand, asking if the outfit was OK for his “event.” (It was!) We stumbled through some responsive reading, explaining the meaning behind his name. We wrapped the baby in the tallit that was also our wedding chuppah, remarking on how our home was now much more complete. We teared up at some sweet moments, when his grandparents blessed him with wishes for his future. We all said kiddush, celebrating the baby with a festive meal.
And in typical newborn baby fashion, he slept through most of it.
In the end, I ordered too many bagels. And we made too much chicken salad. And I’m not sure anyone else got the joke about the sausage balls or the significance of those sugar cookies. But it was an important moment to treasure, being together with the people in my life that have shown me love and support, and realizing how lucky I am that I get to share it with a new member of our special Southern community.
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Pronounced: briss, Origin: Yiddish, Jewish circumcision ceremony for an 8-day-old boy, marking the covenant between God and the Jews. This term is short (and uses the Yiddish pronunciation) for brit milah, which means covenant of circumcision.
Pronounced: SAY-der, Origin: Hebrew, literally “order”; usually used to describe the ceremonial meal and telling of the Passover story on the first two nights of Passover. (In Israel, Jews have a seder only on the first night of Passover.)