Brit commemorates link between baby, Jewish people

"The two waitresses you requested … they're not going to be able to make it," the caterer said casually. "My assistant and I will be there in plenty of time to take care of everything."

It was the morning of my second son's brit. In two hours, 100 well-wishers would converge upon our house, laden with gifts — expecting brunch.

As I hung up the phone, I stared out the 10-foot plate-glass living-room window onto a picture-perfect day. The December sun beamed brightly across the endless blue sky and a gentle breeze rocked the swings on the swingset. Our baby, Benjamin, who developed respiratory distress syndrome shortly after birth, had spent 11 harrowing days in the hospital's neonatal unit and was finally healthy and about to be circumcised at the age of three weeks. He lay asleep in my arms, unaware of all the hoopla this day would bring.

Two hours to go, and absolutely nothing was ready.

We could have made it easy for ourselves by having a small affair with a few close friends and family members. But to us, a brit is more than a welcome-home party or a casual "meet the baby" type of get-together. It is a parent's first opportunity to proclaim a child's commitment to Judaism and Jewish traditions, surrounded by friends and loved ones. In our case, it was a chance to thank God for allowing us to reach this point; we had our baby home, safe and healthy.

A brit is also one of the first gifts we bestow on our children: a present that says, "Today is the beginning of your future and we celebrate it by remembering your ancestral past."

Amid these thoughts I stood, wondering how to proceed. Armed with outstanding organizational skills, I secretly prayed for someone (anyone!) to come and save me from the myriad unfinished details that lay ahead. My husband, who had left at 6 in the morning to complete his rounds at the hospital, would show up approximately five minutes before the mohel (ritual circumciser) was to arrive. Though my husband is always available emotionally, he can't always be there physically.

I am one of those individuals who are fortunate enough to live near our extended families, and my parents arrived just in the nick of time. In the blink of an eye, my father was carving lox and my mother, an indomitable spirit in high heels, was barking out commands and wheeling huge round tables out to the backyard. By the time the first guest arrived, the place looked as if we had been ready for hours. The throng of guests milled around the living and dining rooms and lined the stairs and the landing, overlooking the ceremony. As the mohel completed the ritual, he lifted the baby over his head amidst cheers and choruses of "Siman Tov and Mazel Tov."

Looking around at all of the smiling, singing faces, I couldn't help but think: What are we really cheering for? Do our hearts rise in song for the precision of a perfect cut? Although every male present felt a personal sense of relief that things had gone off without any complications, there is certainly more to it than that.

Our joy emanates from the feeling that another Jewish child has been welcomed into the fold; the Jewish people are one soul greater and the chain one link stronger. When we look at the child held high for all to see, we know we are looking at the hope for our future. For all the staggering statistics about intermarriage and loss of Jewish identity, each newly circumcised child reaffirms our faith in the future of Jewish continuity. We are not content to sit idly by and let Judaism dissipate; we choose to raise our children actively as Jews and this is where we begin.

At the end of that glorious day, exhausted from all the excitement, our older son Jake lay down with the baby and me for a well-deserved nap. Both children quickly fell into a sound sleep, and watching them in the fading light of evening, I wondered about their lives. Who will my children grow up to be? What will they accomplish in their lifetimes? Our children embody our hopes and dreams as we strive to instill them with values and ideals. Whatever winding road they may ultimately pursue, I am secure in the knowledge that their lives' paths began here.