Synopsis: Rivka, an American olah transplanted to Bnei
Brak, feels like an outsider to the scene. She feels that
her years in golus have contaminated her so that she will
never be whole in spirit, will never match up to her Bnei
Brak-born neighbors. Dragged almost by force to attend a
Bris, the feeling is all the more accentuated, and she
suddenly is taken back in time...
She had no doubt that the thoughts of Chana, the baby's
mother, that day, were far different than hers had been on
the day of her son's Bris in America, three years before.
With a shudder, she forced herself to remember.
The family had been so happy that it would take place on
Sunday, when none of them worked and they'd be able to
attend without rushing back. But instead of awaking with
excitement and joyful anticipation, Rivka woke up to the
ringing of church bells...
The day had already been spoilt! were Rivka's first
thoughts. Every Sunday morning, whenever she heard the
church bells, the same thought would flash through her
mind: goyim had beauty while Jews suffered pain. She
hated those involuntary reflections, and now they had ruined
this day, too.
She wrapped the baby up in a blanket and held him by the
window. The snow that had been forecast all week still hung
heavy in grey skies. The parkways were empty; too cold for
anyone to be washing down his car or proudly parading around
with a baby in a shiny new coach. The only ones outside,
their breaths spiralling in steamy clouds as they panted
against the wind, were bearded men hurrying home from
shul. They hung onto their hats with one hat and
hugged tallis bags and grocery bags filled with milk,
bagels and lox with the other. Yitzchak kept coming in to
check if Rivka needed anything. He brought her a tray of
coffee and urged her to go back to sleep. She could hear her
sister attending to the other children downstairs; dressing
them and giving them breakfast... with funny little stories
and nonsense songs that made them laugh and love her.
Guests began to arrive. They gasped with pleasure as they
entered the house, shouting Mazel Tov, exclaiming with
delight to find so many relatives already there. Rivka heard
her husband greeting all the company, her own little ones
politely asking each one for his coat, thanking those who
had brought a gift. As the downstairs living room filled
with men, the women piled into Rivka's room upstairs, oohed
and aahed over the baby, discussed the birth and the latest
Rivka's little ones kept finding excuses to stay close by;
four- year-old Leah'le's shoelaces needed to be tied, two-
year-old Chaim's boo-boos needed to be kissed. Rivka's
sister came in all aflutter. She had never expected so many
people to show up; she needed extra hands to set up more
tables. Tante Toby and Tante Hendel had already sliced the
roasts and kugels that Rivka had prepared and frozen months
before. To keep the children out of trouble, Tante Dinah put
them in charge of the drinks, and they were busy running
back and forth from kitchen to dining and living room,
transporting beer, liquor, wines and soda.
"Everything smells delicious, looks delicious and also
tastes delicious," Sima soon came up to report. "But I,
personally, am dying for a coffee. Should I make you one,
too?" Before Rivka could answer, Yitchak rushed into the
"The Rebbe is coming!" he said nervously. "His car just
pulled into the driveway. Get the baby ready. He has to
check the child before the Bris."
The Rebbe entered the house. "Mazel Tov! Mazel Tov!" he
called out with joy. All activity stopped.
Yitzchak helped the Rebbe take off his satin fur-lined
cloak. The men rushed over to shake his hand in greeting.
The Rebbe asked where he could wash his hands, then said,
"Breng mir dos kindt." Flushed with excitement,
Yitzchak hurried to get the baby. "My, you're a nervous
father," Sima laughed. "From the way you're acting, someone
would think that this is your first Bris."
"Now's not the time to kid around!" Yitzchak said tersely.
"The Rebbe said to bring the baby. It's not nice to keep him
waiting." Rivka checked the baby's diaper. Yitzchak picked
him up. The two women found themselves a place on the
landing from where, unobserved, they could watch the Rebbe
in action. The Rebbe spread a blanket on the table and took
the infant from Yitzchak's hands. He removed all the baby's
clothing and, starting with the soft spots on the head, slid
his hand deftly over every part of the child's body. The
"Sha, sha, sha," the Rebbe said and gently picked up the
baby, clucking his tongue until the baby calmed down, then
laid him on his stomach and continued the examination. The
Rebbe was finished. He dressed the child, handed him back to
The gabbai escorted the Rebbe into the room set up
for the Bris. The guests all followed. The house was
bursting with happy excitement. Sima dressed him in a hand
embroidered white gown, placed him on a large white
embroidered pillow and started towards the door.
"Wait!" Rivka suddenly said, clutching her sister's arm.
"Give me another few minutes, Sima. I'm not ready yet."
"The baby has to be ready, not you!" Sima laughed.
"No, Sima, I mean it. Don't take the baby yet." There was
something in Rivka's voice that made Sima put the baby back
in his basinette.
"What is it, Rivka? Don't you feel well?"
"It's nothing, really," Rivka said, turning quickly away and
breaking into sobs.
"Oh, we should never had made the Bris in the house!" Sima's
voice was thick with regret. "We should have realized that
all the excitement would be too much for you."
"It's not that. I promise you. I'm perfectly alright."
"So if everything's all right, why are you crying?"
"I'm telling you, it's nothing, Sima... No, I will tell
you," Rivka suddenly decided. "It's those church bells!"
"Church bells?" Sima stopped to listen. "That's strange. I
never even noticed them till this very minute."
"But I always hear them!" Rivka said in a rush. "And I
always think how beautiful they are... And then I'm
frightened of my thoughts because they seem to taunt me
that goyim have beauty and serenity while Jews have
"Hush! You mustn't talk that way!" Sima said harshly and
looked nervously towards the door. "It's probably post-
partum blues. Very normal, you know."
"Such thoughts even on the day that my son enters Hashem's
covenant with His people?"
Sima was pale as she looked first at her sister, then at her
wristwatch. "Rivka, darling," she pleaded, "the Rebbe is
waiting. We'll talk later." Sima leaned forward to take the
baby again but Rivka clung to her, begging, "Not yet, Sima.
Please. I need a little more time. But first tell me: why
must my child's life begin with pain and blood? Isn't there
time enough for that later? Why can't I spare my child, at
There was knock at the door. Yitzchak's anxious voice asking
if everything was all right, that the Rebbe was ready...
that the Rebbe was waiting...
"Everything's fine!" Sima answered with forced brightness.
"It's just that your little young man decided to make a mess
and before we can bring him to the Rebbe, he has to be
changed from head to toe. But don't get nervous. It'll take
just another few minutes."
Sima waited till Yitzchak was gone, then took hold of her
sister's arms. Face grim, eyes piercing, she said, "Rivka,
the baby must go."
"But he's my child, no?"
"Yes, of course, he's your child. But he belongs to the
Jewish People. Because of the blood of mila, Hashem
promised Avrohom's children eternal life. Because of this
blood, the Jewish Nation still exists today." Sima looked in
sorrow at Rivka, whose face mirrored the turmoil in her
soul. She put her arms gently around her and together, they
rocked to and fro.
"Rivka," she said after they were both emptied of tears,
"remember when we were children and Mama used to describe
wacht nacht in her village. How the scholars used to
leave the beis midrash and sit around the newborn's
cradle, enunciating all kinds of holy combinations to ward
off the evil spirit. She told us how Satan tries to snatch
the newborn Jewish baby away. But Satan is not so easy to
get rid of; he resorts to all kinds of tricks to lure the
scholars away from the infant they were protecting. And
sometimes, he succeeds by casting a magic spell over them
with beautiful music."
"Yes, I remember!" Rivka cried. Sima continued, "But once
the child was circumcised, Hashem's mitzva sealed in
his flesh was the greatest protection of all."
"It seems," Sima added slowly, "that Jews have always
yearned for beauty, are vulnerable to its ethereal,
spiritual quality, and sometimes even lose their souls in
their longing for the esthetic." She smiled sadly at her
sister who stood by the window, swaying back and forth.
"Your son must be very special, Rivka, for the Satan not to
want him to enter Hashem's covenant today."
All Rivka could hear now was the ticking of the wall clock.
But it seemed to her that time had stopped. "Take the baby,
Sima," she said at last. "It's not proper to keep the Rebbe
Suddenly Ruthy was back, barging into Rivka's memories and
urging her to eat some more, telling her that eating from a
seudas bris was comparable to fasting forty days.
The guests were beginning to leave. Their joyous blessings
echoed through the house. "Have nachas! May Hashem
grant you to raise this child to Torah..."
Rivka limped back from the past and wondered if she would
ever be free of the goyish world she had grown up