Har Shalom, painting on glass, by Karla Nolan
I prepared this alternative bris ceremony to welcome our son David DeMocker into the world on his eighth day.
David was born April 29, 2001. This ceremony is alternative in two ways. First, it is largely a secular ceremony. Second, it does not include a ritual circumcision.
David was left intact. I am a secular Jew, married to a non-Jew. My husband, Dan, and I have agreed to raise our children culturally as Jews. We are members of Machar, the Washington Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in Washington, DC.
Several of the blessings in this ceremony are taken from the sample baby naming ceremonies available in The New Jewish Baby Book by Anita Diamant. This ceremony also borrows a sentence or two from the alternative bris ceremony, Brit Shalom--Covenant of Wholeness.
We hope others will freely use this ceremony for their own alternative bris or baby naming ceremonies. Visit this page for a list of people who perform brit shalom ceremonies around the nation.
Bubbe [Brenda's mother] carries David in. Grandma [Dan's mother], the sandeket (female grandparent who holds the baby during the ceremony), is seated and holds David throughout most of the ceremony. Everyone else stands.
Part I - Introductory Blessings and Prayers
Brenda: Ba-ruch Ha-bah (Blessed is the one who comes)
In every birth, blessed is the wonder
In every creation, blessed is the new beginning
In every child, blessed is life.
In every hope, blessed is the potential.
In every transition, blessed is the beginning.
In every existence, blessed are the possibilities
In every love, blessed are the tears.
In every life, blessed is the love.
Dan: This Bris Shalom, Hebrew for Greeting or Welcoming Covenant, is our naming and welcoming ceremony for our son, David Casey. In following at least part of ancient Jewish custom, we mark the beginning of our commitment to raise him in the Jewish tradition culturally. We invite you--in a few minutes--to also share any blessings or well wishes for David.
Brenda: We are gathered here today, to welcome the first baby born in our families in this new millennium. Today we have a profound and unprecedented insight into our humanity, we now know that each of us is fully human from the moment we are born, able to feel and remember all the richness of each and every moment's experience.
Dan: We wish to recognize some of the people who will be important in his life: His grandparents. His uncles, aunts, and cousins. He also has two godparents who can't be here today: our longtime friend, Larry Martin, and my sister-in-law, Alicia Messing.
Tracy [David's cousin] lights candles.
Bubbe says the blessing over candles:
Ba-ruch a-ta Adonai, Eh-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-o-lam, bo-rei m'o-rei ha-eish. Let us bless the Source of All, Who creates the illuminations of the flame.
Brenda: There is a new light in our hearts and in our home. These candles celebrate the birth of our child. One candle for each of his parents. A third for his big sister, Heather. And we kindle a fourth for David, the new life in our family.
Dan: Out of the creative darkness of the womb he has come.
Brenda: These candles celebrate his emergence into light.
Dan: Blessed is the woman who bears a child, for she knows how love covers pain.
Brenda: Blessed is the man who fathers a child, for he makes a bridge between earth and heaven.
Both: Child of light, you know not yet the love and joy overflowing from our hearts.
Kiddush: Blessings and drinking of wine
Brenda: Ba-rukh kol khai ba-olam Precious is every living thing in the world B'ru-kheem ha-kha-yeem ba-adam Precious is the life of humankind.
Dan: In addition to symbolizing the fruit of our union, we drink wine to follow age-old traditions. We drink wine from this special Kiddush cup, a gift to Heather from her great grandmother Anna Gold. Today, it is filled with the wine of a life just begun and from it we taste the sweetness of the great joy that having a family has brought us.
Dan and Brenda drink from cup and give David a taste. (Dan dips a finger into the cup and wets David's lips with wine.)
Dan: With each child the world begins anew. By this ceremony your mother and I formally welcome you to our world and our family. As we name you today, our sweet son, we undertake our traditional responsibilities as your parents to take you forward into the world as we know it, to love you, to guide you, to educate you, and to cherish you. You are whole, complete, and perfect. We promise you, before our family gathered here today in your honor, to do our very best for you each and every day hereafter.
Brenda: David, we dedicate you to Torah--to a never-ending fascination with study and learning. With a book, you will never be alone.
Dan: David, we dedicate you to chuppah (wedding canopy)--to never-ending growth as a human being, capable of giving and receiving love. With loving family and friends, you will never be alone.
Brenda: David, we dedicate you to ma-asim tovim--to a never-ending concern for family and community, justice and charity. While you care for others, you will never be alone.
Dan and Brenda: David, as you begin your journey through life, we pray that you will find sustenance in ma-yim cha-yim, the living waters which Judaism offers to all who draw from the well of this tradition. May we learn and grow in these traditions together.
Part III--The Name, Readings, and Conclusion
Brenda: As we prepare to give you your name, we wrap you in this tallit (prayer shawl)--the same tallit my grandfather Harry Gold wore at his Bar Mitzvah.
Dan: David Casey DeMocker, we name you in loving remembrance of your great great uncle David Platt, Brenda's great uncle, and Chester Delahook, my maternal grandfather. We have chosen Efron as your Hebrew name in remembrance of Brenda's paternal grandfather, Edward Platt. David means beloved. Casey means brave. Efron means bird. May you always be beloved by your family, be brave as you face the wonders of the world, and be able to spread your wings like a bird to pursue your dreams.
Dan: Your grandfather William Platt couldn't be here today. He wrote this for you:
My Uncle David was truly an original, who marched to his own drummer.
As a teenager, David Platt hitched his way to Hollywood to make his fortune in the new industry of movie making, and soon was publishing America's first magazine on the use of movies for educational purposes. He later became the movie critic for the New York Daily Worker, and the editor of several Jewish publications in NYC. His interests extended to a love of ancient Jewish music. Material things never mattered to him. His home was furnished with other people's throwaways (early Salvation Army was the theme if there was one).
The assorted people I met there awed me. That was the first place in my life that I ever talked to and met educated black people, Indians from India, Eastern Europeans, diplomats, writers, intellects, etc. The common denominator for all of them was a concern to make the world a better place to live and most of them were communists.
During the Great Depression of the thirties, a lot of intellectuals, including David, embraced socialism as the obvious successor to capitalism, which had apparently failed. A man richer in thought and ideas and a kinder man, I have never known.
He continued to lecture and write well into his eighties. He published a book on the history of the movie industry and his music collection now belongs to The New York Public Library. A few years before he passed away, New York's Museum of Modern Art, honored David for his contributions to the movie industry.
Young David DeMocker, I hope your life will be as rich and as rewarding as my uncle's was.
Your loving grandfather,
Grandma DeMocker (Jan): (Shares thoughts about her father)
Brenda: We invite guests and family to share thoughts, blessings, well wishes. David's godfather Larry Martin couldn't be here. But his fiance Michele is here to share some of Larry's thoughts.
All family members: David, all of us bless you and pray that you, together with us, share a life of wholeness and hopefulness and peace. Amen.
Part IV--S'udat Mitzvah, the Celebratory Meal
Blessing over the bread
Naomi [friend]: Ba-ruch a-ta Adonai, Eh-lo-hei-nu meh-lech ha-o-lam, ha-mo-tzi leh-chem min ha-a-retz. Let us bless the Source of All, Who provides us with the staff of life.
Brenda: Bread is the symbol of sustenance and honey the sign of sweetness. We dip the bread in honey in hope that our daily strivings will be sweetened by our love for each other. Please share bread and honey with us symbolically to wish David a sweet life.
(Heather, David's sister, breaks the bread. Brian, David's cousin, dips the bread in honey. Tracy passes it around for all to share.)
David did not cry during this ceremony.
August 2010 update: My son is now 9 1/2 years old and I have never once regretted my decision to leave him intact and whole.
Brenda Platt is a research director for a nonprofit sustainable development organization in the Washington, DC area. She is a member of Machar, the Washington Congregation for Humanistic Judaism where her rabbi is an intactivist and will gladly reside over Bris Shalom ceremonies in the D.C. area. For more information on Judaism, circumcision and leaving your sons intact, see resources on the Judaism & Circumcision Resource page.
[Brit Shalom graphic from the Celebrants of Brit Shalom]
Brit Shalom shirts available at MadeByMomma