I’ve recently joined Twitter, in an attempt to re-connect with the outside world and get a moment’s break from my two small children. It seems I’m not the only one on a break, because a throw-away ‘tweet’ can spark a nation-wide outcry in a matter of minutes.
Take for example Hollywood star Russell Crowe, admitting to his 250,000 followers that he thought male circumcision was ‘barbaric and stupid.’ In 140 characters, he managed to make instant headlines and offend Jews and Muslims across the globe. D'oh!
I wasn't offended. Because if I’m honest, I kind of see where he’s coming from. I have to admit, I felt embarrassed telling my friends who aren’t Jewish that I was having my son circumcised, because in their position, I think I would probably frown on it too…
I didn’t officially know that I was pregnant with a boy. However, the 20 week scan photo left little to imagination and let’s just say, our unborn child’s gender was staring us and everyone else who saw the picture, right in the face. Poor sod, everyone had already seen his bits and he hadn’t even left the womb.
But that was nothing compared to what he exposed three weeks after his birth, when The Boy was guest of honour at his first Jew Do. Unbeknownst to him, this ‘welcome to the world party’ was actually his circumcision, otherwise known as a Brit. Before he’d had a chance to smell the smoked salmon bagels, my little boy was whisked away from me and ushered through a heaving crowd of relatives, to meet the deceptively friendly looking mohel. All comfy on a pillow on his grandfather’s lap and dosed up with kosher wine, my perfect and probably drunk son, was then clamped, sliced and deprived of the ‘unjewish’ part of his manhood, while upstairs, all I could do was listen out for the scream.
Ok, maybe I’m making it out to be more gruesome than it is. The actual circumcision is quick and relatively risk free. The mohel is usually a qualified doctor. Every day, people are circumcised the world over for either religious or health reasons. There are even health benefits that it can lower the risks of contracting HIV and penile cancer. But as a mother, when you’ve just given birth to a perfect baby and your natural instinct is to protect your child from harm, sitting back while your child is mutilated, with your full consent, is heart-breaking, devastating, fury-inducing and you feel like you’ve failed as a parent, before you’ve even begun.
I felt angry and cheated. I refused to speak to any of the guests that had packed out the downstairs of our house and stayed upstairs with The Boy until everyone had left. In my hormonal state, my family and closest friends had become a jeering crowd at an execution, rather than well-wishers at what is effectively a baby-naming ceremony - when the baby’s Hebrew name is revealed and his covenant with G-d sealed. To be honest, all that lovely traditional stuff was lost in my desire to snatch my son back and run for the hills…or the nearest hospital.
But you know what? He got over it. We got over it. Everything was fine…eventually. But why do it in the first place? For my husband and me at the time, it was just something that our parents expected. The question was not, “will your son be circumcised?” It was “when’s the Brit, because you know I need to order the Danish pastries?” Any worries and doubts I expressed to my dad, were quashed with “well it didn’t do me any harm,” which is a conversation you don’t really want to pursue..
Because no one seemed to question the ethics of circumcising their sons, I convinced myself and my husband that it must be ok, like losing a fingernail maybe (except less likely to grow back).
So I think the most shocking part came when the mohel first removed the bloody dressing, to reveal something that resembled a cocktail sausage dyed an unappetising shade of purple. We then had to check on the sausage every half an hour, dress it with a Vaseline soaked gauze and wrap it up in two nappies. In shock and not quite sure what to do with ourselves, or our son, we did what any new parent does when left alone with their newborn. We sat him next to a toy monkey, whipped out the camera and took some snaps of him with his wine-soaked finger, for the family album. Well it was done now, wasn’t it!
Because at the end of the day, if you make the decision to bring your son up as a Jew, you’ve just got to accept certain things – a) they’re probably going to be short and eventually balding, b) they’re going to aspire to be a doctor, lawyer or accountant and c) they’re expected to be circumcised.
After all, yes maybe it hurts for an instant, but that’s nothing compared to the teasing our son would receive from his Jewish friends for his extra packaging – how to make (an already ginger) child feel self-conscious! Then there’s how he’d feel if he took a nice Jewish girl upstairs one day (she’d be back downstairs in an instant.) And if he chooses to follow the religious route, we’d have let him down by not forging his physical bond with The Lord a bit sooner. Then if he chose to have the adult procedure, he’d probably need a little more than a sip of wine to numb the pain.
Yes, I wish the initiation into male Jewish life was simply a bottle of chicken soup and a scolding from their future mother-in-law, but then I didn’t’ make the rules.
Thankfully, our second child was a girl.