My youngest baby, Hope, is fast approaching 7 months old. Though we are not currently members of any synagogue, our lack of shul membership doesn’t necessarily translate into a lack of faith. My husband and I are Jewish and we want to raise our children Jewish. One of their first introductions to this faith is the ceremony where we give them their Hebrew name. Though I expect we should’ve done this months ago when she was newly minted, it is time to start planning this event now.
In Judaism, the naming ceremony for boys is part of the Brit Milah or bris, the ritual circumcision that nearly all Jewish boys receive in the first week after their birth. It’s a straightforward, if not uncomfortable process that looked something like this with my son. I was 8 days post-partum and was largely a walking ball of emotions. Our house was filled with some close friends and family but mostly extended family that I did not know or recall or even like. A mohel showed up who claimed he had circumcised nearly every little boy in the tri-state area. He said a couple of blessings that I did not understand over my tiny helpless son who lay sobbing on top of our card table as he carefully removed his foreskin. Everyone celebrated as my baby screamed. Someone removed the baby and the iodine and replaced it with a platter of rice that my husband’s grandmother had made for the occasion. A group of old women sat down at the exact same table where this whole ridiculous scene had just taken place and started noshing and kibitzing. I grabbed my son and the rugelach tray and hid in my bedroom where I sobbed and binge ate pastry.
In every way, this ceremony for me was about religion. I felt very little that day, and certainly didn’t feel moved or connected by my faith. I recognize this was my personal experience with his bris, but nonetheless it cut me sharply (no pun intended) that his first introduction to Judaism was seemingly so full of ritual, yet so lacking in spirituality.
With our second daughter Ruby, we felt free of what we’d been through with Dylan. Brit bats (the naming ritual for girls) are a relatively new concept in Judaism and are much more free form. We knew we could do something more formal in a shul with a rabbi but we hadn’t yet made that connection with any one place. We wanted to create a ritual that honored our traditions in a way that felt inclusive and warm. We called everyone to our backyard on a sunny day in the spring. We pulled white chairs in a circle and filled them with our closest and most favorite people. We spoke about my mother, her namesake, about all of the things we loved about her, and about what we wished for sweet baby Ruby. We blessed her. We welcomed her with love into our faith.
And so again with Hope we now have a precedent, a path to hold a ceremony unique to us and the space that we have created for ourselves and our family within Judaism. This time it will be a crisp fall day. We will gather the people we love in our backyard and ask for their grace as we stumble rather artlessly through some blessings and give her Hebrew name. We will tell her that with her arrival, she made a unique space in our hearts that reminds us to stay soft, stay open. That perhaps this space is the only place in which true love and change and a belief in a higher power itself is even possible. Because of this, because of her and her brother and her sister, we have faith. We have Hope.
And with our own unique rituals and deep humility, we will introduce her to our unique brand of Judaism. We will welcome her into our faith with love.