The most bizarre bris I’ve ever performed started as they all do — with a phone call.
The voice on the other line introduced himself as Ralph (all of the names in this story have been changed) and simply asked: “Do you come to Tel Aviv to do britot?” I answered, “Yes.” He told me that he needed a mohel for this coming Thursday. I told him that sounded fine and that if he wanted to move the process forward, he needed to fill out a registration form that he could download from my website.
That’s when things began to get strange. He said, “I don’t have internet.” Now, this is certainly possible, even in our over-connected age, but something was off. I replied, “Then how did you find me?” I only advertise online and I’m pretty sure word-of-mouth recommendations for my services haven’t yet made it to Tel Aviv. He backtracked, “I only have internet on my phone.” I couldn’t really argue with that, because my form is an Excel file and you can’t download it on a phone. So I filled out the form for him, as he told me all the information over the phone. The conversation ended with an agreement to speak the next day.
When Ralph and I reconnected the next day, he informed me that the brit would be at a shopping center in southern Tel Aviv and that only the mother, Natasha, and the baby would be there. I said, “Wait a minute. You’re not going to be there?” He replied, “No, I’m just a friend.” I was totally lost. If this wasn’t the father, then who was it?
When Ralph told me the mother’s name was Natasha, I thought she might be of Russian origins, so maybe he was a social worker bridging a language barrier. I told him someone had to be there to hold the baby during the bris. He told me he’d see what he could do. We spoke one more time before the bris, and he assured me that he would be there to help.
The day of the brit milah came and I arrived at the mall a bit early to be on the safe side. I asked at the front desk where the bris would be and they directed me to a restaurant on the top floor. The wait staff at the restaurant assured me there was not a brit there that day. Again, I was lost.
I returned to the front desk to wait. Around the time the brit was called for, the father/friend phoned me and said to meet him in the parking lot. With minimal searching, I spotted him waiting by his minivan, looking like he was on a break from a construction job. He said we were driving just outside of the mall to do the brit. This was highly unusual. But what was I to do?
I could tell by Ralph’s attire and accent that he was a Sefardic Tzabrah (Native Israeli). As we began to drive, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. There was a woman sitting behind me who I had not been introduced to. I said, “Oh, hello. Are you the mother of the baby?” She said, “Yes, I’m Natasha.” I said “I’m Hayim. Mazal tov.”
We drove out of the mall and we were quickly on a deserted dirt road lined with dogs violently barking at the car. That’s when I got a sinking feeling that they were going to kill me and sell my tools. We arrived at a one-story structure, much like a caravan, with no windows and barely a door. It’s still a mystery to me whose domicile this was — Ralph’s? Natasha’s? A friend’s? A pay-by-the-hour motel? When we stepped out of the car, I turned around to see the mother holding the baby in her arms. No car seat. She said, “Meet Eitan.” I decided not to tell her that we normally wait until the end of the bris to give the baby his name. We all entered the structure.
The space was practically empty. A couch, a bed and a small kitchen. It was slightly larger than a studio apartment. I went into mohel mode — completely focused, both to do the job at hand and to get out of there as soon as possible. Once the bris was completed, Ralph offered to drive me back to my car. At which point, we left the mother and baby in the shack and drove back to the mall.
While we drove, I told Ralph that I’d be returning tomorrow to take down the bandage. He said to me, “Please don’t call me tomorrow; I’ll be with my children.” I don’t know where I got the gumption, but I asked him about both his and Natasha’s family situations. He admitted that he was the father of the baby and had six other children and Natasha had three other children of her own. Then came the bomb drop. I asked, “How did you and Natasha meet?” He responded very matter-of-factly, “I was doing some work in her house.”
That’s when the whole situation became clear. This was a bris for an extra-marital affair, I’m almost positive of it. I’m not sure if Ralph was still married, but Natasha had a boyfriend who I eventually “met” when I came to Natasha’s actual home to take down the bandage. By “met,” I mean he glared at me from the other side of the living room and, it appeared from his body language, that if I made one wrong move it might be my last. Either way, it was pretty clear that Ralph and Natasha had no plans to build a bayit ne’eman b’Yisrael (traditional Jewish home).
In the hours just after the bris, I gave the situation a good deal of thought and I feel the same way today as I did then. Most likely Ralph had made a mistake. This is probably why he didn’t want to fill out my form nor use a mohel in his town. He wanted no record of this ever happening. But in some ways, I got the sense that Ralph was trying to do the best he could with the mistake he had made. He was traditional and knew he had to make a bris for his son. But if you think the craziness ended there, it didn’t.
An hour after each bris I do, I call the parents to make sure they have checked the baby for additional bleeding. When I tried Natasha, she didn’t answer. An hour later, Ralph called and said, “The baby is fine; are you okay?” A bit taken aback, I replied, “Of course, why?” He said, “The stabbing that just happened was at the mall where we met.” If you remember back a few months, there was a stabbing at a Mincha minyan in a mall in South Tel Aviv. There is no doubt in my mind, as I’m sure there was no doubt in Ralph’s mind, that if I had not driven away from the mall two hours before Mincha, I certainly could have been there. I assured him that I was fine and thanked him for checking on me.
In a way, this entire experience is a microcosm of living in Israel. None of us know what’s around the next corner. And none of us know why we made it around the next corner and someone else didn’t. But we all pray for the same thing — peace. An end to the madness. We desperately want good news. And at this point in the game, after the week we’ve just had, Natasha and Ralph’s bris feels like it was heaven-sent.