Hayim Leiter
Mohel, Activist, and Educator

The all night bris

My trip to Saint Petersburg actually began in Sde Boker. My family and I were spending Shabbat there just prior to the red eye I was taking for a midday Sunday Bris in Russia. It was a stark dichotomy, going from one of the warmest and driest places in the world to one of the coldest and wettest. To make the flight, we had to drive immediately when Shabbat ended. Upon arrival at the airport, I snuck out of the car leaving my four little ones fast asleep in the back. After making the requisite reference to When Harry Met Sally, about Harry’s reservations in driving someone to the airport at the beginning of a relationship, I kissed my wife goodbye and headed on my way.

The father of the baby had alerted me that there may be an issue with my bag arriving on time considering I only had a 1.5-hour layover in Moscow. It turns out the grandparents had recently visited Israel and had returned the same way. It only took them a week to receive their delayed bags. This would have been an obvious disaster for doing the Bris on the eighth day. When I inquired about the issue at check-in, the attendant assured me there was nothing to be concerned about. The issue with these short trips as a mohel is that even though my bag could easily be stored in the overhead compartment, the fact that it’s filled with sharp objects makes it a no go. So I sent it off with a little prayer that I’d see it again soon.

In Moscow, I literally sprinted to arrive at my connecting flight. Upon arriving at the gate, I sat for a total of two minutes before boarding began. I was sure there was someone on the tarmac running at the same pace as I had been to ensure my luggage made it on time. It seemed logical at the time.

At the Saint Petersburg baggage claim, I stared at the luggage conveyor belt until the last piece of luggage was claimed and the display read “Collection Complete”. How ironic. I made my way to baggage services. As I waited in line to figure out what the next step would be it dawned on me that I had a lot of time here.

This is the best time of year to visit Saint Petersburg because of the white nights. There is a small window of time in the year when this northern city doesn’t get dark. The law concerning Britot is ideally they should be done before sunset but if there’s an emergency they can be done in the period between sunset and the appearance of three stars. So, in this case, there may be no stars and I would have until sunrise at around 4:00 AM to do the Bris. Thankfully this situation never came to fruition because my bag arrived an hour later on the next flight.

Once I had my bag in hand I was whisked away to a cottage outside of the city for the event. The family’s summer home was beautiful. Family and friends trickled in and after some time we did the Bris on the second floor overlooking the water just across the street.

When the ceremony was done a sizable fish meal began downstairs. The family had purchased the food from a kosher caterer and since I was in a country with much less kosher eating options than I’m used to, I decided to ‘fill the hump’. I ate quite well and just as I felt full the father said, “Now we’re going outside.” I inquired, “What for?” “The Barbeque!” he replied. Unbeknownst to me, the fish course was the appetizer. So, in the end, I really filled the hump.

The outdoor eating area was covered by a canopy. The weather during this time of year is off and on rain all day. What struck me was that as these rain squalls came through, no one moved. Where I was raised, even with the canopy, if it begins to rain, you go inside. But not in Saint Petersburg. The family and friends were there to stay. They really made a day of it.

At the Britot I do around Israel, I never run out right after the event. I tend to leave after I’ve checked the baby, had a quick bite to eat and maybe heard the speech. But when immersed in the Russian culture, I was pleasantly sucked in. My cab arrived to pick me up some three hours after the actual event. It was so nice to see the family celebrate like this, even though I barely understood a word that was said. I’m sure they stayed well after I left. And if there’s anything I’d like to bring home with me, it’s the notion that a Brit Milah can, and maybe should be a whole day celebration. So, in the end, the all night Bris turned out to be the all day Bris.

About the Author
Hayim Leiter is a Rav and a Mohel in Israel , as well as an activist, and a Jewish Educator. He founded Safer HaBrit, an organization committed to protecting both our sacred ceremony of Brit Milah and the children who undergo it. He made Aliyah in 2009 and lives in Jerusalem with his wife and children.
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