The Godfather

I never did it in my life. While I have attended over 100 brit milah (circumcision) ceremonies, I was never the Sandak (Godfather – the one who holds the baby during the circumcision). I always felt that my day would come and one day I would get to do that incredible mitzvah. I just never dreamed the baby would weigh 185 pounds and have a beard!

No, I’m not talking about a “Guinness Book of World Records” baby. I am talking about a beautiful 32 year old Jew from the former Soviet Union who simply never had a brit. This young man made aliyah several years ago with no background in Jewish observance or knowledge. After living in Israel, he became interested in his 5,000 year old heritage and has decided to slowly connect to his roots. One of the steps in his journey home was a proper brit milah.

As you can imagine, doing a brit on a grown man is not a simple procedure. Only a few Mohels around the world are certified to undertake such a huge responsibility. Yet, even with this great difficulty, over 60,000 of these adult circumcisions have already taken place – and more are on the way! Baruch Hashem!

Let me share my experience with you. The brit was scheduled to take place in the Israeli city of Bat Yam, home to many Russian Jews. Like many innovative projects around the world, this one was held at the local Chabad center. This Chabad center has a specially designed room for adult circumcisions. While inside the Chabad center you have no idea that this room exists – the place looks like a regular set of rooms for classes and praying. Yet, just around one of the corners there is a door that leads to a small operating room that cost them close to $200,000 to build and furnish. The Mohel called me to enter the room after the local anesthesia had been applied. I came in and stood behind the young man’s head. The Mohel told me to hold his head up during the entire procedure since this is what a Sandak does during an adult brit.

As you may know, there are 2 blessings recited during a brit. The first one, “Al ha’Mila” is always recited by the Mohel and the second one, “L’Hachniso bi’brito shel Avraham Avinu” is recited by the father – in the case of an infant. During a brit of an adult, it is the young man himself who says that blessing! Since this particular fellow’s Hebrew was limited, I helped him recite that blessing. What an honor and awesome experience!

All the holy books write about the special prayers that a Sandak recites during the brit and the subsequent closing and bandaging after the brit has finished. I had come prepared to say a few prayers during this time because it is one of those incredible moments when your prayers pierce the Heavenly gates. Being accustomed to an infant’s brit – when the bandaging takes about 60 seconds – I came prepared with just a few short and simple prayers.

After closing my eyes and saying these prayers with all my strength and emotion, I looked up at the Mohel and nodded my head. He saw that I was finished and then asked a very strange question; “Why aren’t you praying? This is the time to ask, beg and beseech the Almighty. Why are you just standing there?” I politely told him that I was finished, only to see him chuckle and say, “My dear friend. In an infant’s brit, the Sandak has to pray quickly but in this case you have at least 15 minutes until I have finished medicating, stitching and bandaging. Therefore – KEEP PRAYING!!!”

Whoops! I didn’t know that, so I quickly returned to my prayers and beseeched G-d – slowly – for everyone I knew. I prayed for shidduchim, for my children, parnossa, health and spiritual growth. I prayed for our Nation and the new leadership we so desperately need. I prayed for our holy IDF soldiers – may G-d protect them and help them destroy the enemy. I begged G-d to bring every Jew home to the Land of Israel and I thanked Him for giving me the opportunity to be the Sandak for this special Jew. Finally, I asked for G-d’s help to allow others to follow in this man’s footsteps. Thank G-d, 15 minutes is a lot of time, and I managed to use each and every second.

When the Mohel finished, I helped the young man stand up and get dressed. We went into the main room of the Bat Yam Chabad Center and the table was set with a festive lunch. Before eating, I was given one more task: I said the post-brit prayer, including naming this 32 year old “baby” and made a blessing over the wine. We then sat down to eat complete with singing and dancing… yes, even the young man himself!

What can I say except THANK YOU G-D! What an honor to have been involved in this mitzvah and what an eye-opening experience to see all the wonderful volunteers who do this on a regular basis. I spoke to the people in charge and found out that each adult brit costs them $1,200!! I can personally testify to the vast amounts of surgical supplies used and the professional expertise involved every step of the way. This was no simple procedure and I applaud all those involved. May G-d give them the strength to continue to do this for hundreds of thousands of others!

About the Author
Shmuel Sackett is the International Director of Manhigut Yehudit, the Jewish Leadership Movement. He and his family live in Herzliyah. He can be reached at