Alex Rif
Social-Cultural Entrepreneur, Founder of The Cultural Brigade and Israeli-Russian Poet

The hardest thing in late circumcision is not the surgery

“You’ve got to cut it off,” blurted Dad, without raising his head from the mathematical formulas that he was continually scratching on recycled sheets of paper. You have to “Go through Obrezania” to become a real Israeli. I was 15 years old. ״What a coward you are”, I told my brother, younger by four years, “both me and Dad will cut it off, and you are scared?” My father, who at his age, intended to sign no contracts with God, became white as lime and started to breathe heavily. My brother stopped crying, looked at my father admiringly, and said: “If Dad does, so will I.” My father sighed, took a deep breath, and said: “Of course I’m cutting too.”(Alexey Belinsky)

During the ’90s, after the massive wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union, thousands of young boys went through late circumcisions in Israel. You can almost say that their new Jewish country was obsessed with getting as many boys circumcised as possible in the shortest period. In 1996, the director of the Chief Rabbinate’s Circumcision Division evaluated that by that time, between 60 and 70 thousand circumcisions had already been held. At the age of 5, or 12, or 17, the young boys rarely understood the essence of the procedure, its course, or its consequences. This experience was not processed, personally, or publicly. Today, almost 30 years after immigration, three grown men speak openly about their circumcision for the first time. Alex (40), Alexey (41), and Max (43), my brother.

“Don’t worry. It’s a short procedure,” said Ziggo, a local Ministry of Absorption representative who was responsible for arranging circumcisions for adult immigrants and escorting us to the procedure. Chills went through my body. “SHORT?!” I didn’t know how I was currently rated in length, as I had seen a minimal amount of male genitals by then.

At the waiting room of the Urology department at Bellinson Hospital, a sweet nurse gave us three beautiful white robes, just like the ones you get at 5-star hotels. My enthusiasm was shortly replaced with disappointment as I realized a vast hole was cut in its middle, exposing my entire crotch. We looked at each other and burst out laughing.

Suddenly the surgeon came in. “You,” he said, pointing to my brother, “will have general anesthesia since you’re too young. For you two, we’ll make it local.” Unsuccessfully, I tried to object. At this point, I was standing, trying to hide the object of everybody’s interest with my hands, so the cute 18-year-old nurse wouldn’t see me. 

An angry old-looking nurse interrupted my attempts. With a giant syringe in her hand, she yelled at me: “Open your legs!” And although my Hebrew did not yet allow me to understand this phrase, I followed her intentions. I felt a sharp, deep pain between my legs. A choked, inhuman sound of protest left my throat.

Nevertheless, I felt no effect. “They got it wrong in the substance, and it didn’t work,” I started to think to myself. “I can’t explain it in Hebrew, and they’ll cut me like that…” Little ants started spreading over my legs. Within ten minutes, my legs were utterly asleep. 

After a few minutes, I felt a strong desire to urinate. Half walking half crawling, I got across the room towards the tiny bathroom. As I started to pee, a volcano erupted from me in a thousand directions, all over the room, dropping not a single drop in the designated place. It was my turn first. Two burly assistive personnel arrived and rolled my bed into the operating room. Intense light from a surgical bulb dazzled me, and I smelled a strong formalin smell. The nurse put a blocking frame over my neck that kept me from rising. The doctor started muttering in Hebrew. Ten minutes later, it was over.

In the recovery room, I started checking myself to find out what had been done to me. I saw only lots of bandages. About half an hour later, my brother and father came in. “That’s it?” I said. I was disappointed. We went back to the locker, and I put my Vietnamese made Soviet jeans back on. 

While approaching our home, I felt the anesthesia fading and the pain continuously increasing. That’s when the nightmare began. Already on the stairs, we opened our jeans and flung them away. We burst, screaming, into the apartment where my mother waited for her “newly born kosher men.” The pain became unbearable. The only way to lessen the pain was to stay completely naked and make sure nothing, and I mean NOTHING came in contact with it. Mother offered to stretch a curtain in the middle of the living room. Most of the apartment was now overtaken by naked three-legged monsters.

The first night was the worst. I lay on my back, trying unsuccessfully to make sure that my penis didn’t touch anything. Towards morning, the tiredness overcame me, and I finally fell asleep. The next thing I remember is waking up with indescribable pain. It was a “morning erection.” The pain was so sharp that I opened the freezer and inserted my lower body deep into it. It actually helped. This happened every morning.

By the third night, a brilliant idea struck me. We had a sofa which opened into two separate beds. I put them next to each other, leaving a small gap, and lay down, putting my penis in the gap. I fell asleep in seconds. That night my brother got up to drink. On his way to the kitchen, he saw the gap between the beds. “Poor boy…” my brother thought, and without hesitation, closed the gap with a robust and decisive kick. My scream was heard in all of Hod Hasharon. I remember the blood, Mom hysterical, ambulance, more blood, relaxed doctors, another operating room, stitches, noises, intense light, darkness, passing out.

No one promised that it would be easy to make a contract with God, a deal for life. (Alexey Belinsky. 41, Jerusalem) 

Alex’s Roitman live performance in The cultural Brigade’s ‘Circumcision Stories’ event, held in Tel-Aviv, October 2018 – “The hardest thing in circumcision is not the surgery”.

About the Author
Alex Rif synthesizes storytelling and cultural-hacking with her public policy experience to amplify unheard voices in Israeli society – in particular, Russian-speaking immigrants, women, and Arabs. Founder and CEO of The Cultural Brigade, she helped rebrand Russian-Israeli culture and made the Russian-speaking immigrants feel at home. Alex was recognized by ‘Lady Globes’ as one of the 20 most influential Israeli female activists. She is the author of the award-winning poetry book, ‘Silly Girl of the Regime'.
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