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A Nine Year Old Hero

By Boruch Jacobson

Last week I got a call from a man by the name of Mendel Shagalow, who said to me, “Boruch, on Thursday morning you are going to be sandek (godfather) at a brit (circumcision). I’ll pick you up at nine o’clock. I asked him whose brit it was, why it was going to be in a hospital, and why I had been chosen for this great privilege. He told me he would explain everything later and that this was no ordinary brit (not that any brit is) but it was the 9,156th brit arranged by the Friends of Refugees from Eastern Europe (FREE) organization.

As to why I was chosen to be the sandek, he explained that he and his colleagues decided that in order to give this brit and the other activities of FREE the exposure it deserves, they needed me to write and share the experience of a FREE brit with the readers of my column. Upon hearing this I immediately agreed. For a change of pace I was being offered a topic to write about (now, don’t all call at once).

We arrived at the Brooklyn Interfaith (Jewish) hospital on Park and Classon Avenues at about 9:30 a.m. I was given sterile clothes, and then I was introduced to the child with his parents. He wasn’t the only one going through with the ceremony; there were another three boys, all about the same age, and though they all looked scared, they were also happy and proud to be fulfilling this great mitzvah. I wouldn’t find out how proud and strong these boys really were until a few hours later.

Back in Russia, where these boys come from, circumcision was forbidden (until recently), and most Jewish boys grew up without the customary ceremony which must be performed when a child is eight days old. When Jewish boys come to the United States where they have the freedom to practice religion as they wish, they endeavor to learn about Jewish life and their obligations and privileges from which they were deprived for so many years.

In walked Mordechai Golden, FREE’s youth director and the mohel (circumciser), Avrohom Cohen. Golden grabbed the kid and they hugged and talked like they were buddies. Mordechai Golden later explained to me that he became good friends with Victor, as it happens with the rest of the kids who go through with the brit. Golden visits and plays with the boys, tells them stories, and becomes like an older brother whom they love and respect. Once the children become candidates for circumcision, Golden accompanies them to the doctor and hospital for blood tests and medical examinations which are necessary for the preparation of a brit.

Golden also revealed to me that it was only fourteen years before that he himself was circumcised by this same mohel. Ever since then, Mordechai and Avrohom have been friends and colleagues as they helped thousands of other brave children and their families fulfill the obligation of brit mila securely and joyfully.

After a little small talk, Golden introduced the mohel to Victor, cracking a joke or two with the boy, asking him whether he was ready and if he would help with the procedure. Victor laughingly assured the mohel that he would help as much as possible. The mohel then asked me to take Victor from his parents and we were on our way to the operating room. I took Victor’s hand, his parents kissed him and wished him the best, and told him they would wait impatiently for his return.

On the operating table Victor recited the Shema and other Torah passages he knew by heart, and gave the mohel and doctor the thumbs up, clearing the way for the brit operation to begin. Victor was named, and proudly he said “mazel tov, my name is Moshe Mordechai.” The mohel asked him if he knew who Moshe was, and he said, “Of course, Moshe rabeinu.” The mohel turned to me and said, “zest, der Ribono Shel Olam is nit bancrut,” see, G-d is not bankrupt! For a kid to lay himself down and allow this to be done to him, G-d must be very proud. This might be precious to G-d even more than the akeda (when Abraham bound Isaac as a sacrifice).”

Also present at the brit were Meir Okunov, director of the FREE organization, and Zalman Shagalow, an activity director at the Russian organization. Okunov explained how willing the parents are for their children to be circumcised, saying, “The fathers themselves are a whole different story. Many of them are not circumcised, and don’t wish to go through such an ordeal, thinking that for themselves it’s too late, not like their kids who have a fresh chance to start their lives all over again.” Shagalow said that twice a week there are about four or five children who walk through the hospital doors and walk out complete and happy Jewish children.

In addition, I met Yaacov Serel from the Jewish Press, and Motty Jacob, a businessman from Las Vegas, who were also invited to be sandeks.

As the nurses wheeled Moshe Mordechai (Victor) back to his parents, I wished him a hearty mazel tov, telling him he was as great as Moshe Rabeinu and Mordechai hatzadik, and that he was a “balshoiy geroiy,” – a big hero!

Mordechai Golden then told me that as soon as Moshe Mordechai recovers they plan on going skiing together, just as the mohel Avrohom Cohen took Mordechai skiing fourteen years ago.

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