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Rite for Jewish Males

February 27, 1993
By Ari L. Goldman

Click here to see pictures of the event

Click here to read the article on the New York Times website

A bris, a symbol of the covenant between Jews and God, is traditionally performed on the eighth day of a boy’s life. But for many Jewish males who were reared in the formerly communist Eastern bloc, a bris, or ritual circumcision, was either illegal or unavailable.

So for these males a Brooklyn organization has spent 20 years helping immigrants from Eastern Europe experience Judaism in a new land.

The organization, called FREE, for Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe, was founded by a Lubavitch Hasidic rabbi, Hershel Okunov, who was born in Ukraine and secretly circumcised there as an infant in the 1940’s.

The organization’s 10,000th bris was performed Thursday at Brooklyn Interfaith Hospital on a 6-year-old who recently came with his family from Russia. He was followed by three adults, also from the former Soviet Union.

About three hours after the circumcisions, which were done in operating rooms, the four took part in a party in their honor in the hospital’s auditorium. Rabbi Okunov said that the eldest of the four, a 52-year-old man from Ukraine, refused to stay seated when people joined hands to sing and dance in the Hasidic fashion.

“I told him: ‘You just had an operation. Sit down,'” the rabbi recalled. “He said: ‘But this is my day. I want to dance. Today I am a complete Jew.'”

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