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The 10,000th Circumcision

By Ethan Feinsilver

Click here to see pictures of the event

They were on deck, so to speak. Numbers 10,001 and 10,002 were waiting around the doors to the operating room for the 10,000th circumcision of a Russian Jewish immigrant at Brooklyn Interfaith Hospital. Then it would be their turns.

Because he was eight years old and might have a tendency to squirm, the nurses explained, number 10,000 was put to sleep for the procedure. But this would not be the case for 42-year-old Naum Drantyei and 52-year-old Vladislav Katselson. They would receive only a local anesthetic.

“The waiting is the hardest part,” Katselson said anxiously in Russian while pacing the hall in hospital slippers and gown.

When it is performed in this culture, circumcision — the procedure of cutting back the foreskin of the penis — is almost exclusively done to newborns. To lie awake and undergo it as an adult is, in the words of the son of the doctor who started this campaign at, Brooklyn Interfaith, “almost unthinkable.”

But for the 10,000 Russian Jewish immigrants circumcised at Brooklyn Interfaith, far from being unthinkable, this moment has been the subject of dreams. Good ones, too — rather than the other kind.

“I was dreaming all the time about this,” said Drantyei through a translator. He noted that the mohel (the one who performs the Jewish circumcision) had been sent to prison in his Russian home town.

After a lifetime of longing to express their religious identities, the immigrants apparently consider the anxiety and physical pain of the ritual insignificant final hurdles in their path to freedom.

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