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Am Yisrael Chai

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February/Adar is birthday month in the Kupfer family, with four out of five members born during this period.


My oldest son Mendel made his debut on a wintry Rosh Chodesh Adar that almost seems like yesterday. I marvel that the tiny wizened-faced infant is now himself a father – and I am in awe of the endless chain of Yiddishkeit forged at Har Sinai, linking the past to the present, and the present to the future with new links added with each passing day.


And I remember.


It was the morning of Mendel’s bris one frigid February morning many years ago in a tiny shtiebel in a small town near Pittsburgh. Most of the congregants were quite elderly; no doubt there had not been a bris in the shul for years. So they shuffled up to me, squinted in my face, wished me a mazal tov and asked me, “How do you feel?” I know they were asking about my health. To them it was amazing that I was on my feet, let alone attending the bris. Back in the alter heim a kimpeturin, a woman who had just given birth was flat on her back for weeks.


But the question gave me pause. How do I feel about all this? Not physically but emotionally. For months I walked around with what felt like a squirming watermelon in my belly, unable to see my shoes, let alone tie them. Food shopping was an ordeal, as the smells wafting from the deli made me sick to my stomach. Finding a comfortable position to sleep in was as much of a challenge as getting to the bathroom on time.


And then one blizzard-like day, after hours and hours and hours and hours of being, to quote the nurse, “in a state of discomfort” (that made root canals seem like a walk in the park) my firstborn son made his debut. As I held this toothless, hairless brick-red wrinkled little nefeshal, with a head the size of a grapefruit, I immediately knew that for him I would demolish a mountain if necessary. And now at this moment, barely a week later, I was letting him be put under the knife.


So how I felt was a real good question? I know this was also on the minds of the ladies who were present because I saw them stealing glances at me. No doubt long buried memories and feelings had resurfaced, as they relived the moment themselves.


To be truthful, I felt a smorgasbord of feelings: concern that this very experienced, competent mohel would make his first mistake; anxiety that the baby survive the procedure and my clueless mothering; anguish over his pain; wishing he was getting married instead; and impatience that it be over already.


But these very real thoughts and feelings were unexpectedly shoved aside by an explosion of awe, wonder and the realization that Hashem had bestowed upon me a great honor. I had produced a Jew. There was another son of the covenant because of me and the level of holiness on Earth had been elevated. I was overwhelmed by the enormity of what I had been zoche to do. I had done something that even Moshe Rabbeinu, the only human who had seen G-d’s face could not do. He could not make a Jew. He, like all fathers, could produce children, yet even with the yichus of being the son of Amram and Yocheved and the grandson of Levi, Moshe could not pass on his Jewishness. Only a Jewish woman could. As it turned out, his wife Tzipporah, a convert, was able to transfer her Jewishness onto her sons – but Moshe the tzaddik could not.


For me this was the ultimate of achievements.


I felt that if I did nothing else for the rest of my life – if I sat in bed eating bonbons day after day -I could do so with a total sense of fulfillment, for I had brought forth a ben Yisrael and the world was holier for it. The worry, fear and anxiety that I had been experiencing when they took the baby from my arms had been washed away by feelings of awe and gratitude that I had been deemed worthy to be part of this miracle. By a lovely bit of timing, it was Parshat Terumah, and I was beside myself with pride that in a way I had provided my own kind of terumah – a 10th in a future minyan.


For me, my son’s bris also took on an extra sweet aspect. Both sets of his grandparents were Holocaust survivors from Poland and Romania. My mother, in particular, was the only survivor of her immediate family and my father had lost his mother and 10 older siblings and dozens of his nieces and nephews. (His father had died before the war or he would have probably been murdered as well.) When my son’s name was called out – Menachem Mendel ben Shmuel – I felt as if my hand had gone through gehennom and I had slapped Hitler’s face.


With the birth of every Jewish child, we are stating to those who wish we would disappear: You’re going to be bitterly disappointed.


Am Yisrael chai!


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