I never thought I would be so nervous about a brit milah. Not just on the morning but the night before as well. I could hardly sleep, I was so worried for my new son, Jackson. His full name is Jackson Isaac Baron — my husband Joshua and I just fell in love with the name Jackson — it was so different. Isaac, Yitzchak in Hebrew, was both my grandfather’s and my husband’s grandfather’s name. Our grandfathers meant the world to us and it was important to us to keep the name alive in our new family.
Early that morning, hearing our guests begin to arrive for davening, my anxiety reached new heights. At the time of the brit, I had been a mother for just about a week but your natural instinct is to be protective and I did not want my son to be in pain. I have to admit the procedure was over and done with quite quickly. Mordechai Cohen, the mohel, even made a joke once it was finished, saying the crying I heard was not from the actual procedure but happened when Jackson’s nappy was being undone.
My son wore a white gown and little hat. In my family, this is the tradition. The back has buttons all the way down to make it easy for the mohel to undo and simply lift up for the brit. The gown my son wore was even more special because it was worn by my cousin, who sadly passed away a couple of years ago, at his brit just 17 years before. These events and milestones are very important in our family, so we pass on the dress and the pillow the baby is placed on from one boy to the next, from one generation to another.
The brit took place on a Wednesday, in our home. Guests were invited to join us at 7am for shacharit, followed by the brit at 7.45. While the davening involved mostly men, women soon followed for the bris. In total we had around 60 guests.
Once the praying was finished, guests surrounded the tall chair where the sandek (my father-in-law, Eli Baron) would sit with the baby for the ceremony. I walked down the stairs with my mother, Karine Perez and, as it is customary to hand over the baby to a recently married couple, Jackson was given to my dear friend (and the JC’s very own) Jade Graham, who then gave the baby to her husband, Ben and finally to my father-in-law. My father, Maurice Perez, led some singing before the mohel recited a few prayers and the brit was performed. My father was then given the baby and Jackson’s Hebrew name was announced.
Because of the timing, we served breakfast food. Most attendees left for work directly after the ceremony, so easy-to-eat food was essential. We filled the table with pastries, scones, cupcakes, cakes, cheeses, muesli, fruit, dips, bread, bagels, rolls — and smoked salmon, of course. Teas, coffee and juices were served as well — and it would not have been a simchah without some whisky.
At the end of the ceremony, I reached for a basket filled with little grey and white star pouches. It is customary, in Moroccan tradition, to fill these with sugar-covered almonds and hand them out to guests on joyous occasions. The pouches had “Baby Boy Baron” written on them, as well as his date of birth.
I did not know about pidyon haben before I had a baby. Pidyon haben ceremonies are quite rare. To have one, you must have a first-born son, delivered naturally and not be Cohen yourself. The pidyon haben is a mitzvah whereby a Jewish first-born son is “redeemed” from having to serve in the priesthood, by the use of silver coins.
The gathering took place at my in-laws’ home in Edgware. Friends and family joined us for evening ceremony followed by a buffet dinner. We had around 100 guests. My mother-in-law, Simone Baron, took care of the cooking and baking and we had enough leftovers for another 100 guests.
The menu featured salmon; mini burgers; chicken skewers; shwarma; meat pizza; shepherd’s pies; sushi; salads; quinoa; potatoes; sweet potatoes; roasted vegetables; dips; mini hotdogs; falafel; kebabs; pavlova; carrot cake; brownies; mini apple crumbles; blueberry sponge; mini lemon tarts, chocolate meringues and fruit.
The ceremony began by placing the baby on a silver tray which had a pillow on top. All guests gathered around the baby and, to show love for the mitzvah, women placed their jewellery on the tray — and on the baby.
The Cohen questioned me and my husband to determine that the baby was indeed our first-born son, of natural delivery and we were not Cohens.
Then he simply asked my husband: “What would you prefer, your son or money?” and — a few bad jokes later — my husband proclaimed our son to be more important.
Last but not least, the Cohen asked for payment in “exchange” for our son of five silver coins (my husband thought it would be funny to pay him in chocolate coins but this did not go down too well). Once the coins were given, our son officially became ours.
In this day and age, it is easy to let go of the traditions that have connected and strengthened us as a Jewish community for years and years. We are so caught up in announcing the birth of a child on Facebook or Instagram and forget it is essential to celebrate with friends and family in person. The brit and pidyon haben put into perspective what and who was important and for me — religion, family and friends.
At the end of the ceremony, I brought out another basket, this time filled with individual little bags of garlic and sugar. It is customary to hand these out to guests at a pidyon haben. We encourage our guests to prolong the mitzvah of the ceremony by using the garlic and sugar when cooking a big meal, to share and keep the mitzvah alive. The bags were put together with the help of Aviva Landau, in memory of her grandfather.
What would my advice be to other mothers facing a bris or pidyon haben? I’d say: Breathe. The brit will scare you but it will be OK. Babies are little miracles and while they cry for a few seconds during the procedure, the pain goes quickly and you will feel proud to have continued and be a part of thousands of years of tradition that make up the Jewish people.
For the pidyon haben, make sure to take it all in. The ceremony happens when your son is 30 days old, so by now you will be exhausted, not having slept for a month and having organised one event after another. But take time to embrace another opportunity to celebrate your little one.
My hopes and dreams for my son now are that he grows up to be a generous, kind, humble and loving person. Most importantly, I hope that he too will pass on important traditions and mitzvahs such as brit milah and pidyon haben to his children and their children for generations to come. What more could a mother want?