Reflections on a New Year, a New Baby and COVID
January 4, 2022
Sondra Oster Baras
This is a day for celebration. Or as King David put it in Psalms: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). This morning, my newest grandson, my 10th grandchild, will have his circumcision ceremony. And while this is my 9th grandson undergoing circumcision, following 4 sons who experienced the same ceremony, this time it is all quite different. And wonderful all in its own way.This circumcision, or Brit, as it is called in Hebrew, is taking place in the midst of a global pandemic which we have been dealing with for two years. And while the ceremony remains timeless, it is the details that have changed and give us pause.
My daughter and son-in-law have been living temporarily in the US. But especially since this was her first baby, we did not want to miss the occasion. So the plan was to wait until the baby was born and then my husband and I would hop on the next plane and fly to the US, arriving within a few days of the birth. I was looking forward to helping out my daughter as she learned the ins and outs of mothering and Ed and I were looking forward to participating in the Brit.
But then Omicron hit and Israel began to limit entry and exit to the country. At first, tourists were banned except in special circumstances, and then it was announced that Israelis would not be allowed to leave the country for the US and other “red” countries. We had 24 hours to act. We took one of the last flights out of the country before it was too late. We landed in the US on my daughter’s due date but the baby was not born that day. Or that week. So we waited.
The wait was an interesting experience for us, giving us an opportunity to observe an America struggling to celebrate the holidays while dealing with COVID. I talked to friends and heard their hesitation as they deliberated how best to celebrate Christmas — should they join their extended families, should they invite the grandchildren, should they go out to church. I saw lines of people waiting for COVID tests as they tried to ensure they were healthy before visiting friends and family. I saw people finishing up their last-minute shopping, wishing each other a merry Christmas or happy holidays through their masks, trying to communicate warmth and joy with their eyes.
Of course none of this is new to any of us, but experiencing COVID in a different country, watching people as they struggled to find joy during a holiday season not my own, gave me perspective. It provided the distance I do not normally have when I experience COVID in my own country.
And then the baby came. What a thrill! But because of COVID, I was not able to visit my daughter and her newborn in the hospital. And as my daughter related her experiences in the hospital, she noted how frightened the staff was of infection. As they watched the numbers rise, they knew that their risk of infection would rise exponentially.
Once the baby came home, I was able to revert to my full-time savta (grandmother) self. I just can’t get enough hours of holding the baby. As I watch his expressions, as he sighs and smiles in his sleep, cuddled up against me, I feel a thrill that never gets stale. No matter how many children I gave birth to and no matter how many grandchildren I have held in recent years, the thrill, the joy, the contentment is always fresh, always amazing!
And today is the Brit. We don’t have family in the US and my daughter has few friends here. So we are having a very intimate ceremony — the parents of the baby, Ed and I, the baby and the rabbi. But the rabbi assured us that in today’s COVID reality, this is the sort of ceremony that he prefers. Keeping safe seems to be a justified and over-riding concern.
But when it comes to the Brit itself, nothing has changed. This ceremony was first established by G-d Himself when He commanded Abraham to circumcise himself. “This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised” (Genesis 17:10). This is the sign that G-d gave us, to mark us as His people, as members of His covenant. What a privilege! And as part of the ceremony, we name the baby, declaring his name in Israel, and in this way, incorporating him formally into the People of Israel.
Each Brit that we celebrated in Israel reminded us of the unity of our people, our land and our G-d. We were eternally grateful that G-d had restored us to our land, which lent greater significance than ever before to the Brit ceremony.But as we prepare to celebrate this Brit in the US, outside of Israel, I realize we have something else to be thankful for. It is truly a miracle that our people survived so many centuries of exile and remained a people to be restored to the land. And one of the things that kept us together was the Brit— the physical marking of our baby boys as members of the covenant. This indeed was the sign that we carried for generations that reminded us of our everlasting connection to G-d and to His promises.
We have just turned the corner of a new year. May 2022 be a year of joy and good health. May we reach out to one another with our faces exposed, may we hug one another in love and tenderness, may we all enjoy new beginnings — new babies, new relationships and new initiatives. May G-d have mercy on us all and carry us safely through another year. And may we all feel G-d’s mark upon us, always.