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Tashlich in the Rio Grande
September 21st, 2007
I had recently returned from Albuquerque, N.M., where my new and precious great-grandson, Nathaniel Zev Hoffman, was born Thursday, Sept. 14, 2006.
In the Jewish tradition, when a male is born, a circumcision (brit milah) must be performed on the eight day after birth. This is obligatory according to the covenant made between G-d and Abraham. It is performed by a “mohel” who is trained in theory and practice to perform this religious rite. It includes prayers and blessings followed by festivities.
So, when my grandson Saul called to share the wonderful news about his son’s birth, the family in Milwaukee made plans to be there for the service, as did my granddaughter Shelley and her husband Jeff, who live in St. Louis.
The ceremony was to take place Thursday, the eighth day. The Following evening at dusk, after the first star appeared, was the start of the holiest holiday season in the Jewish calendar — Rosh HaShanah, the anniversary of the creation of the world, the time of reflection and prayers for the New Year.
How could we be away from our homes at this time? Not attend services at our synagogues? Not prepare and relish the delicious traditional foods with our family?
Miraculously, we did! All within two days after the call from Saul, my daughter-in-law Sandy, who is more like my daughter, immediately set about via telephone to contact a cateress in Albuquerque who would prepare the traditional foods of the holiday. She also arranged for the cateress to prepare a lovely luncheon to follow the brit milah.
Hotel and air reservations for all of us from Milwaukee were made by my son Stuart, the new grandfather. Those from St. Louis immediately made their own.
The new grandparents also contacted the rabbi of the synagogue where the brit was going to be held. They shared with him our dilemma about being unable to attend holiday services in our own house of worship. What to do? He understood; not to worry. He would arrange to have all 11 of us attend services so that we could observe the holiday, reflect on our lives and hear the shofar ushering in the New Year. This too is obligatory.
Sandy and Stuart left earlier but the rest of the Milwaukee contingent arrived safely on Wednesday evening and, of course, went directly to Saul and Kelly’s home to see our new baby. Kelly’s family and additional members of our family who live in Albuquerque also gathered to see the baby, to hold him, to adore him, and to devour him with love. Joy prevailed. After several hours and feeling quite exhausted, we all left to go to our hotel.
The next day, we arose to a gorgeous sunny day, a day that virtually shone more brightly because of our Nathaniel. Later that morning, we went to the synagogue. We met Rabi Flicker, the mohel, and many local friends of Kelly and Saul.
The ceremony started. I, the great-grandmother, was given the honor of bringing in the baby and handing him to my son, who in turn handed him to his son, the new father, symbolizing the continuation of the generations. The baby was placed on a little platform, his little lips touched with a bit of libation and all the guests quietly watched.
The rabbi had the grandparents read a statement declaring their love and devotion to the child. The nervous mother and father declared their love and devotion and dedication to their son to the Jewish faith followed by prayers and blessings pronounced by the rabbi as well as an explanation of the ritual.
The grandfather sat nearby applying wine to the baby’s lips as a form of anesthesia. The mohel said a prayer, quickly completing the procedure after which we all broke out in song, handclapping and congratulatory handshaking.
The food that had been planned for was sumptuous, delicious and beautifully arranged — a spread fit for a king. And we all did it justice. Cameras were flashing constantly. It was truly a day to remember.
Tomorrow evening, Rosh HaShanah!
Friday during the day, Sandy and Stuart picked up the food that had been ordered. A story unto itself: The food was provided but where to serve and eat it? We were 25 people without a home large enough to accommodate us at a sit-down holiday table.
Flash! Leo, Sandy’s brother, and my two grandsons, Saul and Seth, have their coffee frequently at Buster’s Coffee Shop. It is open from the early morning to 4 p.m. with no evening hours. Could we rent his facility for our dinner? Jason, the angel, said yes.
When we arrived that evening, we didn’t recognize our morning gathering spot. The shop was spotless. Tables were arranged in one long line, banquet style, and covered with white cloth, flowers and candles. Lights were dimmed and the food was set, buffet-style, in one area of the room.
Twenty-five of us sat down around the table and Nathaniel in his carrier. The women lit the holiday candles, saying their prayers. My son said the blessings. Sandy explained the origin of the holiday for the non-Jewish guests. We ate and welcomed Rosh HaShanah.
The next we mornings, we attended services at the synagogue. Though somewhat different, they were enjoyable and we were grateful for the rabbi’s graciousness. Attending as a family, with our baby, was especially moving.
It is tradition to go to a flowing body of water where we cast crumbs of bread, which represent our sins, into the water. Birds coming for the bread symbolically fly up to heaven, carrying our sins to God so that we can be absolved of them.
We drove to the Rio Grande, which we assumed was a large river.
However, at this point it was a narrow, flowing stream. It was late afternoon and the sun shone brightly as we cast our crumbs into the water, hopefully freeing us of our sins and preparing us for a new slate of good deeds and a happy New Year.
A longtime Milwaukeean, Mildred Hoffman has volunteered for many local Jewish organizations.