ALBANY, N.Y. (Feb. 20)
Because of the joint efforts of an Orthodox neighbor a Conservative rabbi-mohel, and a Reform doctor, a public celebration of the brit milah, or ritual circumcision, of four Russian Jewish boys took place at Temple Israel here. The boys and their families were honored by more than 150 members of the Jewish community at a breakfast sponsored by the temple’s men’s club and sisterhood.
Events ending to the celebration began last June, when benzion Kagan, 80, realized that 8-year-old Sasha, the son of his Soviet Jewish neighbors, Leonid and Polina Tulchinsky, had not been circumcised at the age of eight days, as prescribed by Jewish law. An Orthodox Jew who believes this Convenant of Abraham must be observed by every Jewish male, Kagan convinced the Tulchinskys that their son should be circumcised according to Jewish law.
Mrs. Tulchinsky’s sister, Rima Shemeret, also agreed to a ritual circumcision for her 9-year-old son, Edward. Kagan then took the two boys to urologist Dr. Stuart Rosenberg for an Examination and discussion about the procedure. He originally wanted a traditional mohel (one who performs ritual circumcisions) from New York City to do the surgery.
Rosenberg recalls that Kagan walked into his office with the two boys and said “I want these boys circumcised and I want a traditional brit mullah. Can it be done in their homes?”
Rosenberg explained that because of their ages, the boys should be taken care of in a hospital. In addition, hospital regulations regarding surgical privilege and liability would prohibit a mohel from operating in any local hospital.
MOHEL ACTS AS ‘CONSULTANT’
Rosenberg told Kagan, however, that he would be happy to perform the surgery, with a mohel in attendance. Thus, with Rabbi Paul B. Silton of Albany, a certified mohel, as his “consultant and assistant,” he performed the surgery and the rabbi said the blessings. Surgery was done on an outpatient basis at St. Peter’s Hospital on Sept. 7, 1979, and the boys returned home that afternoon.
On Oct. 12, 1979, a similar arrangement was made for 7-year-old Anatoly, the son of Eleanora and Naum Shkaf, who came to Albany form Odessa in June, 1979. Unlike the other two families, the Shkafs had decided before they left Russia that their son would have a ritual circumcision here. “I wanted him to be a Jewish man like my husband and other Jewish men,” Mrs. Shkaf said.
The fourth boy, Sasha Tsuprum, II, was circumcised on Oct. 17, 1979. The son of Svetlana and Ilya, who came here from Kiev in May, 1979, Sasha says he is glad he is now “like all other Jewish men.”
Rosenberg had high praise for the staff at St. Peter’s and called everyone “extremely helpful and cooperative.” “To get this to ‘go’ in the operating room is a little bit more than the usual thing, “he explained.
All of the families explained that their sons were not circumcised in the Soviet Union because religion is forbidden by the government and no rabbis or mohels are available there.
SOVIET JEWS COMPARED TO ISRAELITES
In a brief address explaining the Covenant of Abraham and Jewish ritual circumcision, Silton compared the situation of the Soviet Jews with that of the Israelites in the desert, after they fled Egypt with Moses. “There was no circumcision during those 40 years, “he said, the Jews entered the “promised land “the desert generation was circumcised. “The Soviet Jews, having come out of the Judaic desert of the Soviet Union, now also have the privilege of joining the Convenant of Abraham,” he said.
“It is up to the American Jewish community,” he continued, “to teach these immigrants Jewish identity. “He cited the public celebration as a positive example in “the battle against assimilation.” All four of the boys are enrolled at Bet Shrago Hebrew Academy, the Solomon Schechter Day School in Albany.
As part of the celebration, which included Yiddish, Hebrew and Russian singing and dancing, the boys were publicly given their Hebrew names by Rabbi Haim Kieval and Cantor Haim Picker of Temple Israel.