A few days ago, I was blessed to be present at my grandson Abraham’s bris, his ritual circumcision. The mohel, the rabbi who officiated at and performed the circumcision, explained to the family and friends gathered for the ceremony, explained that a bris is the way God signs God’s name on a Jewish male baby.
The day before the bris, women marched in solidarity all around the country and the world. Baby Abraham’s father, his uncle on his father’s side, and his oldest brother participated in the march in New York. So did the baby Abraham’s aunt on his mother’s side, uncle, and five-month-old niece. They were joined by baby Abraham’s stepmother on his mother’s side.
My wife, baby Abraham’s maternal grandmother, the baby’s biological grandfather on his mother’s side, and I stayed home with the newborn and his mother. At just a week old, baby Abraham was still too young to be taken to the march. And his mother was still recovering from the delivery. Had Abraham been a month or more old, I’m sure we all would have joined the rest of the family on the march. .
Everyone knows what happened on Friday January 20, the day before the women’s march.
It was a charged moment to witness the circumcision of a baby, marking the moment he ritualistically joined the Jewish people’s covenant with God. It was a charged moment to welcome a baby to the Divided States of America.
But this bris in particular was a deep moment of union, a moment that, for those present and for all those who will, God willing, get to know Abraham as he grows, marked, in its quiet way, a mending of the nation, even the world. This bris marked a moment of joining in love parts of the world that some would keep apart by instilling in us fear of certain others, by dividing the world simplistically, dangerously into friends and enemies.
Baby Abraham’s mother, my stepdaughter who has taught me so much since the day I entered her life when she was seven years old, was born in Asheville, North Carolina to two Jewish parents who created the conditions in which she was able to hear her calling and follow it, eventually becoming, in addition to a wonderful partner and parent of three children, a family and social medicine doctor who is committed to serving in a compassionate way all people, especially those most at risk among us.
Baby Abraham’s father was born in Tehran to Muslim parents. A member of a large, highly educated, brilliant, talented, and successful Iranian family, some of whose family members still live in Iran with others living throughout the world, baby Abraham’s father, a cardiologist, has also been fortunate enough to hear and respond to his calling to serve in a compassionate way all people, to live his commitment to social justice.
How wise, how visionary, how hopeful, how healing of them to name their baby Abraham, after his namesake Abraham, the “father” of Judaism and Islam. How inspiring to participate in the ceremony that welcomed into this world a baby brought into this world thanks to the love an American woman and an Iranian man. In addition to the folks from the United States and Iran, friends originally from Morocco, Russia, the Dominican Republic and elsewhere came together to witness the ceremony.
The world was in the house that morning, joined in love to witness the bris of the next Abraham. Knowing his parents, I’m confident that this Abraham, our Abraham, will be raised in an environment in which he learns to live in a way that unites rather than divides people. Baby Abraham is already an example of what’s possible when people join together to move the world in the direction of love.
I was invited to offer something—lead a reflection exercise, add a reading—as part of the bris ceremony. Here’s the poem I wrote for the occasion.
The Next Abraham
The next Abraham will not be ordered
To leave the place of his birth, his father’s
And mother’s house, and wander
The earth until he arrives at the place
That will be called his home.
The next Abraham will not be torn,
His heart divided between the son
Of this mother, and the son of this mother.
The next Abraham will not be called
To sacrifice, in one version of the story, this son,
And in another version of the story, this son.
The next Abraham will not walk
In his father’s footsteps, smashing
His father’s idols, from which his father profited,
But neither will he turn away from or against
The ancient story to which he is bound.
That story, that old story, is his story, the dream-
Story written by no one, not by a woman or a man,
Not by a boy or a girl, not by a tribe, a people, or a nation,
Not even by any one of the ones they call a god.
The author of Abraham’s story, the Torah’s and Koran’s
Abraham and Alice’s and Farbod’s Abraham,
Is none other than Love. Love started the world
Whole, but the world became
Divided, and love was not Love, but something
That claimed to be Love, its uppercase “L” exclusive,
The property of some but not all,
Inclined to one narrow belief or another, confined,
Condemned to stay within fearfully drawn
And guarded borders.
The next Abraham is love unbound, whole,
A love that releases the love within us all,
Those of us gathered in this room, this morning,
To welcome him, the next Abraham, into our family,
Our community, our country, our world, our universe.
May we, inspired by this newborn, vow
To honor this new chapter of a very old story
By allowing boundless love to show us how to live.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Written by: Richard Chess
Richard Chess is the author of four books of poetry, Love Nailed to the Doorpost (forthcoming in March 2017), Tekiah, Chair in the Desert, and Third Temple, all from University of Tampa Press. Poems of his have appeared in Telling and Remembering: A Century of American Jewish Poetry, Bearing the Mystery: Twenty Years of IMAGE, and Best Spiritual Writing 2005. He is the Roy Carroll Professor of Honors Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He is also the director of UNC Asheville’s Center for Jewish Studies. He is also the Chair of UNC Asheville's English Department. You can find more information at www.richardchess.com
Above image by Barbara W., used with permission under a Creative Commons License.