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Thursday, 26 June 2008

The Man Who Attended My Father's Bris

By Mort Reichek of Octogenarian

(For the unitiated: A "bris" is a religious ceremony celebrating the circumcision of Jewish boys eight days after their birth.)

My late father was a bit of a raconteur and loved to tell tales about his early life. One of his favorite stories was about an experience he had as a young man working in a store in a small town in Arkansas. He had overcome the objections of his immigrant parents and had quit an Orthodox Jewish religious seminary in New York City. He was 18 and was determined to seek his fortune elsewhere.

Under circumstances that he never satisfactorily explained to me, he wound up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where he was employed by a Jewish merchant who operated a dry goods store. I haven't heard the retail term "dry goods" in many years, and I am uncertain whether it is still in common usage. But the term refers to sheets, pillow cases, towels and related textile products.

One day a Jewish traveling salesman from New York visited the store. Upon being introduced to my father, the salesman said that my father's surname sounded very familiar to him.

"Where you born?" the salesman asked my father. "And how old are you?"

"I was born in 1897 in Ostrava, near Lomza in Poland," my father responded. (The region was then ruled by Czarist Russia.)

When he heard my father's answers, the salesman became extremely interested in my father's family background. "Was your father a Hasidic rabbi, and did your mother operate a vegetable oil press?" he asked.

My father confirmed that this was indeed the case. The salesman became excited and exclaimed to my father: "I was at your bris!"

He explained that he had been stationed in my father's birthplace, Ostrava, while serving in the Czarist Russian army. The town is located near what was the border with Germany's former territory, East Prussia, and was an important Russian garrison prior to World War I.

Jewish soldiers in the Czarist army were invariably invited to the homes of local Jewish families for Sabbath dinner. The salesman had been a guest in my grandparents' home so often that he was regarded as an honorary member of the family. When my father was born, he was naturally invited to the bris.

That the ex-Russian soldier encountered my father nearly two decades later in a small town in Arkansas demonstrates that it is indeed, as the cliche has it, "a small world."

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


What an interesting long shot that was!

Wonderful telling and excellent example of what a small speck we are in this universe.

A couple of weeks ago we heard from friends that their nephew was on the corner in Japan where the car ran into and killed several people crossing the street. Their nephew had gotten a call on his cell phone and stopped to answer or he would have been injured or killed. The call was a wrong number. That's a good story but more amazing to me was the fact that we know one couple from Japan and this was their family member.

While it can't compare in drama to your story I do have an example of what a small world it can be.

My late husband and I were in Oahu about to visit the Arizona memorial when his name was called loudly. We turned around to see the mayor of our town and his wife. Neither one of us knew the other was in Hawaii.


I had all four of my children in a Jewish Hospital.Mount Sinai in Philadelphia.

Three of those children were boys and each time someone from the hospital staff would ask me about arranging for the Bris.

Since we were Catholic, of course we were not having a Bris. Each time I explained that, the staff person would smile and that would be the end of it.

BUT, our 4th child was born on a bitterly cold day in January and a few days later the priest from our parish came to visit me . He was dressed in his black suit and overcoat and carried his black hat. He was stopped over and over by hospital staff asking if he was the Mohel..

We all had a great laugh about that, the Priest, the staff, my husband and I and a real Mohel who was there for another baby's ceremony....

Mort what a beautiful story and so true. We never know who we are sitting next too or what their link to our lives might have been or will be in the future.

Thanks for giving me something to think about regarding a stranger and how life can really be..that small world..

Dorothy from grammology
remember to call your gram

Mort, Great story. Love those Brises!!! Being a Hebrew Teacher for many years, I have told my students when they asked about "go home and talk to your parents."
At my son's Bris nearly 42 years - when the Mohel came to do it...I hid in the "pantry"...but celebrated my grandson's 4 years ago, in the Temple.

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