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Reflections on Being a Grandmother

Maybe if I put it down on paper and can see it in black and white, it will become more real to me. On Tuesday, November 4th, at 4:35 P.M., my daughter Avigayil gave birth to a baby boy…my grandson. I am a grandmother!

It was a very emotional day. My mother had arrived from America at midnight the night before and I had called Avigayil at work the next morning to let her say hello to her grandmother. She didn’t answer and a couple of hours later I sent her a text message on her cell phone, asking if everything’s OK. She replied that she’s fine but would call me back later. I felt a tingling of suspicion then, but when she didn’t get back to me after her lunch hour, my stomach officially started hurting. I just knew she was in the hospital, and I spent the rest of the day, mumbling silent prayers to G-d, asking Him to take care of my baby (and hers), clutching the phone, waiting for it to ring. At 5:30 it did, the screen showing “Avigayil”. I answered to hear “Mazal Tov Savta—Congratulations Grandma!”

Thank G-d, mother and baby are fine and I am bursting with gratitude, happiness and pride. Avigayil and my son-in-law Matan are just terrific and I am in awe of their maturity and sense of purpose, and I’m thrilled at their strength as a couple.

I can’t believe the new stage I’m in and I’m starting to understand how my mother feels when she says, “I can’t believe my baby is a grandmother!” This is my mother’s twelfth great grandchild! Avigayil’s 48 hours in the hospital were busy. Kuti and I went immediately that night for our first hug and the royal viewing! The next day, during every visiting hour, a different assortment of siblings went to see her and their new nephew. I look at the snapshots of the couple, then the baby, then the baby with Ahuva, with Leora, with Atara, with Avraham, Netanel and Elitzur and I just feel blessed! The baton has been passed and the next generation is beginning.

The new mother and father moved into my house with the little prince and, to say the least, it’s lively. It is a Jewish custom to only prepare and buy things for a new baby after he is actually born. So, all of a sudden, there was the purchase of the stroller, car seat and bassinet and a few basic outfits, undershirts, and diapers. I also had the fun of going up to my attic to find baby blankets, crib sheets and clothing from my own assortment. My friends laugh that I’m probably not that “rusty” since it hasn’t been that long since I was a new mother with Elitzur. He is only five years old and I think I may have to remind myself that this one is not mine!!!

First I wanted to apologize to Avigayil and Matan that the house is not quiet and focused completely on them and their baby. I’m also focused on my ever-busy household. I was feeling badly for Ahuva because her new contact lenses were still bothering her and she’s very frustrated that the opticians can’t get it right. Leora had just started university and wanted to talk about the schedule changes she needed to make in her courses. Atara still walks in the door and sits down at the piano to play, belting out her favorite songs. Avraham still wants to work on his invitations for his Bar Mitzva which is in less than a month away. Netanel and Elitzur still want me to come outside and watch how they shoot baskets and ride their bicycles. A busy, noisy household.

Then again, I won’t apologize for the extra activity and busyness, because it comes with lots of laughter and love. I gave this baby boy aunts. I gave him uncles. I provided him with six extra pairs of arms waiting to hold him close— waiting for the chance to sink their faces into that oh-so-soft spot in his neck… six extra people who will take a good long time before they think that he is anything short of perfect.

There is a Jewish tradition that on the first Friday night after a baby boy is born there is a “Shalom Zachar”, meaning “Welcoming the Male!” The Shalom Zachar is an informal drop-in gathering at the house where the new parents and baby are staying. Of course my mother, my daughters and I baked for the happy occasion, bought nuts and candies, and prepared fruit platters and drinks. But we could have (and should have) prepared less because the people of Karnei Shomron, as usual, opened their hearts, and cakes and cookies and chocolates kept arriving at our door all day Friday. Living in a community is like living among extended family. Friday night, after we finished our Shabbat meal, we set up long tables in our living room and dining room, laden with all the goodies, and people started pouring in. Avigayil preferred staying in the den with the baby, so while the men hung out near the tables of food, eating, singing and sharing ideas on the Bible, the women naturally congregated in the den, where there was also plenty of food!

It was beautiful. Avigayil and Matan’s friends came and so did Kuti and mine, and my mother was with us, and the privilege of seeing the gathering of four generations in one house kept me choked up a good part of the evening. There is nothing more precious to the Jewish people than a baby. A baby is the promise of the continuation of G-d’s people, the promise of a future for His nation, the culmination of the covenant made between Him and Abraham, that the people of Israel will outnumber the stars in the heavens and the grains of sand by the sea.

A Jewish baby boy comes with lots of parties and the next one comes the night before the baby’s circumcision. It is called a “Night of Watching”, a night where we bestow on the baby some added spiritual protection, through prayer and song. In Judaism there is no devotion or prayer purer than that of a small child, so we asked Elitzur to invite some friends over for the honor. He was thrilled to have a job only he could do, and as darkness fell, sixteen little five year olds showed up, excited to be out at night, bursting with energy but tempered with the seriousness that they were the guests of honor. We put the baby in his bassinet in the center of the room and the children sat in a circle around him. Matan told them some Bible stories, then asked them to find blessings in their pure little hearts and bless his baby. It was charming. One little girl wished him long life; one good health; and one granted him the desire to do good deeds and study the Bible. Then they all chanted together, sweetly, the age-old prayer: “Hear O’ Israel, the Lord our G-d, the Lord is One.” Lastly, they sang the verse that is recited at bedtime, the blessing that Jacob gave to his grandchildren Menashe and Ephraim: “May the angel who saves me from evil, bless all the little children…and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth” (Genesis 48:17), their voices raised lovingly to G-d. As they left, we handed them baggies of sweets, with the wish that their service of G-d may always be connected with joy.

Tuesday morning was the baby’s Brit Milah…the circumcision ceremony. It was a day filled with very strong feelings. My grandson, as my three sons before him and as my husband, father and grandfather before them, at the tender age of eight days old, was going to enter the same covenant with G-d that began with our patriarch Abraham. Circumcision was a commandment given by G-d to Abraham, the first Jew, the father of the Jewish People. It says in the Torah: “This is My covenant that you shall observe between Me and you and your children after you…and it shall become the sign of a covenant between Me and you (Genesis 17:10-11) This is the only commandment in the Torah called “the sign of the covenant” between G-d and the Jewish people. This commandment is fulfilled by every Jewish male, creating an eternal bond between him and his G-d, a bond sealed upon a Jew’s very skin, a spiritual perfection accomplished by a very human act, leaving the mark of G-d’s eternal covenant upon it, for life. Certainly, G-d could have created man circumcised, without a foreskin. But the desire is for man to be G-d’s partner in creation, to help finish His work.

That morning our family got to the synagogue early. Avigayil was a real lady… greeting friends and family graciously while trying not to be nervous, as she went off to the side to speak with the circumciser as he examined her son and explained the process. The person who performs the circumcision is a real professional and also a G-d fearing man, who has special expertise in Jewish ritual circumcision. The baby, reclining happily on a white, embroidered pillow, fully awake, was completely unaware of the majesty and importance of the occasion. But the rest of us grownups made up for it by feeling, very strongly, the solemnity and awe of the moment. The ceremony starts with the baby being passed from the mother to another young woman, then to that woman’s husband and then to the baby’s father. Often a married couple who has not been able to conceive is given this honor, with hopes that the virtue of the fulfillment of the covenant will bestow blessing upon them, cancelling their barrenness.

The procedure is done quickly and professionally. The culmination of the ceremony is the naming of the baby and I wait to see what Avigayil and Matan have chosen. “And he shall be called, among the people of Israel…Amit Yitzchak.” Everyone calls out Mazal Tov—Good Fortune! Amit Yitzchak! Amit means friend…comrade…a person you can count on. And Yitzchak, Hebrew for Isaac, was given as a second name, in memory of Matan’s maternal grandfather who had died when Matan was five years old. It is such a privilege to be able to choose a name of strength, of character, of hope for your child. I remember with each of my children, thrilling at the thought of the prayers and responsibilities implicit in the naming of each child…Avigayil- master of happiness…Ahuva- beloved…Leora- our light…Atara- crown of glory…Avraham- named for our forefather and my deceased father…Netanel- given by G-d…Elitzur- G-d is my strength.

We all sat down to partake of a festive meal, celebrating this wondrous occasion, and I looked around, thinking, once again, how fortunate I am that the next generation will be raising their children in the land of our people. The decision Kuti and I made sixteen and a half years ago, to leave our homes and move to Israel, culminated in this new Jewish child being born here, allowing him to forever connect his faith with his land. I couldn’t help thinking that there is a bond between Brit Milah- circumcision and the Land of Israel. In the days of Joshua, before the Children of Israel began their conquest of Israel, after forty years of wanderings in the wilderness, all of the uncircumcised men were called upon to be circumcised. Only then were the Israelites worthy of conquering and settling the land. More than any other ritual, circumcision gives expression to a sense of belonging to a people, to a nation which has been chosen to reveal divine ideals in the world.

I sneak away from the festivities and find Amit Yitzchak, off to the side, sleeping peacefully in his stroller and make a wish, utter a silent prayer, that this sweet, innocent infant will live to be a source of Jewish pride to his parents, our family and friends, and all of the people of Israel, and may he be worthy of seeing peace in our land and the Redemption in his lifetime. Amen.

Shalom, Shira Schwartz Christian Friends of Israeli Communities

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