The disappointment of missing a very special day was eased with an introduction to the Zoom bris, bringing a family into the new realm of connecting religious traditions with web-based video conferencing.
When Debbie and Howard Silverman learned of the birth of their new grandson in St. Louis on May 28, they knew his bris would not be anything like the Shabbat morning, synagogue ceremony and kiddush attended by hundreds of people for his now 6-year-old brother.
Not only would newborn Mendel Moshe’s bris not take place in a crowded shul, but no matter where it occurred, the Silvermans would not be there — the baby was quarantined for 14 days after his birth due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The grandparents, who live in Waterford, had traveled to be with their son and daughter-in-law’s family when each of their other children was born, and in “normal” times would have been there in-person for Mendy, too.
The disappointment of missing this very special day was eased with an introduction to the Zoom bris, bringing them into the new realm of connecting religious traditions with web-based video conferencing.
The bris was planned quickly. Until Mendy’s birth, only his mom was aware of his gender.
“Our daughter-in-law Emily knew for some time, but our son Neil didn’t want to know,” Debbie said. “He wanted to be surprised. I couldn’t believe that she kept it secret for so long.”
Before the baby was born, his parents discussed the possibility of a Zoom bris if they had a boy, knowing it was the only way to include others in the milestone occasion.
“There really wasn’t another option, given that the shuls were still closed at this time,” Neil said. “We briefly discussed including friends and people in our community, but ultimately decided to make it a more private Zoom event.”
The bris was held in the family’s home, with only Neil, Emily, Mendy and his siblings, Leah, 8; Davi, 6, and Miriam, 4½, and a masked mohel present. Debbie and Howard were joined in their computer’s Zoom boxes by Neil’s brothers and sister-in law, Steven and Jamie Silverman of Birmingham and Jason Silverman of Miami, along with Emily’s brother and sister, Zander Kanefield of New York and Lily Kanefield of Chicago.
Emily’s parents, Jeff and Renee Kanefield, who live in the St. Louis area, had an unusual vantage point for the bris: neither in the home, nor on Zoom. “They actually watched from outside, through our front door,” Neil said.
This was not mohel Gideon Nitsun’s first screen-sharing bris. “His attitude didn’t appear to be altered by the fact that this was broadcast over Zoom,” Neil said. “Seems like he had already become somewhat desensitized to our new reality.”
Not so for the family who signed onto their computers without much knowledge of what would take place.
“In hindsight, I should have been more thoughtful on setting expectations for those family members on Zoom,” Neil said. “Since this was a first for everyone, there was a real sense of surrealism.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to speak after the bris. Had I sent a schedule or agenda in advance, our conversation following the bris would potentially have felt more natural to transition from casual chit chat to a more formal speech,” Neil said.
Mendel Moshe was officially named at his bris, given his first name in memory of Emily’s paternal grandfather, Marvin Kanefield, who lived in St. Louis. His middle name was in memory of Neil’s paternal grandfather, Detroiter Milt Silverman.
“It was a great way to honor my father,” Howard said.
One bris custom that was impossible to share via cyberspace was the festive meal that typically follows the ceremony. Guests were on their own, but Mendy’s immediate family sat down afterwards to lox, eggs and bagels.
Being part of the computer-gathering allowed Debbie and Howard not only to participate in Mendy’s bris, but it also gave them a chance to share the day with others who don’t live close by.
“I would have been very sad not be able to see the actual bris,” Debbie said. “We were very happy that today, in 2020, there is Zoom available, and we could see the bris, along with our children in the other states where they live.”
Neil, too, saw a bright side in the connection of family through video conferencing.
“Under normal circumstances, siblings understandably may have had difficulties justifying the expenses associated with traveling to this event. Zoom permitted all immediate family members to virtually experience our simchah. Once life normalizes, I would recommend that mothers and fathers do consider providing a Zoom option for people that may be unable to travel to the simchah.”
Comparing the bris of each of his sons, Neil said, “Davi’s was held at shul on Shabbos followed by a kiddush that was attended by hundreds of people. Family from both sides were in attendance, including both sets of parents and siblings. It was traditional in every sense of the word.”
Mendy’s bris, too, was deep-seated in tradition. The close-knit family found a way to be together to observe every Jewish law and custom associated with it. And they discovered it could be done with the infusion of a modern-day, unexpected twist.