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Ari at her Baby Naming Ceremony

This past Sunday I attended a Baby Naming for a very special little girl named Ari.  I have only attended a few Baby Namings and Bris parties/ceremonies in my life and they are always fun and joyous!  It is always amazes me the joy a newborn baby brings to anyone’s home.  The birth of a child is one of the most life-changing and amazing events in our lives.  A baby touches everyone in a family, from parents and siblings to grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.  Everyone wants to be involved in some way or another, whether it is a mom flying in from out of town or friends sending new baby baskets of gifts.

Embarrassingly, after all of these ceremonies I have attended, I don’t know the history behind the tradition of a Jewish Baby Naming or Bris and I decided to do a bit of research. Our world is one big melting pot and I love learning about all religions and the meanings of various ceremonies (I think this is the Berkeley hippie child in me where I grew up!).

In Jewish traditions and all religions alike, naming children is serious business. We often go to great lengths to find the “perfect” name—just the right mix of meaning, tradition and beauty. It might be the name of a loved one, or someone we highly respect, or a word that brings back a beautiful personal memory.

While there are no hard rules to picking names in the Jewish tradition, there are some customs that Jews generally follow. For example, it is customary for Ashkenazi Jews (descendents of Eastern Europe, Germany, Poland , Russia ) to name their babies after a deceased relative. However, for Sephardic Jews (of Spanish and Portuguese descent), it is acceptable and an honor to name a child after a living relative (of course one would ask permission first). Either way, it is not necessary to use the exact name, a first initial will do.  In this case, Ari was named after her great grandmother, Ann, and they both have the same first initial.

Ari and Bari doing some push-ups!

Here is a picture of both Ari, and one with Ari and her cousin Bari.  Bari had her baby naming a week ago too – they are cousins, Mazel Tov!

In addition to a child’s English name, Jewish babies are also given a Hebrew name. Certain ceremonies—including Bris, Baby Naming, Bar/Bat Mitzvah and ketubah-signing – require a Hebrew name. The Hebrew name can be a close translation from the baby’s actual name. It could also just share the first letter. However, some parents may choose a Hebrew name that sounds beautiful, has a beautiful translation, or reminds them of something meaningful in their own lives.

Over the past 30 years or so in America, when welcoming a baby girl, it has become customary for Jewish parents to hold a special ceremony for their newborn daughters. While boys are given their Hebrew names at their Bris, girls receive their Hebrew names at a baby naming ceremony, or “brit bat,” which is typically held during the course of a regular service when the Torah scroll is open. It includes a special blessing giving thanks for a healthy delivery and for the health of the mother. There are no strict rules for these ceremonies. The brit bat is scheduled at the convenience of the parents, whether it’s eight days or six months after the birth.

It is customary to serve refreshments or a meal following the ceremony, beginning with the ha-motzi, a prayer over the bread.

Here are some terms to know for a Baby Naming that I wish I knew before!

  1. brit bat (the covenant of a daughter)
  2. simchat bat (celebration of a daughter)
  3. hakhnasat bat l’brit (the entering of a daughter into the covenant)

For boys, this tradition is called a “Bris”. That means eight days after the birth, a bris, or circumcision ceremony, will take place. Friends and family are usually present at a bris because it is a time to celebrate.

I have learned from Jewish moms that a bris can be both joyous and stressful.  I have been told that it is great to bring home a healthy boy and be surrounded by your friends and family, but as a mom, it can be difficult to see your baby being circumcised.  However, knowing that generations of baby boys have survived this moment, can be comforting.

Following the ceremony, which only takes a few minutes, food is served—most typically bagels and lox, baked goods such as rugelach, black and white cookies, babka and more. The bris is usually held at someone’s home or in the synagogue and usually begins with the ha-motzi (prayer over the bread, which is called challah).

The bris is perhaps the most observed tradition in the Jewish religion. While some think circumcision is a matter of hygiene, it is actually a biblical commandment.  The circumcision is performed by a mohel, an observant Jew who is formally trained as a ritual circumciser as well as in the laws and traditions of Judaism.


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Elena, Sacha and friend

Sasha, Nadya, and Elena

Whether you are a fifth generation American, or have recently made America your new home, you probably observe customs and traditions passed down to you through the generations. This past weekend I volunteered at the annual St. Nicolas Bazaar to raise funds for the parish. The authenticity of the event was so remarkable that attendees were feeling as though they were in different country. I not only felt like I was back at home in Russia, but in a different century altogether.  As the sound of the accordion filled the square, the smell of piroshki drifted out of the kitchen, and laughing children ran around in Russian headdresses and gowns, traditions came alive.Russian3

What traditions have been passed down to you that bring back warm memories and happy conversation?


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summercampSchool’s out and it’s almost summer. You imagine sleeping in, having a leisurely, stress-free breakfast with your loving children, then taking them to the park on a beautiful, sunny day. Or, perhaps a trip to the beach or the zoo or the local museum. But then, the first school-free Monday morning arrives. The kids wake up earlier than usual. They’re cranky. They’re fighting. They’re yelling. And the first words you hear are, “I’m bored! There’s nothing to do.” Are your kids signed up for summer camp?

Last summer, I signed up my daughter for every camp possible (or as much as I could afford anyway) to give myself some relief from the “I’m bored” syndrome. Luckily for me, the community center where most of the preschool day camps were held was just around the corner from home! So I signed her up for Dinosaur camp, Cooking camp, Cheerleading camp, Circus camp, Space camp, etc. etc. etc. She had a blast, and I had me some “Me Time” – even if it was only in the morning.

In my town, the summer camp catalog is mailed out in the spring so that parents can sign up their children early for summertime activities. These day camps are usually half a day (either morning or afternoon) for a week or even for the whole summer. There are various activities and sports, such as soccer, cheerleading, theater, bowling, art, music, dance, basketball, gymnastics, science, math… the list goes on. Our church and our preschool also offer Vacation Bible School (VBS) which is a half day, week-long summer program where the kids participate in fun and educational activities while learning about Jesus.

If you don’t know where to go to find out about summer day camps, the first stop is your local library. They will usually have a catalog or a flyer that will give you information about what’s going on in your community. You can also try your child’s preschool or your local church.

So give yourself a little break and sign up your children for summer day camps. It’s a win-win situation.

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