In the Media

Bringing the Mitzvah to all Ages
- The Jewish Press

Friday, February 24, 2006

When most of us think of a bris ceremony, we envision a pink-lying hued baby boy on a satin pillow and a synagogue packed with proud relatives. But did you ever imagine that this ceremony that has been practiced for millennia on eight-day old boys is performed on grown Jewish men also? Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe (FREE) an organization founded in 1969 addresses the broad range of needs of Jewish refugees from the former Soviet Union. FREE has helped tens of thousands of these Jews, who often arrived in the U.S. with nothing but the clothes on their back, to find their place in Judaism. Recently, FREE proudly celebrated its 13,000th bris.

One of the many adults who volunteered to be circumcised is 46-year-old Avigdor Rapoport, a telecommunications engineer who came to the U.S. from Moscow and now lives in Maryland. "For a long time I felt I was not complete as a person, as a Jew," says Rapoport. "But getting circumcised in Russia was impossible. To study Hebrew or practice Judaism was absolutely forbidden." When I arrived here I wanted to get circumcised as soon as possible," he recalls. But in and around his town of Arlington, Virginia, and later Rockville, Maryland, the hospitals and clinics looked askance at an adult who sought to be circumcised. He wanted the procedure to be done in a warm, preferably religious atmosphere, with caring people in charge and perhaps Russian-speaking as well. Rapoport's wife supported his efforts throughout.

Then last year, while searching the web he came across FREE's circumcision website. Avigdor was invited to Brooklyn, where FREE's chairman, Rabbi Mayer Okunov, greeted him personally and hosted his stay for three days.

In Crown Heights, Avigdor experienced the Jewish warmth of Shabbat in the Lubavitch community. Next day he was driven to a private clinic, and the procedure was done by the well-known mohel, Rabbi A. Romi Cohn, chairman of FREE's Mohalim Committee.

"It was one of the greatest moments in my life," recalls Rapoport, "especially when the sandek said the bracha that brought me into the Covenant of Abraham, our patriarch."

Rapoport's bris had a chain reaction. Now he performs more mitzvot, keeping kosher and Shabbat. He studies Hebrew and goes to synagogue whenever possible. Rabbi Okunov calls him from time to time to find out how he's doing. Rabbi Okunov explained, "After the circumcision, we don't just kiss them goodbye. We follow up by urging them to send their children to a Jewish school or a yeshiva, to keep kosher in their homes and we encourage them to take an active part in their Jewish communities."

In another memorable case, a Soviet Jew was so inspired by witnessing his grandson's bris that he was determined to follow in his tiny footsteps. "My grandson was born four months ago and he was circumcised. I said to myself, 'For shame, he is a Jew, and I am still a goy (Yiddish for non-Jew).' It was time for me. "So Broni-wezky, who emigrated from Ukraine 11 years ago, entered a Brooklyn hospital operating room to fulfill G-d's commandment to Abraham. "I was 57 years and 8 days old!" the Brooklyn coin-laundry owner said with a laugh.

To prove that you're never too old, FREE was contacted by Alexander Getzberg, an 82-year old-man from Odessa, who was the 12,900th applicant of this remarkable ceremony. Mr. Getzberg said, "It was privilege to finally become an official member of the Jewish people." "Our ancestor Abraham was circumcised at age 99," points out Rabbi Okunov. "This teaches us that no Jew should be left out, regardless of age. Each Jew who takes advantage of FREE's circumcision program forms another link in a 4,000-year-old chain of commitment to Judaism's high calling."

All FREE brisim are conducted according to halacha, Jewish law. The procedures are deemed by physicians and hospital administrators to be the ultimate in safety and health care. In Brooklyn, the circumcisions are conducted at a private clinic, where the mohalim perform a state-of-the-art, professional, painless procedure with local anesthesia with little or no after effects. Bris applicants from out-of-town are picked up and transported to Crown Heights and later to the medical clinic. The entire procedure is free of charge.

F.R.E.E. provides free bar mitzvahs, summer camps, kosher food, Jewish education and circumcisions on boys and men who were forbidden to have them in the former USSR. Ever since, FREE has successfully aided tens of thousands of Jews. Serving as the first such organization, FREE is America's largest Jewish organization serving Russian-Jewish immigrants with their spiritual and material needs. F.R.E.E.'s outstanding success has become the worldwide model for aid organizations serving Russian Jewish families around the globe.

For more information, to schedule a bris, or to have the merit of being a sandek, please contact the FREE Circumcision Program at 718-467-0860 Ext. 106, or Email Circumsition@RussianJewry.org. FREE's websites can be accessed by going to: FREECircumcision.org for English and FREECircumcision.com for Russian.

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