In the Media

A Painful Privilege - F.R.E.E.'s 10,000th Bris
The Jewish Press

April 2 - 8 1993

By Basha Oka

 Click here to see pictures of the event

The harsh fluorescent light and green-walled corridor are a strange environment for a simcha. Yet on Thursday, February 25, religious Jews, some with just yarmulkes, some with beards and black hats, crowd the hall with wineglasses in their hand.

A nurse walks by grumbling about so many visitors on Interfaith Medical Center's third floor. Even inside the operating room there are visitors. A TV cameraman emerges from the operating room, and then a reporter, both garbed in sanitary blue paper outfits with matching shower caps.

A Chassidic Jew follows them, stopping to tell a friend, "the reporter on camera called it 'a painful privilege!"'

The painful privilege is the mitzvah of circumcision. The celebration is in honor of the 10,000 bris performed by Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe on Russian Jews.

The organization, known as F.R.E.E., started performing circumcisions on Soviet refugees 20 years ago. Grown men and children, recently arrived from Russia, undergo the surgery they should have had as eight-day-old babies, but I couldn't because of law.

Now, instead of friends and relatives gathered around in a shul or in a home, nurses and surgeons stand by as the mohel, Avrohom (Romi) Cohn, positions them on an operating table.

The 10,000th bris is a six year old boy, who will undergo general anesthesia so he won't be frightened or have bad memories.

Numbers 10,001 and 10,0102 have already lived much of their lives. One, 42 years old, with a sensitive face and graying hair, says, "I've been dreaming of this for years."

A reporter asks F.R.E.E. Board Member Rabbi Zalman Shagalov, "Why are the media here?" He replies, "There are tens of thousands of Russians in New York City who need a bris. Maybe they will read what you write and make up their mind." Another reporter asks Rabbi Hershel Okunov, Director of F.R.E.E., how he knows it's, the 10,000th and why he keeps count.

The answer is simple. The rabbis at F.R.E.E. need to give each patient an I.D. number, and they do it by keeping track of which bris it is. Perhaps there ?are spiritual reasons as well. Rabbis at F.R.E.E. show their love for each Jew completing this mitzvah by counting them. The patients wear their numbers on signs over their hospital gowns. To one bystander, it's disturbing. To him the number recall concentration camps. On the contrary, someone tells him ' these numbers do not reflect torture on degradation. They signal that another Jew is alive at the deepest soul level, and is ready to give his mind and body over to Hashem's will.

After the operation, the guests and reporters descend to Brooklyn Interfaith's auditorium for a celebration including the seudas mitzvah, hosted by F.R.E.E. supporter Eliezer Goldfarb in honor of his parents' 36th wedding anniversary. His father, Shraga Faivel, was the sandek for the 10,000th.

One long table is occupied by Mrs. Benjamin Pagovich and family. Her late husband, who passed away just two years ago at the age of 62, is about to be honored for his pioneering work for bris mila in hospitals. It was Dr. Pagovich who convinced the administration to allow a mohel to perform the bris, and who developed the ground rules for medical supervision. (The hospital was then called Brooklyn Jewish.)

The history of F.R.E.E.s devotion to helping Russians with bris mila has more than one hero. Romi Cohn, the mohel, is another. Modest, self-effacing, this prosperous businessman also sacrifices time and money to be the mohel for F.R.E.E. Mr. Cohn has been known to walk out of a closing just to accommodate a Russian who was about to change his mind.

After toastmaster Shmuel M. Butman presents the awards to Dr. Pagovich's widow, to Romi Cohn, and to Dr. Errol Charles Mallett, Interfaith's Chief of Urology, the band strikes up. The rabbis the join hands with the guests. Slowly, carefully they circle around, their faces beaming. Suddenly, one of the men who has just had surgery, 52-year-old Mr. Katselson from the. Ukraine, breaks into the circle and joins the dance. Rabbi Okunov smiles broadly but reminds him, "You just had surgery!" "I don't care," Katselson says with emotion. "This is the best day of my life!"

Back to Top

In the Media
 The First Night
Lubavitch.com
 The First Night
TheBrooklynInk.com
 Lighting A Fire In The Snow
The Jewish Press
 A Bar Mitzvah in Brooklyn
Lubavitch.com
 The Auspicious Reunion
The Jewish Press
 Russian Jews and The Matzah Factor
Lubavitch News Service
 Rambam Writings In Russian
The Jewish Press
 Congregants Welcome Torah Home
Bay Ridge Courier
 Festival of Lights Shines Over Borough
Courier Life Publications
 Congregants Rejoice In New Scrolls
Courier Life Publications
 Brooklyn Is Showered With Hanukkah Gelt
Courier Life Publications
 Russian F.R.E.E. Choir
Jewish Family Services
 Russians
Encyclopedia of Chicago
 Jan Peerce at Carnegi
New York Times
 Melting pot of Jewish film
Australian Jewish News
 Renewing ties with their religion
Jewish Independent
 Abiding act of faith
The Washington Times
 The Heroic Struggle
The Jewish Press
 The Kindest Cut of All
Urban Gazette
 A Welcome for Refugees
Daily News
 Hanukkah Festivities
The New York Times
 Freedom For the Free
Algemeiner Journal
 9 Russian Jews Baptized
The Jewish Press
 A Nine Year Old Hero
Algemeiner Journal
 Rite for Jewish Males
New York Times
 FREE Services Russians
The Jewish Press
 A Rally of Their Own
The Jewish Week
 Sept. 11: One year later
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
 Russian Jews find home at center
The Cincinnati Post
 Interfaith and FREE celebrate 10,000 bris mila
New Directions (Interfaith Medical Center)
 Helping Hands
New York Newsday
 The Cutting Edge
Baltimore Jewish Times
 Benefit Concert For F.R.E.E.
The Jewish Press
 Rite of Passage
Waverley Council Mayor's Column
 The 10,000th Circumcision
The Flatbush Life
Hebrew
 And it was in the days of Achashveyrosh - Hebrew
Kfar Chabad Magazine
 The FREE organization - Hebrew
Dedushka
 FREE Publishing House - Hebrew
Kfar Chabad
 From Russia to Brooklyn... - Hebrew
Haaretz
Yiddish
 Celebration 85 - Yiddish
Algemeiner Journal
 FREE opens New Synagogue in Brighton Beach - Yiddish
Algemeiner Journal
 3000 Russian Immigrats at Purim Celebration - Yiddish
Algemeiner Journal
 Dinner of Friends of Refugees - Yiddish
Algemeiner Journal
 FREE - Friends of Russian Jewry - Yiddish
Kol Boro Park
 Report on The Dinner of The Friends of Refugees - Yiddish
Algemeiner Journal
 Reb Nocum Preger is Honored at FREE’s Dinner - Yiddish
Algemeiner Journal
 Much dancing at a joyfulness celebration - Yiddish
Algemeiner Journal
Russian
 Gold Chanuka - Russian
Lechaim.ru
 Holiday for Torah in Crown Heights - Russian
Vecherniy New York
 Immigrants' Celebration - Russian
Novoye Russoe Slovo
 Yud Shvat - Russian
Novoye Russoe Slovo

About Us
F.R.E.E. Newsletter
Stay informed by subscribing to F.R.E.E.'s e-mail updates.
Site Tools
 
© 2003-2017 Cong. Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe. All rights reserved.