“Did you ever imagine that Granny’s old oak table would serve this purpose,” I heard my daughter-in-law whisper to her father as she leaned over to him. She was perched on the arm of the overstuffed living room chair where he sat motionless, his face frozen in an expression of horror.
I stood staring at the sharp, shiny silver instruments being laid out one after the other on the white linen towel next to the silk pillow that had been carefully placed on the oak table. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my son Ariel standing by the window where the morning Ithaca sun radiated over his head like a halo and the fresh smell of spring with its new buds wafted in the air. He was buttoning his crisp white shirt with a look of concern. He motioned to Christie with his head that it was time and she rose from the chair.
When they returned to the room, my son proudly carrying his first child and my first grandchild, the mohel announced “baruch ha-ba,” and, as he took the tiny bundle and placed it on the oak heirloom, continued with “Blessed art thou oh Lord our God who has commanded us to enter the covenant of Abraham, the covenant of circumcision.”
Ariel first met his wife at the home of my brother in Boston, where she worked as an au pair while studying for a Masters Degree in social work. If there is such a thing as love at first sight, this was it. But Christie told me years later that she had reported to a friend at school that day, “I just met the love of my life, but he’s the nephew of my boss, he’s Jewish and he lives in Israel. What chance do I have?”
It was the summer after Ariel finished the army and Boston was the last stop on his six-month post-army travels that spanned from Australia and New Zealand to South East Asia and India and finally America. From there he was headed back to Jerusalem to begin law school at the Hebrew University.
Now, six years later, Christie had been four years in Israel and six months near her hometown of Macon, Georgia studying for conversion, and planning for her wedding in Boston. For Christie’s family, who had never left the South until she did, attending a wedding in “the North” was in some ways more difficult than the Jewish part of it all. But, a brit milah, in upstate New York on Granny’s table, that was something else!
I had let my mind wander back to events leading up to this moment. But now as the name of the newest link in the chain of our family history, Aitan, was uttered aloud by the mohel for the first time, I could no longer hold back the tears. In the room was my 80-year old mother for whom Aitan was the first great grandchild, making four generations of the family under one roof.
When the goblet of sweet red wine was passed to me, and I pressed the cup to my lips, I also felt the unmistakable presence of those whose history was embodied in the old oak table, passed down from a loving grandmother to her granddaughter, who now embarked on her own journey into motherhood. Like in The Circle Game sung by Joni Mitchell:
“We can’t return, we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round
In the circle game.”