a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Bris, Finding a Hebrew Name and other things I learned in conversion class tonight…

Posted on: October 27, 2010

Tonight in conversion class we learned all about the Bris ceremony, baby naming, and the whys behind them all.  On the way home I decided to listen to my Jewish/Hebrew music playlist on my iPod.  I haven’t been to synagogue in almost a month and honestly, I miss it a lot.  I wanted to listen to my playlist so that I could test myself to see if I remembered some songs, to see if I could recite the Candle Blessing ( I can) and to just enjoy the enchanting melodies of L’Cha Dodi, my favorite Shabbat song.  As I listened a song came on that brought tears to my eyes.  It’s not that I’ve never heard it before, because I have yet it still made me …verklempt.  If you have the chance, download Blessing of Children on Julie Geller’s CD “Step into Shabbat”  you will LOVE it.

I’ve found several versions of the blessing online, with and without transliterations.  I’ve combined what I found on My Jewish Learning and About.com into the following transliteration, English, and Hebrew.  Forgive me if it’s not accurate.

Introduction for Boys:

Ye’simcha Elohim ke-Ephraim ve’chi-Menashe

May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe.
יְשִׂימְךָ אֱלהיִם כְּאֶפְרַיְם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁה.

For girls, the introductory line is:

Ye’simech Elohim ke-Sarah, Rivka, Ra-chel ve-Lay’ah

May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.
יְשִׂימֵךְ אֱלהיִם כְּשָׂרָה רִבְקָה רָחֵל וְלֵאָה.

For both boys and girls, the rest of the blessing is:

Ye’varech’echa Adonoy ve’yish’merecha.
May God bless you and watch over you

וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה

Ya’ir Adonoy panav eilecha viy-chuneka.

May God shine his face towards and be gracious to you.
וִיחֻנֶּךָּ אֵלֶיךָ יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו

Yisa Adonoy panav eilecha, ve’yasim lecha shalom.

May God turn his face to you, and grant you peace.
וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלום יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ


In the song, though, the line that moved me most was this:

Ya’ir Adonoy panav eilecha viy-chuneka.
May God shine his face towards you and be gracious to you

I played it several times and actually allowed two tears to escape my eyes.  In my entire life of church-going I was never blessed in this way.  As a non-Catholic in a Catholic school I was given the option to go up to the front of the church while the others received communion to receive a blessing.  I attended mass every Friday from 6th-8th Grade and about once a month from 9-12th and cannot remember a single blessing I received.  Can you imagine the impact and the feeling of awe, wonder, and sense of uniqueness of receiving such a blessing, and from your parents?  I love that it’s not a priest, a nun, or a rabbi who gives this Shabbat blessings to children, but the parent.  Listening to the song over and over again I tried to put the Hebrew to memory.  I was overwhelmed with a sense of honor, hope, and longing for the time when I’ll be able to say this blessing to my sons and daughters.

I attended Catholic school from 4th-12th grades and while the sermons were never inspirational, the order of service and the ritual of them were captivating.  Baptist church, where I attended with my mother, seemed chaotic and theatrical.  The message in both was that of repentance, damnation, and salvation.  When I attended church as a child and young adult the thing that drew me to both Catholic and Episcopal church was the prayers that were sung.  There is something terribly beautiful, almost haunting about liturgical melodies.  I love how they change during the seasons and how they allow you to not only learn the words more easily but to make a “joyful noise unto the Lord.”  It is written in Torah that Miriam sang a song of praise to God when they made it through the Sea of Reeds and while I cannot sing well, I love to sing.  The melodies of Sh’ma, L’Cha Dodi, and even the melody for candle lighting on Shabbat take me back to that familiar place where music and godliness mix.

Being home recently with my family and my nephews I inevitably think of my own future family.  I’m excited to raise a Jewish family.  The idea of having a bris is exciting for me.  Granted, I’m a new Jew and everything is shiny and new but learning about why we do Brit Milah, the importance of a baby naming for girls, as well as all of the superstitions and traditions around pregnancy and planning for a baby have knocked me off my rocker.  I’m having many “a-ha” moments the more I learn about Judaism and it’s not that I’d never considered them before, but they make more sense now.

For instance, I completely understand why Jewish tradition says you don’t do a baby shower or set up a baby’s room before the birth.  I cannot imagine the pain of having to take it all down if the unthinkable were to happen.  While things like red ribbons to ward of Lilith seem a little far-fetched but then again, there are two creation stories in Torah and you can never be too cautious.

More pressing than thinking about who would come to my future son’s bris is my naming.  Choosing a Hebrew name is a huge step and one that I’ve been thinking about lightly for a few months but after tonight’s class I’m thinking about it more seriously.  Obviously, I wouldn’t just pick one because it sounds pretty, the reasons behind the name are important to me.

Today we learned that most Hebrew names are chosen for children in honor of family members.  Clearly, I wouldn’t be able to choose a Hebrew name for myself based on a family member but there are ways around that.  My favorite uncle, for instance, was funny so I could find the Hebrew name for humor.  My mother’s mother, the grandmother I never met but who predicted my looks while in the womb was a kind woman, I’m told.  I could find a name that means kindness or strength.

We start our Class with the Rabbi asking us a question.  It has been things like “How are you feeling today about Judaism” to today’s question, where are you in the Jewish Life Cycle; Birth, Naming, Preparing for Bar/Bat Mitzvah (Hebrew School), Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Preparing for Confirmation, Confirmation…Around the room people said “Birth” and when it came to my turn I said birth, too.  The rabbi looked at me and squished her nose, displeased at my answer.  “Hebrew School,” I answered again.  She smiled and went to the next person.

Hebrew School.  That’s after birth, after the naming; I’m preparing for my Bar Mitzvah!  That’s not to say that she thinks I’m ready to read from the Torah, I can barely remember the order of service in a siddur, but it’s a great feeling.  After this trimester of classes, in 5 weeks, I’ll start meeting one-on-one with a rabbi at the synagogue on a weekly basis to determine where I’m at.  I can’t begin to explain how excited I am, and funny thing is, I’m not nervous at all.  I’m EXCITED, anxious, but not in a bad way.  Rather, I’m anxious in a “When does it happen” way.  I have it in my head that I will be fluent in Hebrew by the time I’m a convert and I know without a doubt that it will not be true.  Still, I’m preparing for my Bar Mitzvah!

12 Responses to "Bris, Finding a Hebrew Name and other things I learned in conversion class tonight…"

The idea of a bris scares me! I’m almost hoping to have all girls, is that crazy?

@Dena, bris aren’t scary, most little boys get circumcised today. Also my little cousin got circumcised 3 weeks ago very late (he’s 6). And he said it didn’t hurt at all. They gave him anesthesia.

Oh wow, Kell! I cannot believe your cousin got circumsised at age 6! And that it didn’t hurt! Did they do it at home? I’m relieved that he didn’t cry. The idea of attending a bris for an infant doesn’t wrack my nerves but if I got an invitation to a bris of a 6 year old who walks and talks, I think I may have a bit of worry! Mazel tov to your cousin from this Jew-to-be!!

Ok, IDK how to reply to your comment so I’m replying to mine lol.
They did his circumcision in the hospital. When he was born he always has seizures and other health issues, so that’s why it was prolonged. Even though my family isn’t Jewish, we get all of the boys circumcised. Now that I think on it, I don’t know anyone who HASN’T done it to their sons.

Ahhh, I see! In our last class we talked a lot about the difference between the bris and a circumcision, mainly the fact that the procedure is just that but the bris is the passing of tradition and of the covenant of the Jewish people…I hope he’s doing well now

I don’t think it’s crazy, I think it’s really nerve-wracking when you think about the actual circumsition process but the the spiritual connectedness that happens, the family that surrounds you, the realization that it’s a Jewish tradition and the act of bringing your boy into that tradition is what makes me so excited!

I dunno, like I said I was a bundle of sappiness and squishy-love yesterday. I think it’s my ovaries telling me it’s time! 🙂 Mirs and I both want babies but we haven’t started discussing it seriously. That said, I sort of told her in the next two years I better be pregnant!

Wow. I listened to Julie on iTunes. I learn something new every day.

Thank you. I think I’m going to enjoy following you on your journey.

Be well.

Welcome, Limner!
I down loaded the entire album and while they’re not all as amazing as the Children’s Blessings, I love her voice! I just browsed your blog and it’s reminding me that my food blog has been very neglected for too long!

Thanks for checking me out. I write about this-that-n-the-other. My daughter is the foodie–a pastry chef in the making. I’ve asked her to make a honey cake for me.

I love the very idea of blessing children. Blessings instead of swearing at them. Gentleness goes a long way with me when it comes to my spiritual life. There was none of that in any of the churches I belonged to during that part of my life.

My therapist is Jewish. She and I have enlightening conversations about religion and spirituality along with shrinking my head each Wednesday. 🙂 I subscribe to Moment Magazine. Enlightenment comes from any number directions for me. I expect to learn a lot from you, girl.

Mind telling me which downloads you’d recommend from the album?


The entire CD is about Shabbat celebration so it’s mainly all Shabbat blessings. Her version of the Candle Blessing is a melody I’ve not heard before, her version of Shalom Aleichem is also good, as are both wordless melodies.

I envy pastry chefs, I love to bake but don’t like the perfect science that is baking. The joy of cooking is the mixing of ingredients and the ability to add and subtract at a whim. With baking, there is no adding or subtracting. A rule I seem to forget when I cook. I like to try to add spices, etc., yogurt or sour cream, and the like. I recently tried to make a pumpkin cupcake without a recipe, twice. They both turned out terribly!

I love the part where you wrote about the blessing for the children. we bless our children every Friday night and it’s a beautiful part of the week. No matter how much they drive us crazy, or we drive them crazy, for one moment a week, we lay our hands on their heads, they are still and they know we love them no matter what.

Good luck with your conversion.

See, just reading that made me a little misty-eyed! Thanks for the well-wishes. Still a very long road ahead but I’m loving every step of it!

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