Gillie shook her husband awake.
“Andy, sweetheart. It’s 8.00 a.m. You’ve thrashed about all night, moaning in your sleep. You’re not well. If you’re able to dress, I’ll take you to see Dr Lewis.”
“What? Oh, God! I don’t think I’m ill – just –
“I got home after midnight and crept into bed so as not to disturb you. I nodded off the moment my head hit the pillow, but was plagued by terrible, feverish dreams. Let me get in the shower, then we’ll talk.”
When Andy shuffled downstairs, he found Gillie hunched on the sofa staring into space.
Andy shook his head as he dropped down beside her.
“I’m O.K., physically. It’s what happened yesterday. Yom Kippur this year should have been extra special. What higher honour than to circumcise a baby on the Day of Atonement? What greater pleasure than to do it before a full, loving congregation? But this …”
“Did you try to call me after the fast ended? I switched off all communication. I didn’t want to speak to - see anyone. I couldn’t eat and just sipped some tea.”
“Same here - and no, I didn’t call. I wanted to wait until we were together. There was an emergency executive meeting immediately after services. Unsurprisingly, I’m no longer rabbi and mohel (ritual circumciser) to Southborough Hebrew Congregation. I resigned at once.
“But I’m likely to be sued for assault and could go to prison. For crying out loud, people I consider my friends were talking of ‘criminal negligence’. You know how ‘things are never so bad they can’t be made worse.’ As I related my version of events, I heard Sid Rubens call me ‘a baby killer’.
“Darling, that was the last straw. I overreacted; forgot myself, lashed out at him and made his lip bleed.
“’Well,’ muttered Sid, muffled behind a tissue, ‘you can lead a lad to Torah but you can’t take the goy out of the boy!’ How I restrained myself then, heaven alone knows. What’s the point in advising someone with such deep prejudices that it’s forbidden to remind a convert of his origins?
“How can I even begin to explain to an ignorant bully my troubled journey here? The half life-time I spent studying medicine; my entry into Judaism and then fairly starting over when I decided to re-train as a rabbi?
“Huh,” said Gillie, taking hold of her husband’s hands. “How dare he? His wife, Poppy’s also a Reform convert. His family disowned him when they got married, so their situation is quite familiar!
“To cut my own story short, I’ve also been drowning in muck. Before I could leave the synagogue car park, the Lawsons waylaid me, screaming vile insults.
“The old lady – the sweet-faced grandma – called me a ‘shiksele whore’ who should be jailed. But most distressing was seeing Ellen staring at me in the background, wailing wordlessly, ceaselessly, like a betrayed and wounded animal. We’d become very good friends. But that aside, as a woman and a mother who’s also lost a baby, how could my own heart not break? Once home, I did some research on the web and then shut everything down. I’ll tell you more later.”
“Hmm! As it took the couple several years to conceive, I wonder if there was an inherent problem – perhaps a defective gene - which didn’t emerge during fertility tests.
“Unlikely, I appreciate, but whatever the reason, I keep re-playing the scene in my head, seeing that lively, handsome little fellow suddenly become a wrinkled, lifeless scrap as his uncle held him on his lap.
“Gillie, it seemed almost unreasonable, the way he stopped whimpering, then breathing and simply slipped away as I swabbed the wound. I’m sure I’m blameless and that the autopsy will prove it.
“Of course you are”, said Gillie. “But we both know that whatever happens to you personally, the anti-circumcision lobby will gnaw this juicy bone until it splinters. Remember, it was only the personal intervention of Chancellor Angela Merkel that halted anti-circumcision measures in Germany this year.”
“But we’ve also got the problem of the child’s Jewish identity,” Andy reminded her.
“Matters will get grimmer yet when Ellen and Phil realise their sweet boy died without a Hebrew name and that there’s no place in mainstream Jewish tradition for a funeral of a new-born infant. It’s as well that congregations like ours are more sympathetic. If and when they feel like talking civilly, I’ll discuss the possibilities of a formal funeral and later, a headstone setting.”
“First things, first,” said Gillie. “We could both do with some breakfast and then one of us should make an appointment for you to see Rob Stevenson at Simmons, Adam. This is what I wanted to tell you. My web research brought up a link to a story which appeared in the Jewish Chronicle a couple of years ago. A case echoing ours was resolved when it was decided that the boy died from ‘sudden infant death syndrome’ and the coroner ruled ‘death by natural causes’.”
“Anything’s possible,” mused Andy, a little brighter. “How about scrambled eggs, toast and tea?”
“Those are the best English words I’ve heard for almost 48 hours,” said Gillie, as she switched her phone back on.
“By the way,”, said Andy, “here’s a little dry irony to dunk in your tea. Just before the fast began I counselled a potential member who wants to convert. He was brought up in a Christian evangelical home but he believes he’s from Jewish stock. I’m revealing a confidence that I shouldn’t for this reason: He was passed on to us after being rejected for conversion by an Orthodox beth din (rabbinical court) as he’s a haemophiliac and can’t be circumcised.”
“A classic Orthodox reaction -” said Gillie, “ – to use us as a dustbin for one of their rejects. I’ll make sure he’s made very welcome. Once you’re reinstated, of course!”
(Picture Credit: photographersdirect.com)
- This ‘flash’ has also just appeared in the November 2012 edition of Live Encounters magazine, edited by Mark Ulyseas. http://liveencounters.net/?p=1970
(Copyright, Natalie Irene Wood – 26 October 2012)