By Gerard Leval
In the midst of the difficulties and uncertainties that we are all facing currently, there can still be unexpected moments of joy and surprise emerging from our Jewish tradition. Our family experienced just such a moment.
Recently, our eldest daughter and her husband welcomed their third child and second son into the world. The joy of this child’s birth was, of course, clouded by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was also affected by the daunting challenge of organizing a brit milah amid a crisis in which large gatherings are either strongly discouraged or outright prohibited.
But modern technology came to the rescue. With the exception of the role of the mohel, which was very real and traditional, the brit was conducted using contemporary means. Other than the baby’s parents, one set of grandparents and his siblings, no one was in attendance.
However, well over 100 people scattered across the United States and the globe were able to watch on Zoom the ceremony that brought our grandson into the covenant of Abraham. The fear that our family would not be able to share the mitzvah of the brit with family and friends turned out to be unfounded. Notwithstanding the fear engendered by the health crisis, human ingenuity made it possible to celebrate this moment with so many people, without endangering anyone.
The newborn received the names Raphael Chaim — names meant to memorialize recently deceased relatives. They are also auspicious names since they echo our most profound hopes in the moment we are experiencing. Raphael refers to God as a healer and Chaim is the word for life.
As if to confirm that Rafi (Raphael’s nickname) has been given the appropriate name, an unexpected coincidence occurred. He received his name in memory of his great-grandmother, Rita, who passed away a few months ago. As a gift to our new grandchild, my wife and I determined to give him a silver Kiddush cup — the Kiddush cup that Rita had used for many years.
We had purchased it from an unknown Israeli craftsman to help him through lean times and had then given it to Rita as a birthday gift. When she passed away, the cup was returned to us, and we then determined that Rafi should have this important object that had belonged to his namesake.
Appropriately, the cup was used at the brit. It served symbolically to represent Rafi’s absent and missed great-grandmother. After the ceremony, our daughter went to wash the cup. In doing so she observed something previously overlooked by all of us. On the bottom of the cup, she noticed that the craftsman had engraved his name: Rafi. (It turns out that this is the first name of the by-now well-known Israeli craftsman Rafi Landau.)
This unexpected coincidence seemed to dramatically confirm that our new grandson was destined to have this religious object and, hopefully, to use it over the course of a lifetime as both a means of fulfilling his religious obligations and to honor the memory of his precious ancestor.
In the midst of the concern and uncertainty we are all experiencing, a Jewish tradition, timeless and vital, was fulfilled and, with the assistance of modern technology, was shared with family and friends. Then, an unexpected coincidence served to create a special intergenerational link between a newborn Jewish child and his ancestor and namesake.
Through this confluence of circumstances, we have been reminded that in times of adversity our tradition brings with it an assurance of continuity as well as spiritual comfort. And, the accompaniment of a coincidence — or was it a little miracle — helped to make it possible for us to feel strengthened in our faith and reassured that our precious traditions will continue through the ages.
Gerard Leval is a partner in a Washington law firm.