The ProsenPeople

The Cut

Friday, December 30, 2016 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Eytan Bayme wrote about tasting Kornbluh’s tracklements for the first time and celebrating his third Christmas in Europe as an American Jew. Eytan is guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.

I said it so many times that first trimester, it almost became a mantra: “If anyone’s gonna do it, it should be us.” We learned that some parents, with a little practice and a guiding hand, performed the ritual themselves. If we were going to circumcise at all, we should be the ones making the cut.

It’s easy to feel bad for an eight-day-old baby undergoing an invasive cosmetic procedure with no apparent medical benefits, but circumcision is like a dream: they cry for the few minutes then taste their first drop of wine before falling asleep and forgetting the whole thing took place. Some claim circumcised men suffer PTSD and intimacy issues later in life, but no one I knew—myself included—seemed to be dealing with stuff like that. My son, if he was anything like me, wouldn’t miss his foreskin; he'd take for granted that it was never there in the first place.

But I would remember.

I would remember the nine months my wife carried him, six of which she couldn’t walk without pelvic pain. I would remember the safety measures we took to keep him out of danger—the healthy food we ate, the insurance we purchased, the vaccinations we researched, the fireproofing of the house, the organic cotton pajamas we bought. We were so concerned with our unborn son’s health and safety that the impending circumcision felt like sadistic torture. For us.

Circumcision is a test, just like God tested Abraham with Isaac, and circumcising my son was a test to see how committed I was to Judaic tradition. If I was as honest as I strived to be, the people making the commitment should be the ones holding the knife. The test was for us, not the mohel who circumcises three kids a week.

“Make sure you don’t mess him up for life,” my wife told me. She preferred not to do it at all. She found the whole thing anti-feminist. Here we were making a big fuss over a boy, talking about caterers and flying relatives in from overseas, yet none of it would be relevant if we had a girl.

“I wish we were having a girl,” I told her. We never asked the ultrasound technician the sex, but she kept referring to it as he, and asked us if we could see the sex. “I wish none of this was relevant.”

As the due date got closer, I lost my nerve. I was too worried about the birth. I needed to make sure we had everything in place for our planned home birth. I needed to inflate and fill a birthing pool without flooding the flat. When was I supposed to learn how to perform a circumcision? Who was supposed to teach me? Also, the more I thought about it, I didn’t like that my son’s faith would be measured by the way his penis looked. It was no one’s business. I spoke with our Rabbi. I wanted some air-tight argument for it, something along the lines of “There is no stronger connection to Jewish Peoplehood than bris millah,” but I knew there was no such argument that would speak to us. “It’s a personal decision,” our Rabbi said.

“Maybe we’ll just get a doctor to do it,” I told my wife. “We’ll wait till he’s nice and strong, forget the eight-day thing, and then take him to a clinic. No relatives, no bagels.”

“You need to make this decision."

Two weeks late, we went into labor. My mother-in-law and I took turns pushing a two-foot-by-four-inch piece of lumber into my wife’s back to release the pressure off her pelvis. Eight hours in, the midwives showed up; ten hours in, my wife told me to take the clock off the wall; at eighteen hours we called the paramedics to wait outside; and after twenty hours she delivered a healthy and bold, eight-and-a-half-pound baby girl, on the left side of the couch.

It took us six weeks to agree on her full name, which we announced at a small synagogue near our house. We’ll probably let her share our bed one or two nights a week up to her first birthday. Most days of her life, we try making as big a fuss over her as we can, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved.

Eytan Bayme is a graduate of McGill University and a former stage actor. Originally from New York City, he lives with his wife in London. High Holiday Porn is his first book.

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Kornbluh's Kosher Fish

Wednesday, December 28, 2016 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Eytan Bayme wrote about celebrating his third Christmas in Europe as an American Jew. Eytan is guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.

A colleague of my wife’s, a man of Caribbean descent, drives from the Northern suburbs of London to the East End each Sunday. He isn't Jewish, yet he sits through forty-five minutes of zebra crossings, multi-lane roundabouts, road diversions and narrow two ways before arriving at Kornbluh’s, a Hasidic fish monger at a busy intersection in Stamford Hill, about a fifteen minute walk from where we live. My wife and I found this strange and so we asked him, why travel so far for fish that, surely, must be sold closer to your home. The man laughed, “I’m on a kosher thing right now,” he said, as though it was the latest fad diet. “It’s a no-brainer."

As a formerly Orthodox Jew, I’ve struggled with kosher for years. The first time I ate traif (non-kosher) meat was on a casino boat off the coast of Eilat; it took six years to do it again. When I got married, there was no room in our kitchen for two sets of dishes, nor did we really agree with the idea of kashrut as a means of keeping Jews and non-Jews from fraternizing at the same dining table—which is how it was explained to us. We compromised and decided to keep a vegetarian kitchen, with one set of dishes that our family is comfortable eating upon. Even now, seventeen years out of yeshiva day school, I still feel sneaky ordering roast lamb at the pub on Sunday. A no-brainer was volunteering to get bumped off a flight in exchange for an upgrade and a voucher; eating kosher was certainly not.

A few weeks ago, I walked up to Stamford Hill to find out what made Kornbluh’s so special. Along the High Street, I passed Hasidic children racing home on scooters to light the fourth night of Chanukah candles. Black-hatted men streamed out of the London Lubavitch HQ, post afternoon prayers. At a Bells’ shtiebel, across the street, prayers were starting late. The nondescript house where the Bet Din met stood a little ominously next door. Kornbluh’s was a bright, glass fronted shop where men in white coats and cockney accents cut and weighed fish, and a Chasid behind a glass window took payment. They sold herring in oil, hot smoked salmon fillets, matjes herring and, my favorite, lox tidbits. I bought a small section of sushi-grade salmon and a filleted sea bass. The staff was pleasant enough.

When I got home, I used the knife my wife bought me for Chanukah and sliced us some sashimi. It was fresh and fatty and great with soy sauce and chillies. We made ceviche with what we couldn’t finish.

“This is really good,” said my wife.

“A no-brainer," I told her.

Eytan Bayme is a graduate of McGill University and a former stage actor. Originally from New York City, he lives with his wife in London. High Holiday Porn is his first book.

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Jews for Christmas

Monday, December 26, 2016 | Permalink

Eytan Bayme is the author of High Holiday Porn: A Memoir. With some Jewish reflections on the Christmas season to share, Eytan will be guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series.

As an American Jew in England, the holiday season is like a tension in my neck that’s finally released. No Chinese restaurants or movie theaters are open on Christmas Day, no one thinks to wish you anything besides Merry Christmas, and even mentioning Happy Holidays can garner looks of confusion and suspicion. There’s nothing to do but embrace the holiday spirit, as advertisers back in the States have been trying to convince me for years.

A friend at synagogue explained to me that on Christmas, British Jews can be lumped into one of three categories: those who do nothing, those who put up a Christmas tree (though perhaps not in their front window), and those who spend the day with their families because the office is closed and there’s nothing else to do and, hell, why not roast up a goose or two since we’re all under the same roof.

This year marked my third Christmas in Europe, spent with my wife’s family at their vacation home in Langeudoc, France. That first year, like an Orthodox teen nibbling on the edge of a Big Mac just to see what the fuss was about, I played Charlie Brown’s Christmas album over and over again, getting bolder with the volume nob each time. I learned the lyrics to Dr. Suess’s “You’re a Mean One,” (composed by a Jew, by the way). And by the end, I tried leading my in laws in a rendition of The First Noel, which they found a bit too religious for their taste.

Last year, we went to a holiday party at a friend’s house in Sussex. We were greeted at the door by a life size Santa (Father Christmas, as he’s called here) who sang and danced in place when you got too close to him. There were three of these robot Santas throughout the house. In an upstairs bedroom our host was preparing for his granddaughters’ arrival in a few days; four single beds were made up with furry white and red sheets. The floor was covered, ankle deep, in synthetic snow. I wished I could stick around for the magic.

As I write this on December 23rd, looking out on the Pyrenees Mountains, awaiting the rest of my wife’s family, I’m looking forward to cooking them the six-pound chicken I bought at the charcuterie. It wasn’t shechted according to tradition, but the butcher ritualized it in his own way by defeathering and lopping its head off as I watched. I'll massage garlic and then lemon into its meat and surround it with potatoes rubbed with goose fat (“roasties”), carrots and more garlic. The Queen will speak on Christmas day, but we won’t watch. It’s like Thanksgiving in American without the football. Last year we had a tree. It was closer to a bush that my father-in-law hacked down in the woods beside the creek in back of the house. We propped it up in a bucket filled with stones and covered it in tinsel and family pictures and whatever else we could find around the house. Who knows if we’ll have one this year, but if we do, I’ve cleared an area beneath the stairs for it.

Eytan Bayme is a graduate of McGill University and a former stage actor. Originally from New York City, he lives with his wife in London. High Holiday Porn is his first book.

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