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     INFORMATIVE VIDEOS: 
    
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THE BOOK THAT EXPOSES IT ALL: 
    
Circumcision Exposed
Rethinking a Medical and
Cultural Tradition

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My Story of Ritual Abuse

Leland Traiman, R.N. - Berkeley, CA
Reprinted from NOHARMM Progress Report 3, August 1994

 

..(A) recurring nightmare of a long bearded goat ...coming to take bites out of my flesh.

My earliest memories are of terror, pain and helplessness. At first, these feelings were never attached to any particular time or event. Between the ages of four and five I had nightmares and daytime fantasies which somehow were related to these feelings. Between the ages of six and eight I had a recurring nightmare of a long bearded goat eating its way through the wall of the bedroom I shared with my older brother. I somehow knew I was the ultimate target of this bearded beast and that he was coming to take bites out of my flesh. Images of this goat followed me into the daylight hours. Although I felt close to my parents, especially my mother, I never felt I could or should talk to them of these terrors. I imagined them saying that these images were only from my imagination and had no basis in reality. So, I kept silent for a long time. Finally these images became so disturbing that at about the age of nine I told my mother about the goat. Although she was very sweet about it, she only confirmed my fear, telling me that it was "only" out of my imagination.

I was standing in the middle of the party terrified - in pain - and screaming.
But nobody seemed to notice me.

It was during this time that these feelings of terror, pain and helplessness took on a social context. One evening my parents hosted a party for a social club they belonged to. My brother and I were sent to our room early and told that the party was for adults only. Of course, we were curious and sometime during the evening we sneaked out of our room, into the hall and peered around the corner into the living room. We saw a group of nicely dressed adults snacking, drinking and engaged in conversation. Of course, we were spotted by one of the guests and our parents were alerted. My father came over and, to our surprise, was not angry. With warmth and good nature he firmly ordered us back to bed, for it was way past our bedtime. That night I dreamt of the party. However, in my dream I was standing in the middle of the party terrified - in pain - and screaming. But nobody seemed to notice me. Everyone went on as if I was not there. Finally, one of the women turned to my mother and said, "I think your son is having a little problem." My mother answered, "Don't worry, it's nothing really. He'll get over it soon." That recurring nightmare haunted my nights and daytime fantasies for 12 years.

My maternal grandmother, Celia, was the acknowledged matriarch of our family. She had seen her first two children die in "Russia" (now known as the Ukraine). One died of starvation and the other she accidentally smothered to death trying to keep the infant quiet while the family was hiding during a pogrom(1). My mother was born a year after my grandparents arrived in New York City. My mother, the first child born in their new, free country was bathed in milk as soon as they brought her home from the hospital. The believed this would give the new baby beautiful skin, and no doubt was a symbol of the new relative wealth they enjoyed in their new home, where they did not have to fear for their lives simply because they were Jews.

During Passover(2) the young children in our family were given grape juice instead of wine to drink. From the time I was nine years old my grandmother would try to sneak some wine into my grape juice. My brother and my cousins welcomed the wine as a symbol of maturity, but not me. I would cough and spit out the wine and sometimes loudly complain how disgusting alcohol was.

"I remember your bris. ...I was so worried because you would not stop crying."

When I was 21 my grandmother Celia died. After the funeral, family and friends gathered at her home for food and remembrances. She had shared my aunt and uncle's house during the last 14 years of her life. In keeping with Jewish custom, no alcohol was served. But for the first time in my life I wanted a drink. I got into my uncle's liquor cabinet, found some gin, and got drunk.

The gathering went on for hours and when I was finally sobering up I found myself sitting next to my great-aunt Sara, my paternal grandmother's sister. She sat crocheting, not looking up from her work, talking at me, not to me. She was comparing this occasion to other family gatherings. I was not really listening until I heard her say,

"I remember your bris(3)."

On hearing this I sat up and leaned toward the old lady. She did not seem to notice my change in posture but kept crocheting. Without looking up she continued,

"Oh yes, that was some family occasion. Your grandmother, Celia, had insisted that the ceremony be done in her house and not your parents' home, which was customary. Of course, it was only eight days after you were born and your mother had felt ill for a few days and was not really up to leaving the house. Nonetheless, she bundled you up and readied your brother and father and dragged all of you across town on the subway to her mother's house. When you got there Celia was trying to have the bris done quickly. Her brother, your great-uncle Isaac, was still in the hospital and Celia wanted to visit him as soon as possible. He had had a cancer operation the night you were born and he wasn't expected to live." (Isaac died over three decades later.)

"And then you began to cry. They put the wine-soaked cloth in your mouth as it usually knocks the baby out, you know, like a sedative. But not you. You kept on crying, and of course, your other grandmother, my sister, was no help at all. She was never any good with crying babies or blood. So she was getting sick in the next room. Then Celia started saying, 'Why is the baby crying? It did not hurt him!' So I started arguing with her. 'Of course it hurt him,' I said, 'If you cut your finger doesn't it hurt?' We kept arguing until she left to see Isaac. Everyone was crowding around you. They wanted to see the new baby. You kept crying so I took you and put you in one of the bedrooms alone and I said, 'No one can see the baby now, he just had an operation.'"

"I could see that your mother wasn't feeling so well so I went to her and told her to go home and take care of your father and your brother and I would take care of you and I would bring you to her the next day. So your parents took your brother and left. I was so worried because you would not stop crying. You cried for 18 hours, through the night. You know," my great-aunt emphasized, "a new baby is supposed to sleep 18 hours a day, not cry for 18 hours. I remember because you were circumcised around noon and you finally fell asleep at 6 the next morning. I was so grateful when you finally slept."

My great-aunt told me this with hardly a glance in my direction, concentrating mainly on her crocheting.

I was finally able to recognize the actual event responsible for the nightmares
that had haunted my entire life.

The effect on me was immediate. I was finally able to recognize the actual event responsible for the nightmares that had haunted my entire life. My fear of the bearded goat who wanted to bite off my flesh was the mohel(4) who, like all orthodox Jews, must have had a beard. It was the mohel who cut off a part of my body.

They never asked my permission to do this; what right did they have?

I realized my revulsion of alcohol was related to the wine forced on me as an unsuccessful sedative. I saw how ironic it was that I had gotten drunk only after my grandmother's death. I associated my grandmother with alcohol all my life and now I knew that this association had begun with the ritual abuse that took place in her home. Other things started making sense for the first time. I had always remembered at age three or four, long before I began nursery school, trying to pull the skin on the shaft of my penis over the glans at the end. I never knew why I had done this. I also came to realize why at my Bar Mitzvah(5), when I was again the center of attention in a Jewish ceremony, I was upset, angry and fearful that whole day even though all I had to do was read from the Torah(6) in Hebrew. This was totally out of character with the verbose joker I had become. I usually enjoyed being the center of attention. In my late teenage years I began to feel very badly about the fact that part of my genitals was missing. This, despite the fact that almost all the other boys in the locker room were also circumcised. I began to ask myself, "Why did they do this to me? They never asked my permission to do this; what right did they have?" And I also asked myself, "Am I a self-hating Jew because I ask these questions?"

Questioning barbaric acts on one's self and on innocent babies is valid.
It is an inherent act of self-love.

It took a lot of struggle and over 20 years to answer these questions, but I finally have. They did this to me out of ignorance. As an oppressed and ancient people struggling to keep its identity, most Jews falsely believe that continuing the tradition of male genital mutilation will help Jewish culture and beliefs survive.

The only "right" they had to do this to me was a legal one, not a moral or ethical one. A legal right based on the notion that children are more like property, cattle to be branded, rather than human beings with their own inalienable human rights. And finally, the question of identity and self-loathing or self-love. My questioning the authority of previous generations does not mean I hate them, nor that part of myself that comes from them. Rather, it is the appropriate task of every person to examine, question and change. Questioning barbaric acts on one's self and on innocent babies is valid. It is an inherent act of self-love.

This ritual abuse not only scars children physically and emotionally, but some children die as a result. How many have died over the centuries is unknown. This is one of the facts obscured by those who practice it. I know that the pain and the deaths were unnecessary. As more people openly question circumcision, more information is coming to light about the pain and death it has caused.

I want to be very clear, I am not equating Naziism and circumcision.
...I am saying that there are lessons we should have learned from the Holocaust.
And one lesson is that using the excuse "I was just following orders" is no excuse.

In my history classes at school and at home, when I was a child, I was nurtured on the lessons learned from the Nazi atrocities and the Nuremberg trials that followed. I was taught that "I was just following orders" is no excuse for committing crimes against individuals and against humanity. I want to be very clear, I am not equating Naziism and circumcision. That would be a silly comparison. I am saying that there are lessons we should have learned from the Holocaust. And one lesson is that using the excuse "I was just following orders" is no excuse. It does not matter if the orders come from a president, a pope, a prime minister, a Muslim cleric or a Rabbi. Some people claim God commands them to harm, mutilate or kill. Many people have killed Jews in the name of their God. Yigal Amir, a Jewish Israeli law student, assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin because, he claimed, God told him to do it.

In light of this, everyone must question what I heard one rabbi say at a forum on male infant circumcision, "We do it because we have been commanded to do it." How can we, as Jews, condemn the harm that others wish to do to us in the name of their God and not condemn the harm that we do to our own children in the name of our own God?

Amir did not have the right to kill Yitzhak because "God commanded him" to do it. Abraham did not have the right to sacrifice Isaac(7), nor any part of Isaac's body(8), because he was commanded to do it. Jews have paid a very high price in the 20th century to understand the value of human rights. It is sad we still have so much of the lesson yet to learn. All children should be welcomed into our world bathed in the milk of human kindness, not in their own blood.

Support and information for Jewish parents on
alternative (non-cutting) bris ceremonies:

Norm Cohen
NOCIRC/Michigan
P.O. Box 333
Birmingham, MI 48012
Tel 248-642-5703
Moshe Rothenberg, C.S.W.
Alternative Bris Support
   and Ceremonies
Brooklyn, NY
718-859-0650
Ron Goldman, Ph.D.
Jewish Associates of CRC
P.O. Box 232
Boston, MA 02133
Tel 617-523-0088
Jewish Associates of CRC makes known to the Jewish community that a growing number of Jews either have not circumcised their son or would choose not to circumcise a future son. It is an opportunity for Jews who take this position to declare themselves and to be counted. A confidential list of Jews who contact the Circumcision Resource Center for this purpose is maintained. Learn how you can join Blue_ArrowD096.gif (140 bytes)Jewish Associates of CRC.

Israeli Association Against Genital Mutilation
P.O. Box 56178, Tel Aviv 61561,  Israel    Tel 972-9-8949236    E-mail: avshalom@ozemail.com.au

Af-Milah - Second Thoughts on Brit Milah The Israeli Newsletter Against Circumcision  (in Hebrew)
P.O. Box 207,  Rosh-Pinah 12000,  Israel   Tel 972-51-979568    E-mail: af-mila@canaan.co.il

Brit Shalom Providers Brit Shalom is a non-cutting naming ceremony for newborn Jewish boys.


References

1  Pogrom: massacre of Jews in czarist Russia and continuing to the early days of the former USSR. back to text

Passover: holiday commemorating the Jewish exodus from slavery in Egypt. back to text

Bris (Brit): a covenant referring to brit milah, ritual Jewish circumcision, performed eight days after birth. back to text

Mohel: Ritual Jewish circumciser. back to text

Bar Mitzvah: the first time a Jewish male reads from the Torah (age 13) in his rite of passage into manhood.back to text

Torah: first of five books from the Bible, known as Five Books of Moses. back to text

Genesis, Chapter 22: God commands Abraham to kill Isaac. Abraham does not object and attempts to comply. back to text

Genesis, Chapter 17: in which God gave other people's land to Abraham in exchange for a promise that he would cut off his own foreskin and those of his children and slaves. back to text

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