Because You’re a Jew hamodia

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June 13, 2007 3:11PM



Because You’re a Jew


Rabbi Kramer, of Brit Avot, convinces adult males to undergo bris milah with one simple, irrefutable argument


By Joel Rebibo

Rabbi Aharon Kramer, a Karlin-Stolner chassid, is decked out in operating-room greens. He leans over Alexander, a 33-year-old Russian immigrant who is about to enter briso shel Avraham Avinu, and instructs him to appoint Dr. Yaakov Tzatzkis, the urologist/mohel on the other side of the operating table, his shliach.

There is a feeling of anticipation as Alexander follows the instruction. He’s wanted a bris for 12 years, since making aliya from Russia, but was afraid. “I was told it’s dangerous for adults.”

He overcame his fear thanks to a “chance” meeting with his great-grandfather on the pages of a history book. “I just happened to pick up a book about my great-grandfather, who was a big Rav during the time of Stalin. He organized a regular minyan that drew 20 people and arranged for a chuppa in his home. My mother was a little girl in his home and used to tell us about the guests who always filled the house and how he distributed clothes and food to the needy.

“I was the only male in the family that wasn’t circumcised…”

Once the decision was made, Alexander contacted Brit Avot, the organization that Rabbi Kramer founded some eight years ago and which has arranged for some 300 adult circumcisions in the past year alone.

Now, in this sterile operating room in Misgav Leidach Hospital in Yerushalayim, with an ornate, wooden kiseh shel Eliyahu to his left, Alexander is about to join his great-grandfather in foiling the evil designs of Stalin.

He appoints Dr. Tzatzkis, who is on the other side of a raised green sheet, his shliach and then recites his bracha: l’hikanes lbriso shel Avraham, “to enter the bris…” (Since the bris is his mitzvah, not his father’s, he doesn’t say the standard l’hachniso bivriso shel Avraham, “to bring him into the bris…”)

A moment later Rabbi Kramer wishes him a mazal tov and Alexander, who has been given a local anesthetic, asks, “Is that it?”

The bris is over, but he has another bracha to make.

“Are you happy?” asks Rabbi Kramer.

Alexander hesitates, confused by the question.

“Are you happy? Rabbi Kramer persists.


“Then repeat after me … Shehecheyanu v’kiyemanu v’higianu lazman hazeh…” To which everyone in the operating room answers an emotional “amen” and wishes him “as you entered the bris of Avraham Avinu so may you enter Torah, chuppa and good deeds.” (Alexander isn’t married, but it would be said even if he were.)

Rabbi Kramer, a mohel by training, first became familiar with the problem of uncircumcised Jews, mainly from the former Soviet Union, when he began teaching at a high school in Betar Illit. “It was a ba’al teshuva school and I began to understand that many of the students had not undergone bris milah,” he says.

What started out as a project to get his students circumcised soon became a nationwide operation aimed at reaching thousands of adult males. Brit Avot, the organization that Rabbi Kramer founded with Rabbi Yaakov Klein and with Dr. Tzatzkis, has the enthusiastic endorsement of all gedolei Yisrael.

“In Eretz Yisrael today there are thousands of Jews who have still not merited to enter the bris of Avraham Avinu,” says Rabbi Kramer. “In the Soviet Union it was illegal, but after they arrived here many settled into routines and didn’t understand the importance of having a bris. Others didn’t know where to turn to get one.”

Brit Avot spends a lot of money advertising . “We advertise heavily in the Russian-language media, including radio and newspapers,” says Rabbi Kramer. “Everyone knows who we are and how to reach us.”

Brit Avot has an arrangement with Misgav Leidach Hospital that gives it access to the hospital’s operating room. Rabbi Kramer tries to arrange for more than one bris per day, to maximize use of the operating room and of Dr. Tzatzkis’ time. However, under no cirumstances will he postpone a bris to do so. On the day of our visit, Gary, 40, is next in line.

Rabbi Kramer sees the bris as an opportunity to encourage Jews to advance in their commitment to Judaism. Before the bris, he urges them to choose a Hebrew name; afterwords, they put on tefillin and participate in a seuda marking the bris (if the circumcised adult is a first-born, he brings a Cohen to do a pidyon haben).

“Imagine what spiritual wealth they are acquiring in one day,” beams Rabbi Kramer. “Bris milah, pidyon haben, tefillin, kriyas Shema!”

Moreover, when the mohel comes to check them a few days later, he brings along a few mezuzos. He leaves behind not only a circumcised Jew, but one who has the protection of mezuzos in his home.

Interestingly, it isn’t always Russian adults who are in need of a bris. Rabbi Kramer recalls the story of an Israeli man in his 50s whose survivor-parents refused to have him circumcised because of their trauma from the Holocaust. “They recalled how the Nazis identified Jewish males and were afraid to have their son circumcised,” relates Rabbi Kramer.

How did the Israeli get to Rabbi Kramer? “He wanted to marry a Russian Jewish woman who insisted that he undergo circumcision,” he answers.

The oldest “client” of Brit Avot was an 80-year-old man who was circumcised two days after Yom Kippur three years ago. “His father had been a card-carrying Communist who insisted that his son not be circumcised,” says Rabbi Kramer.

In another case, a Russian Jew wanted to have a bris but his non-Jewish wife objected. Finally, he went ahead with his bris and felt a spiritual awakening that lead him to divorce his wife.

What’s the argument that Rabbi Kramer uses to persuade adults to go through with bris milah? The simplest argument of all: You are a Jew.

“That’s the argument I use all the time and it’s a clincher,” says Rabbi Kramer. “I’ll give you an example: Once, a Jew with a very senior position in local government came to me for a bris. Afterwards he told me the following: ‘I want you to know that I didn’t come to get a bris because I have a problem; I have no problem in life, I have plenty of money, children, a senior position, honor – I’m missing nothing. I came to get a bris for only one reason: Because I’m a Jew and a Jew must have a bris.’ ”

But not everyone is as fortunate as this city official. Many immigrants are struggling and can’t even afford bus fare from the north of the country to come for a bris. Rabbi Kramer arranges to send a car to pick them up and to bring them home afterwards (so that they don’t have to take buses after undergoing a bris). He also arranges a beautiful seudas mitzvah that includes chicken, kugel, rice, potatoes, salad and soda.

At the seuda I attended, in the hall of Misgav Leidach, he adamantly refused an offer for assistance by Alexander’s mother. “The minute I take money from them, no matter how little, they’ll view the whole thing as a business,” he explains.

So how does he finance such a large operation? The government pays for the bris, but what about the seuda, the siddur he presents at the seuda to the nimol, the transportation, the advertising budget and the outreach work he does with immigrants?

Rabbi Kramer raises the money, going door to door in religious neighborhoods. “The more funds I can raise, the more brittot there are,” says the Manhattan-born Rabbi Kramer, speaking with the confidence of someone who knows the value of what he is doing.

Brit Avot has become a central address for adult males in need of circumcision the world over. “I was on the phone today with someone from Tokyo who needs a bris,” he says. “We’re arranging for a mohel to arrive from Germany. We’re ready to help anywhere in the world where someone needs a bris.”

Since it is cost-efficient, Rabbi Kramer tries to arrange for more than one bris at a time. On the day of our visit, a few minutes after Alexander slipped off the operating table (he walked by himself and was dressed and ready for the seuda within half an hour), it was Gary’s turn.

Gary, 40, arrived in Israel 14 years ago and settled in Tel Aviv. His sandek is his Rav, Rabbi Shmuel David Yehuda Siman Tov, who arrived seven years ago and set up a kehilla for Soviet immigrants, particularly those from the Caucasus Region. In this short time, he has helped 30 people become religious, set up a Tehillim group of 70 children, established a small kollel with six avreichim from Bnei Brak and convinced 14 men to have a bris, including Gary.

“Men who are not circumcised are embarrassed,” explains Rabbi Siman Tov. “They sometimes feel they don’t belong in shul; they are afraid that they will get an aliya laTorah…”

As Gary makes his brachos, including Shehecheyanu, the tears roll down Rabbi Siman Tov’s cheeks. “Daven for your family in Russia,” urges the Rav, recognizing the significance of the moment. “Daven for klal Yisrael…”


Rabbi Kramer can be contacted for information or to offer support for Brit Avot’s programs at: 02-5022814, or 0526-756900, or







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