Pre-Bris Jitters

“Something’s wrong with the baby.” It was just a few days after my son’s birth in Jerusalem, at the very end of 1992. The bris planning was well underway — hall, caterer, photographer, and sandek… my rebbi.

But my wife, Chana, insisted that we couldn’t do the bris. She had a feeling that the baby wasn’t well. We went through a checklist: pulse normal, nursing okay, muscle tone good, pupil dilation. (My wife had long taken an interest in informal medical study.)

“So what makes you think there’s something wrong?” I asked.

“I just have this feeling,” she answered.

“Should we go check the baby out in the ER? They’ll catch whatever it is.”

“No,” she said. “But we can’t do the bris.”

Beginning to feel a certain anxiety myself, I called my sister’s husband, Jules Gardin, a very famous cardiologist, in New York. I told him really nothing was wrong with the baby, but Chana was having pre-bris jitters. He asked to speak to her. I could hear only her half of the conversation, which basically amounted to her insistence that something was wrong.

Jules then told me, “Listen, you cannot give a bris milah to a child whose mother is panicked. It’s not nice! You gotta calm her down.”

He advised me to call a friend of his, Dr. Dan Tzivoni, the head of cardiology at Shaare Zedek. He would check the baby and give the thumbs-up to proceed with the bris.

We bundled up the baby and shot over to the hospital in a cab, making our way to the cardiac unit on the fifth floor. The secretary there stubbornly refused to let us see Dr. Tzivoni, and offered an appointment in 90 days. When I mentioned Jules’s name, the recalcitrance in her eyes thawed by one degree; she went into the back of the office, and two minutes later a man in a white coat came out.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“It’s my baby,” I said, gesturing behind me to Chana, who was clutching the child.

He took one look at Chana’s face and called out, “Orderly! Give that baby an echocardiogram!”

Another guy in a white coat nearby grabbed the baby like a football and took off down the hall. Dan Tzivoni went running back to his office. We went in pursuit of our child.

We got to the door of a room filled with physicians. Our baby was on the table being poked and prodded, with jelly on his belly, and his heartbeat displayed on a big screen: tha-thump, tha-thump. Chana and I stood in the hall watching.

“How are we going to get a well baby checkup?” Chana wondered.

“Don’t worry,” I reassured her, “when they’re done in there, they have to show that test to Dan Tzivoni, and we’ll explain that it was a mistake, we just wanted a well baby checkup, and he’ll tell us what’s going on.”

After 45 minutes they finally flipped off the machine, all but one of the doctors filed out, and he invited us in to sit down. He rolled his chair over and closed the door.

“Mr. and Mrs. Kelemen, your baby should be dead,” he informed us. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 689)