Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Baby Naming Ceremony: Pt. 2

(Editor's Note: You can read Pt. 1 of this piece here)

It was a generous offer. An offer we couldn’t refuse, in fact, which is only right coming from our baby’s godfather, Dan Wilchins.

Dan had offered to host Stella’s baby naming ceremony on May 24. We were so touched, we wouldn’t have dreamed of saying no.

A few words about Dan, and his wife Becky. After Stella was born Randi and I thought about what a godparent should be. Of course, they are supposed to take care of the baby should anything happen to the parents. The more modern application is that they have a responsibility to help educate the baby. And, of course, be in the baby’s life, and love the baby, too.

If that’s so, I can think of few people more up to the task than Dan and Becky. The choice was an easy one for us. I’ve known Dan since May 2000, when we both worked at Institutional Investor, he as an editor, me as an assistant reporter. (I am several years older than Dan, by the way.) We hit it off right away, became friends, and stayed friends.

Eventually Dan started to tell us about this new wonderful woman he’d met, named Becky. As said in The Godfather, it was like the thunderbolt. They galvanized each other, both crazy smart, kind and caring. Good godparent material.

So when The Godfather asked me if I would like him to host the baby naming I was more than happy to say yes. Not the least of which because I knew he would do a fantastic job.

The naming would also function as Stella’s coming out party. When a baby is real new you only show it to a few select family and friends because they’re so fragile and prone to getting sick. Stella got two bad colds in the first month of her life, which was miserable and scary. Babies can’t blow their noses, so we had to sleep every night with a humidifier, though it was getting warm. Inside our bedroom it had a swamp-like feeling, not very pleasant.

Eventually Stella pooped out all her mucous, which was also not very pleasant.

But after six weeks, or so, of life Stella was far hardier than when she was a new newborn, so the timing was right to introduce her to more family.

The Godfather made arrangements with a group called The Brooklyn Egal Minyan, interesting people who really deserve their own story.

The Egal Minyan is group of mostly young Jews who organize and lead services, outside of an official affiliation with a temple. In other words the Egal Minyan is united by a common spiritual bond, not a building.

I will try to do justice to the Egal Minyan in just a few words. Their services are non-traditional, and egalitarian, as their name implies. Either women or men can lead the service. Also, different people lead it at different times, there is no one clergy. But although the service isn’t traditional there’s nothing watered down about it. In fact, their services are almost entirely in Hebrew, are fairly lengthy, and require some foreknowledge in order to keep pace.

In other words I spend large parts of their services asking the person next to me what page of the prayer book we’re on.

But they’re such nice people, the Minyan. One of the leaders, Amanda, took extra time to make sure we were prepared for the service, and told us what prayers we would say, so that we were ready. I had blown a line at my Bar Mitzvah—the easiest line, by the way—so I always look at reading Hebrew in public as a rather unsure undertaking.

Amanda also told us that we could, and probably should, consider saying a few words at the ceremony, to help explain why we chose the Hebrew name for Stella that we did.

We invited immediate family and local first cousins only. Fortunately for us everyone said they could attend, which was a rare, warm feeling.

The day of the naming was bright and sunny, so we wheeled the stroller up to the temple. Randi was excited about the naming, but also nervous. At this point Stella was still feeding all the time, so the BBM wasn’t sure what she would do if Stella had to feed when the naming ceremony was to occur. If we didn’t feed her, Randi feared, she would simply scream and wail.

We met, by coincidence, The Godfather and Godmother outside the temple, and together rolled inside. I put the stroller away as they walked to the service, already in progress. I swear to you, it was like valet parking your car at a fancy restaurant, putting away the stroller. There were about ten others, all in the same cloakroom. If I was ever prone to stroller envy it would’ve struck me right then. Some of those strollers, like the Bugaboos, cost more than my first car. And they probably handled better, too.

After parking my stroller I put on a yarmulke, a talis, and walked into the service. The yarmulke, of course, is the skull cap Jews wear. Jews, that is, and the Pope. I never understood how that worked, and why the reverse isn’t true and we don’t wear miters.

The talis is the prayer shawl, which I tend to wear, perhaps unfortunately, a little cavalierly, almost like a long, fringy scarf. You’re supposed to drape it over your shoulders, which I rarely do. In fact I’m not all that comfortable wearing a talis anyway, and it often feels like a costume.

Rabbi Josh, of course, told me my uncomfortable feelings about the talis were not all that relevant and that I should “fake it ‘till I make it.” Mind you this is the same guy who hated to fast during Yom Kippur, and thought that in an emergency it was okay to take caffeine pills, if you’re going through severe enough caffeine withdrawal.

I walked through the doors, and the service was rocking. To my left and right I saw smiling family, including my mother, brother, sister, brother-in-law, my darling nieces, my aunt and uncle, and my cousins. As much as the ceremony is for Stella, I realized, it is as much for the parents. But isn’t that so often the case?

Next Up: A Few Words From The BBD

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