Jewish ritual circumcision, Brit Milah, is the first life cycle event a Jewish male experiences. We mark this great event with ceremony and celebration. The mitzvah to circumcise is found in Genesis 17:9-12. G-d then said to Abraham “…..This is My Covenant that you and your offspring after you are to observe. Let every male among you be circumcised. It shall become a sign of the covenant between us. And in all your generations let every eight-day- old male among you be circumcised…. “
The Covenant represents the living continuation of the Jewish people. Through an act of religious significance going on for thousands of years, the baby boy is welcomed into the historical and contemporary community.
Why I chose 25 years ago to become a Mohel (Mohelet)
In 1991, while a member of Solel Temple in Mississauga and a young family doctor, I decided to answer the call from the Reform Movement to the GTA doctors and take the first Reform Mohel course to be taught in Canada. I jumped at the opportunity to combine medical skills with my strong Jewish background and knowledge.
I grew up in St. John’s Newfoundland at the time when the kids went to Shul on Saturday mornings for Junior Congregation and their parents, out of necessity, worked in their stores on the main street downtown. We didn’t have a Rabbi, but a Hebrew teacher made sure we knew how to daven.
The Wilansky family had history in Newfoundland. The first Wilansky arrived there in 1911. My great grandfather, Hertzel, was brought over in 1921 from a shtetl named Timkovich near Minsk, Belarus, to the small Jewish community in St. John’s, to be both the Mohel and a Shochet. I am sure that my great-grandfather didn’t expect a female descendent to follow in his footsteps, but nevertheless, I think he would still be proud of me. My grandfather and father were learned in Torah and I was immersed in that kind of environment in Newfoundland. When I grew up there were 40 Jewish families in St. John’s and the families strived hard to carry on traditions and maintain strong Jewish identity.
In the Mohel course, we were five doctors who met every Tuesday night from October to May. Sessions were taught by Reform Rabbis in the GTA and by Dr. Barry Borden, Past President of HBT and then Dean of the Reform Mohelim.
We had to learn the technique of circumcision through our own network. I learned it from the pediatricians at the hospital with which I am affiliated. When I finished the course, we were certified as Mohelim in a ceremony in Anshei Shalom in Hamilton. I became the first female Mohelet in Canada.
Today I am an active member of Holy Blossom. I have expanded my contribution to the Temple by also often reading Torah and Haftarah on Shabbat. I have performed Britot Milah in all parts of the GTA and beyond in the past 25 years.
What do Reform Mohelim bring to the ceremony and the circumcision procedure itself?
First, we are all medical doctors.We minimize pain to the baby, by using local anesthetics. We are inclusive to all Jewish streams and find solutions to some complex contemporary family situations. However, at the same time, we follow a set of guidelines and consistent rules. The ceremony is personalized after discussion with the parents prior to the 8th day. Family members are active participants in the ceremony. The event is egalitarian; mothers and grandmothers play an important role in the ceremony.
The Reform Mohelim are members of NOAM (National Organization of American Mohelim). We have a chat group within this organization where we discuss issues relating to the ceremony of Brit Milah and techniques of circumcision. We also have biannual conferences to keep us up to date.
I have enjoyed my first 25 years servicing the Reform community in the GTA and hope to continue for many more years to come.