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The Sacrifice of Isaac (‘s Foreskin)

The following is an excerpt from Sam Apple’s new book American Parent: My Strange and Surprising Modern Adventures in Babyland. Thirty minutes before the start of my son Isaac’s circumcision, I had almost everything I thought we needed for a … Read More

By / June 16, 2009

The following is an excerpt from Sam Apple’s new book American Parent: My Strange and Surprising Modern Adventures in Babyland.

Thirty minutes before the start of my son Isaac’s circumcision, I had almost everything I thought we needed for a successful event: white?sh salad, bagels, regular and low-fat cream cheese, orange  juice, coffee, and topical anesthetic for Isaac’s penis.

The only thing I did not have was a wife. Despite being in favor of circumcising Isaac, Jennifer had decided that the entire event was too much to bear and had taken refuge in a neighbor’s apartment. I was disappointed that Jennifer wasn’t going to attend the ceremony and was delighted when she walked back into the apartment ten minutes before we were to begin. It looked like everything was going to be okay, that we would share this frightening but important moment together as a family. Then Jennifer walked into our bedroom and witnessed the mohel dangling  Isaac’s testicles above his head.

It turned out that what Jennifer saw was a small oval-shaped sponge that, after having been dipped in a mixture of red wine and sugar water, looked astonishingly similar to our newborn  son’s genitals. Indeed, had thousands of people entered a contest to create a model of Isaac’s scrotum, I sincerely doubt that even one would have come up with a more perfect replica.  In any case, Jennifer had seen enough. She turned around and  left the apartment.

The purpose of the sponge was to drip sugar water into Isaac’s mouth in the hopes of relaxing him while the mohel did her pre-circumcision examination. I didn’t particularly want to be present for the examination, but the mohel had placed Isaac on his changing table, and because the standing lamp next to the changing table only worked when held at a slight angle, I had to remain by the mohel’s side to tilt the lamp. The changing table was near the back of the room, and, feeling too anxious to watch the proceedings, I turned to the corner.

Isaac, understandably enough, did not want a stranger examining his genitals, and he made his displeasure known. It is never easy to hear your baby scream, but minutes before the circumcision it was more than I could handle, and tears began to stream down my cheeks.

A few minutes later, my father walked into the room and found me crying in the corner. Seeing that there was nothing to be said or done, he took my hand and stood facing the corner with me.  Then he too began to tear up. That Isaac’s circumcision was causing three generations of Apple men to weep might seem like an argument against the ritual, but at that moment, my father’s hand warm in mine, I felt more strongly than ever that it was the right thing to do.

The circumcision itself went as smoothly as the cutting of a penis can go. Isaac only cried for about ?fteen seconds. He seemed much more upset by the preparation. The job done, the mohel handed Isaac over to me, at which point my relatives joined hands and began jogging in circles-a practice the Jewish people refer to as dancing.

The completion of a circumcision ceremony is the time when most parents and relatives breathe a sigh of relief and wolf down some white?sh-usually, but not always, in that order. But I had something other than white?sh on my mind.

A year or so earlier, I had learned that a foreskin is typically buried after a Jewish circumcision. It then occurred to me that I had no idea where my own foreskin had come to rest. It bothered me to not know such an important fact about myself, and, in part because I was considering writing a personal book on circumcision, I tracked down my own mohel in Colorado and asked him.

I am glad that I found my mohel. He is an awesome guy. He is now the only person in the world who writes letters to me and because my mohel can’t stand to waste paper, the letters, often filled with sound financial advice, always arrive in handmade newspaper envelopes. But, my mohel had no idea where my foreskin was, and I was too embarrassed to suggest Plan B, having him return to Houston with a hypnotist to retrace his steps on the day of my circumcision.

Not wanting Isaac to suffer his father’s hapless fate of not knowing the location of his foreskin, I asked the mohel to bring the foreskin into the garden, where I buried it in a small bed of rosemary and thyme. In the  name of caution, I then asked my cousin Norman to mark the coordinates on his GPS.

With that I thought the circumcision saga had finally come to an end. But there was a final act. Several days after the circumcision, I laughingly told our neighbor, Bill, with  whom we shared our garden, where I had buried Isaac’s foreskin. I was expecting a hearty chuckle but Bill absorbed the news  without so much as a smirk. I felt terrible. It never occurred to me that perhaps I should have asked him whether he would mind if I buried a foreskin in the garden. After all, he did all the gardening. Who was I to have buried a foreskin in his rosemary and thyme? Would I have liked it if someone had put a foreskin in something I cared about, say inside my brand-new computer bag?

I thought that it might be best if I moved the foreskin and began to think about another appropriate place. I went into the garden and looked down at the spot, already disappearing beneath the sagging weeds. Then I thought, I cannot become the first person in the world to dig up and rebury a foreskin. It was all just too crazy, and I hated to ask Norman to schlep his GPS to  Brooklyn again.

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