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Giving Birth to Israeli Jewish Identity rss

Posted on: February 21st, 2012

There was no banner hanging on the community center that said, “Welcome, Babies,” but the town of Gan Yavne, thirty miles south of Tel Aviv, has started a ritual that does just that — welcomes all babies born into their community within the last year.

Parents and infants gather under a talit for a ceremony welcoming babies into the community. Photo courtesy of ZIKA

Parents and infants gather under a tallit for a ceremony welcoming babies into the community. Photo courtesy of ZIKA

That’s because ZIKA, a local organization dedicated to enhancing Jewish Israeli identity, has created a baby ceremony modeled after an ancient Jewish custom of bringing newborn babies to the temple. ZIKA is supported by UJA-Federation of New York.

“Today there’s no temple, no public space where families gather when a child is born, and we wanted to bring back a community celebration,” explained Orly Kenneth, director of ZIKA. “A baby is born not just to the family, but to Gan Yavneh, to Israel, and to the Jewish people.”

So Kenneth, together with a group of volunteers, created a program welcoming babies, now in its second year, which was held this past fall. To spread the word, volunteers reached out through the mayor’s office and day care centers.

Together with their parents, 80 infants attended the free event that started with an appetizing Israeli breakfast and continued with a brief ceremony.

Creating a Community Celebration

“I thought it was an amazing idea,” said Tali Malkit, a mother who participated in the event. Although she had a brit for her son, it was an intimate ritual only for her closest family. “I thought this was a very nice gesture to welcome the new kids to the community, to do something as a group. It made me feel part of something larger. I felt very taken care of. It was very nurturing.”

And the tallit, a prayer shawl, played a significant role in the ceremony.

“A tallit was held over our heads. We brought the babies into the middle,” Malkit said “The rabbi said a blessing and then blew the shofar. All of the babies became quiet. There was a silence, like they felt the moment.”

After the ceremony, parents could attend workshops on everything from baby massage and environmentally friendly baby resources, to emergency first aid for infants and how to organize a baby’s room. A fair of handmade toys and clothes also offered items parents could purchase for their babies.

“The ceremony was beautiful, but the whole package, the fantastic breakfast, the workshops, made me feel good,” Malkit notes. “It made me feel welcome and that the larger community was happy to bring us in.”

Next year, ZIKA plans to hold the welcoming program earlier in the fall, in September, when it’s warmer and more families are likely to attend, Kenneth said, and added, “ZIKA also works through schools, local groups, and the community center with all different age groups to try to create more Jewish identity within the community.”