Austin Neonatologist Serves Community as Mohelet
By Tonyia Cone
For almost 4,000 years, brit milah ritual circumcision, has been practiced on Jewish males on their eighth day of life. Considered a mitzvah, this ritual has been considered so important it is carried out on Shabbat and festivals, has been kept by the Jewish people at times even when it was at great danger to themselves and their lives. It is thought of as a linking tradition to Jewish ancestors.
Despite the importance of the ritual, also called a bris, small to midsize Jewish communities do not necessarily have a mohel in residence to perform the circumcisions. In such cases, some area physicians may be available for britot milah, and many mohelim in larger cities are willing to travel to serve Jewish communities elsewhere.
For many years, Houston-based Dr. Max Mintz was considered by many to be Austin’s go-to mohel.
Two years ago, Rabbi Steven Folberg mentioned to Congregation Beth Israel member and then president of the Child Development Center parent board Katie Simon that Mintz was retiring.
Simon, a neonatologist who earned her medical degree at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, pointed out that performing circumcisions has been part of her daily routine since 2000. Folberg encouraged her to take coursework and become a certified mohelet through the National Organization for American Mohelim’s Berit Mila Program, a training program for medical professionals certified by the Berit Mila Board of Reform Judaism.
Over the next year, Simon performed britot milah procedures along with local Reform and Conservative rabbis, who performed the ceremonies. She completed NOAM’s Berit Mila Program and was certified as a mohelet in June 2017.
“I have the training and I am happy to perform this ancient ritual that is rich with many beautiful customs. I feel an obligation to give back to my community and to honor our son, Max, who died before he was able to have his own bris,” Simon states on her website.
She has already received a lot of feedback from people in the community.
“I’ve heard, ‘It's so wonderful because you're a mom and you're a doctor.’ That seems to be a relatable thing for women in this community. That's something that makes them more confident and more comfortable,” said Simon, who has two daughters.
Expecting parents who know they are having a boy or are waiting until birth to find out their baby’s sex who are interested in having Simon to serve as their mohelet should start the process by calling her for a consultation to discuss themselves, their child and their due date.
“The more warning I have timewise, the better,” Simon said, explaining that once she knows the family’s due date, she can let them know whether she expects to be in town around the time of the baby’s birth and bris.
Simon talks with parents about the goals for their service – whether they want a small, private, in-home service or a larger service at a synagogue or another location, how many people they expect and who will fulfill honored roles, including sandek, the person who holds the baby during the circumcision, sandek sheni, the person who holds the baby during the baby naming, and kvatterin, those who bring the baby into the room where the bris will take place.
She explained that some people want the circumcision without a very religious service, while others opt for a more elaborate service with all the blessings, roles and candle lighting.
“My goal is to make it less stressful and tailored to each family’s needs and goals. I don’t want them to be uncomfortable at all. I want this to be a beautiful experience. It doesn’t need to add more stress,” Simon said.
“My goal is to really ease them through the process and make them feel comfortable with it and bring calmness to the whole event. With my experience as a neonatologist – and that’s what I do for a living, is work in the intensive care unit with incredibly stressful situations – I have the skill set to hopefully alleviate all of that stress.”
After the initial consultation, those working with Simon contact her once they have the baby and know when they will need to have their bris. Simon makes an effort to meet families working with her who have a baby in a hospital where she has privileges, so she can welcome the baby, examine the baby ahead of time and make sure there is no medical contraindication to doing the procedure.
When a family does not deliver at a hospital where Simon has privileges, the examination takes place on the day of the bris, before the service.
On the day of the bris, Simon arrives 30 to 45 minutes before the service to set up her equipment, introduce herself to the family and examine the infant before the procedure and service begin. The bris itself lasts about 30 minutes.
If a postpartum mother is uncomfortable being present during the service, Simon added, she does not need to be there. The mother can go into another room and Simon will bring the baby to her afterward.
Following the big day, parents can follow up with Simon or their pediatrician.
Simon’s recommended fee is $750, and she invites those wishing to work with her who have any financial concerns to discuss it with her.
“I’m excited to be able to offer this as a service to our local community. I want to make this a pleasurable, easy experience for families,” Simon said. ■