When Lara Allen-Brett and her husband, Matthew Brett, of Short Hills were awaiting the birth of their third child, a son, in February and began planning the bris, they knew they wanted a mohel who was more than simply competent in the technical aspects of the ritual circumcision (though that, of course, was also essential). “We wanted someone warm, someone we could relate to,” said Allen-Brett.
The mohel who performed their first son’s bris, she said, was somewhat cold and difficult to relate to.
So this time, they chose Lucy Waldman, who, they said, was just what they were looking for.
Waldman, a Short Hills resident and practicing certified nurse-midwife for 15 years, received mohelet certification in February. (While technically she is a “mohelet,” she prefers the more familiar “mohel.”) With four sons of her own, ranging in age from four to eight, she herself had had less than satisfactory experiences with three different mohalim. With the first two — the second and third boys are twins — there were competency issues, she said. The last one “was competent but he had no kindness. He was rude, brusque, not really compassionate. This is a very rough time for a mom, and to acknowledge that is very important. If we are going to keep this sacred tradition going, we need better options.”
As a mohel, Waldman said, “I have compassion as a woman and as a mother.”
She also has plenty of professional experience performing medical circumcisions. She’s been on the staff at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital in New York since 1995. “I’ve been doing circumcisions all these years. Every Monday all the babies that need circumcisions are done by me.”
Waldman went through the intensive training program offered by the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles and followed up with several weeks of learning with her own rabbi, Steven Bayar, at Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn.
Waldman, Allen-Brett said, helped make Max’s bris “a serene experience — she had a calming presence…. As a mommy, she knows what a bris is like. She knew what to say to make me feel calm. I felt really connected spiritually.”
Allen-Brett felt her choice was beshert, meant to be — the two had met years earlier in Manhattan, when she took Waldman’s childbirth class in preparation for delivering her first child, a daughter now seven years old.
Raised in a Conservative congregation in Lawrence, NY, Waldman, who attended day school, views becoming a mohel as a “fusion” of her faith and her professional experience. “Being Jewish is a cornerstone of who I am as a person. Becoming a mohel is obvious; it makes such good sense. It’s a perfect match for me given that I’m also a midwife.”
There are surprisingly few women among mohalim serving throughout the United States. There is nothing halachically impermissible about it, but many Orthodox communities retain the custom of using men. Among liberal movements, the 2010 directory of the National Organization of American Mohalim of the Reform movement lists only 26 women out of 121 affiliated mohalim. (These include a handful of nurse-midwives, as well as Dr. Susan Roth Pitman, who has an OB/GYN practice in West Orange.) The Conservative movement, through its Brit Kodesh program, has trained approximately 90 mohalim, including 10 women, according to the Rabbinical Assembly’s Rabbi Jan Caryl Kaufman.
So far, Waldman has performed just the one brit mila, an experience that, she said, “was marvelous. It was a really special first bris.”
The only thing she would change? “I’d wear a bobby pin in my kipa next time.” When she was wrapping up the baby after the circumcision, her purple suede kipa flipped off her head. “I said, ‘Whoops!’ It’s not something people want to hear at a bris.”