My Most Embarrassing Moment
By Sally Myers
I hung up the phone, ran down the steps, and stomped into the kitchen to find my mother. Putting my hands on my hips, I asked, “How come you never told me there was such a thing as circumcision?”
She paused, took a long drag on her Benson and Hedges 100, and said, “And just why in the hell would I tell my 15-year-old daughter about circumcision?” Shaking my head to show the unfairness of it all, I returned to my room and slammed the door.
Not having brothers and attending an all girls’ high school in the 60s was a combination for hilarious naivety. My best friend, Cathy, was of the Jewish faith. For weeks, she had told me about her brother’s best friend, Barry Benjamin. She had told him about me too, and had arranged a blind date. The plan was to attend a mutual friend’s birthday party. I assured my Mother the party would be properly chaperoned. After much discussion with Cathy, it was decided I would wear my light green Villager skirt with matching sweater and knee socks, a flowered blouse with a Peter Pan collar and penny loafers.
Everything was going fine. Barry was very polite, the conversation was easy, and we were having a good time. Then he mentioned that he had a new nephew and that tomorrow would be his nephew’s bris. I asked, “What is a bris?”
He said, “In the Jewish faith, that is when the little boys are circumcised and given their name.” I liked this fellow and thought this was a good opportunity to learn more about his faith. You never know, I might convert someday if things went well with Barry. Assuming circumcise was something similar to baptize, I asked, “What is circumcise?”
Suddenly he turned red, looked away and said, “Better ask Cathy.” The evening had suddenly taken a turn for the worse. He went to get another coke and never came back to talk to me. I was perplexed. Had I someway offended him? Why was he embarrassed?
Cathy called early the next morning. I told her things had started off just fine until we started talking about his new nephew and something called a circumcision. There was silence on the other end of the phone. I asked, “What is that, anyway?”
She answered, “That’s a Jewish ceremony when the extra skin is removed from the baby’s penis and the baby is given his name.”
“What are you talking about,” I replied, “Extra skin on a baby’s penis?” She then explained, with the authority of someone with brothers, that all boys had extra skin on their penis and that even some gentile babies were having it removed.
Close to tears, I said, “I had no idea it had to do with the penis, I thought it was something like baptize.” Cathy said, “Well that practice seems odd to me, don’t they put the baby under water or something?” I said some churches do, but ours didn’t do it that way. We talked about different customs in our religions. She tried to make me feel better about my blunder.
She said, “How could you have known?” She was a good friend.
I never heard from Barry again. I wonder if he still laughs about the naïve gentile girl he took to the party. Cathy later told me that Barry was not even allowed to date gentile girls, and he had told his parents my name was Sally Stein! A few years later I learned that our high school only admitted a certain quota of Jewish students. That was the Sixties!