Pandemic trims size of University City family’s bris ceremony

Rachel and Zack Deutsch and their three sons. 

After their two older sons were born, Rachel and Zack Deustch invited family, friends and members of the St. Louis Jewish community to celebrate with them at each child’s bris, the circumcision ceremony that takes place eight days after a boy’s birth. Both celebrations were held at the Gatesworth, where Zack Deutsch works, with more than 100 guests in attendance.

But Saturday, when it came time for the bris of the couple’s third son, Jacob “Jake” Judah Deustch, born on March 14, the celebration was strikingly different.

In addition to Rachel, Zack and Rabbi Michael Rovinsky, the mohel performing the circumcision, only Zack’s mother was in attendance at the couple’s University City home — and she stood six feet away from where the action was taking place. Zack’s brother and his wife stood outside the house, peeking through a window.

Given the spread of the coronavirus and restrictions limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people, the Deutsches, who belong to Young Israel, had no choice but to downsize by more than 90 percent.

“This time around, the idea of having a party got smaller and smaller, and more modest as time went on,” Rachel explained.

For starters, her parents, who were due to fly in from Boston, decided to drive the 18 hours before being talked out of that and canceling altogether. 

“None of our friends came, not even all the family came,” said Rachel, adding that because the bris took place on Shabbat and the couple is Orthodox, they couldn’t Zoom or Skype the ceremony with friends and relatives.

Baby Jake was named after Rachel’s grandfather Jacob and her grandmother Judith. The couple, married for more than 60 years, died within a few months of each other last year. 

“Though it was much smaller than we had planned, it gave me the confidence to speak about my grandparents since it was a more intimate setting,” said Rachel, adding that her grandfather, who had fought in Israel’s War of Independence, was shot in the knee and had to drag himself to safety. “I was able to remember who they were and their characteristics and really zone in on what this celebration is all about — remembering someone from the past and putting it out there for the next generation.

“The ceremony was beautiful and memorable in its own way.”