The blessing of being tongue-tied
By Chandrea Serebro
Being tongue-tied is generally a sure way to lose an argument, but sometimes it can prove to be a matter of Divine intervention. Which is not to say that Hashem isn’t on your side, G-d forbid, but rather that it is a chance for Hashem to bring you to the place where you were always meant to be. And it is a win-win scenario.
It starts in an ordinary doctor’s room. And while the place may be mundane when considering fate and fortune, Dr Dean Gersun is no ordinary doctor. Not only is he an ENT, but he is also a mohel. And it is this colourful combination that has led him to be able to do something extra-ordinary: to help Jewish boys who would otherwise not have been brissed to fulfil this mitzvah.
“I’m an ENT in private practice. My special interest is in newborn feeding problems, and I cut a lot of tongue ties – which is a small membrane on the tongue that prevents proper latching. And sometimes, through this, I have been blessed to perform an even greater task, and it is these stories which are memorable.”
Dean was approached by a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father who brought their baby to him at three months old for feeding problems, referred to him by a lactation consultant in Fourways for tongue-tie. The baby had been circumcised in hospital, and Dean told the mother that this is something he also does. “The mum tells me that she knows because she is Jewish as well. So then, I feel brave. I ask if he was brissed. She says unfortunately not, only circumcised.” The mother’s father is a religious Sefardi Jew living in Israel and was “devastated” that the baby was not brissed as a Jew.
“She admitted to me that she feels bad having missed out on the mitzvah and that she does feel regret at not giving her baby a bris. So then I get really bold. I ask her if she believes in fate, or the universe, or G-d. She says yes, she does. And then I tell her simply: ‘This is why you have come to me today.’ I say to her: ‘You haven’t missed out. G-d has brought you to me precisely to fulfil the mitzvah.’”
Dean is talking about the mitzvah of hatafat dam bris – drawing a pinprick of blood in the place of the circumcision as a tikkun (act of ‘correcting’) – thereby fulfilling the mitzvah of bris milah, followed by a Jewish naming. “She can’t believe it, and she starts tearing up. She tells me that her father has been begging her to bris the child, and davening for this. I said to her: ‘Let’s call him.’” So there and then, from the office of the ENT, this Sefardi religious Saba in Israel gets a call from his grandson’s ENT, who speaks to him in Hebrew no less.
“I tell him that I am a Jewish ENT and that his daughter and grandson came to see me for something entirely unrelated, and that now we are going to bris and name him on the spot. And what does he want the name to be?” The grandfather starts crying emotionally, a dream come true after all the praying he has done for this baby since he was born. The grandfather is named Chaim – and since Sefardim name after living people, the baby was named Chaim. And his name indeed points to the fact that, with the help of Dean, this child was given his Jewish heritage back, by being brissed and thereafter named Chaim, life.
“When I meet a Jew who is lost, I can’t stop thinking about him until I try everything I can do to bring him back. If the baby has a non-Jewish father, the halacha is that the Beth Din of the city is responsible for brissing the boy – not the mother. Since I am a representative of the Beth Din in my capacity as a mohel, as soon as I find out there is a baby boy without a bris it becomes my responsibility to bris him – and I won’t stop at anything to fulfil this. In a kind and gentle, non-forceful way.”
When Dean and his family moved into a new house, they found that the cellphone signal was terrible and unmanageable. After searching the classifieds for a signal booster, Dean found one from a man who lived near the airport. “When I arrive at his house, he greets me at the gate wearing a vest exposing multiple tattoos, and a big cross around his neck. He is very friendly and invites me in. I am looking at the booster and we are making small talk. I tell him I am a doctor at Linksfield. He asks if I know a certain person. I say yes, that I circumcised his grandson. I explain that I am an ENT, but also do religious circumcision for Jewish people. He laughs and says, ‘My girlfriend is Jewish, she is pregnant and expecting a boy in a few months.’ I say, ‘Well we have to plan the bris then. We sat down, had some beer, and I told them all about a bris. Three months later, I brissed their son at the same house.”
Dean believes that Hashem gave him his talents and personality to be a shaliach (messenger) for Him. “I am a baal teshuva myself (ie. not religious from birth) and feel I must do the same for others that people did for me. I am a shaliach in medicine and Hashem put me in this position to influence and help other people,” says Dean. Who knows what it is that brings people to Dean. Divine intervention? Zchut Avot – the merits of previous generations? “People who didn’t intend on brissing their kids then end up having a bris by me through the hand of Hashem. The mitzvah of the bris is a mitzvah that Abraham accepted (at the age of 99!) with joy, and so is celebrated with joy ever since. And this seems to transcend normality. That these people have merited to be brissed without even intending to!”
One Friday at 3pm, just as he was finishing up for the day, Dean got a call to see a couple with a newborn with a tongue tie. “When a newborn arrives with a tongue tie, I always try and squeeze him in as quickly as I can so that he can start feeding properly as soon as possible.” They needed to be finished by 4pm so that they could get to the Sandton Clinic in time for the baby’s hospital circumcision. “I told them that, even though I am an ENT, I also do circumcisions, as I am a mohel. They agreed. I had no idea who they were. When they arrived I introduced myself. They said they were Jacob and Galia (names changed). I asked them how old the baby is and they said eight days. I asked them if they were Jewish and they said yes. I didn’t probe any further about their circumstances, but they made it clear that they were there for a circumcision, not a bris.”
Dean explained that the circumcision is done the same way as a bris so that if ever the boy asks one day if he has had a bris, the parents are in a position to say yes. “I said the brachot to myself and did the bris. When they left my rooms, I said the prayer for the naming. They called him Samuel. I named him Shmuel. Hashem has heard. They didn’t know that Hashem had heard someone’s prayers. A grandparent or family? This, to me, is Zchut Avot.”
“I often see the Yad Hashem in what I do. It is comforting to know that I know I’m in the exact place that Hashem wants me to be in. If I wasn’t an ENT who cuts tongue ties who is a mohel at the same time, I wouldn’t have merited to do any of this. It is like a hug or kiss from G-d, saying I’m doing what He wants me to do.”