Meet me at Missouri Baptist Hospital at 10 a.m.,” Rabbi Michael Rovinsky instructs. “I’ll be the Jewish-looking guy.” Not that there’s any problem picking Rovinsky out of a crowd. He’s the only one in the parking lot whose license plate reads “MOHEL.”
According to Jewish law, a mohel pranced moyle) is a man who performs the bris, or circumcision ceremony, when a Jewish boy is eight days old. Over the past 20 or so years, the bris had fallen out of favor in all but the most Orthodox families, with the overwhelming majority of circumcisions performed by an obstetrician prior to the newborn’s release from the hospital.
Driven by a deep devotion to his faith, Rovinsky is on a one-man mission to reverse the trend, and his arsenal includes catchy phone numbers (800-85-MOHEL and, locally, 991-BOYS), advertising (Certified Mohel Michael Rovinsky. ‘Where Care & Concern Make a Difference!.”), and a publications assistant.
It seems to be working. Rovinsky says that the bris is enjoying a resurgence of popularity in the non-Orthodox community. “For many Reform Jews, the last rime they set foot inside a temple was during their own bar mitzvah,” he explains. “But when they become parents, they begin looking for answers and guidance. They’re more open to their heritage. A bris lays the foundation for a Jewish upbringing.”
Trained in Baltimore by pediatric urologists, Rovinsky became a mohe/ at age 26, making him the youngest ever certified in the United States. Although he works full time as administrative director of the H.F. Epstein Hebrew Academy, he spends almost as much time moheling–he estimates that he’s done mote than 3,000 bris ceremonies in the past six years. His pager beeps more frequently than a doctor’s, and he spends most of his weekends on airplanes.
“I once received a mysterious phone call asking me to fly to New York immediately,” he recalls. A first-class airline ticket awaited him at Lambert Field, and a stretch limo picked him up when he arrived in New York “I couldn’t believe that in New York, of all places, a family would have difficulty finding a mohel. But their first choice fell through, and a friend of theirs recommended me. It was quite a lavish event–the family was extremely wealthy.”
Not every bris is that glamorous.
A couple in South Carolina asked me to perform a bris, but the father walked out when the baby was only three days old,” he says. The mother had no money and no family to help her. I flew to Atlanta, tented a car and drove two hours to the town of Warrenville. Only mother, baby and I were prsent for the bris. Generally, I ask that my expenses be covered, but
Rovinsky stops in mid-sentence, remembering the woman’s anguish. He paid $700 in expenses nut of his own pocket. “I was just glad I could be there for her.”
The morning of the Cohen bris at Missouri Baptist, Rovinsky’s infectious joy spreads rapidly through the gathering of faimily and friends in the hospital conference room. Baby Bradley Cohen is carried on a pillow, Isis head adorned with a tiny white crocheted yarmulke kept in place by a chin strap. Our sages tell us that the way we treat one another is as important as the commandments between man and God” the rabbi begins. Held lovingly on the lap of his grandfather, Baby Cohen receives his kosher bris. Prayers are said, the same prayers spoken by parents to their newborn children over countless generations–and, if Roviniky has anything to do with it, for generations to come.
St. Louis Magazine, November/December 1996