Monday, February 1, 2010

Ted Bronsnick

One of the good things about getting old is that you have old friends. They are old friends in the sense that they are aging, too, but also in the sense that your friendship has longevity, history. My oldest friend, in the second sense, is Ted Bronsnick whom I’ve known for forty-two years since I was twenty-two and he was twenty-four.

The impulse to write about Ted and what his friendship means to me as I get older, was brought about by the birth of his grandson, Isaac. Ted and his wife, Cathy Currier, have two kids, Yossi and Hannah. Isaac was born to Yossi and his wife Katie. Before the birth, Ted was wondering if Yossi and Katie would have the baby circumcised and if so if they would have a bris; a ritual circumcision performed by a mohel. This was an important question to Ted and, as we shall see, an emotionally loaded one.

God made a deal with the Jews through Abraham. God’s part of the deal was that He would make Abraham prolific; he would father hordes of descendants. In fact he would be the father of a horde of nations. Additionally, God would give Abraham the land where he was then living as a foreigner. He would give it to him and his offspring forever. Abraham’s hordes of descendants would be kings of the whole land of Canaan for eternity. All God wanted in return was that Abraham and all his progeny cut off their foreskins. Sort of as an after thought, He also said he wanted all their slaves to be circumcised too. God didn’t say why it is was so important to him that Abraham and his people give up that little ring of flesh, but if circumcision was a covenant with God then to be uncircumcised was to be cut off from God and from the Jewish community.

This is a story about four generations of Bronsnicks: Ted’s father George, Ted himself, Ted’s son Yossi, and Yossi’s son Isaac.Ted wanted his grandson to be part of the Jews’ covenant with God that had started with Abraham. He wanted Isaac, like his father, like his grandfather, like his great grandfather, to have the physical sign that he belonged to The Jewish people. Actually, Ted hadn’t talked much with Yossi about the question of circumcision for the baby. He wanted to leave it up to Yossi and Katie to decide for themselves, but he was grateful to learn that a bris was planned.

Here come the emotional complications: Issac was born on his great grandfather George’s birthday. Twenty-eight years earlier, when George arrived at Yossi’s bris, where he was suppose to hold his baby grandson while the mohel performed the ceremony, he had a heart attack and died. So, for Ted, deeply wanting his grandson to have the continuity of God’s covenant with Abraham meant recreating the circumstances of his father’s death. Would he survive Isaac’s bris, where George had not survived Yossi’s? Ted said he was as afraid as he had ever been. I assumed that he was afraid of dying, but when I asked him he said, “I was afraid that what happened to me, would happen to Yossi. I mean, I know what happened to me will happen to him someday, but I didn’t want it to be in that way, on that day.”

Ted didn’t die that day. He held his grandson on a pillow. Ted’s wife Cathy had her arms around him, steadying him. The mohel, who was also an urologist, clamped the foreskin. Yossi made the cut. The covenant was carried forward another generation.

The point of this story is that Ted was not worried about dying per se. He was worried that Yossi would have to deal with his death under these particular circumstances. That is the level of generosity that I have experienced in my forty-two year friendship with Ted. It is an amazing gift to know he is there.

There are another fifty or so stories I could tell about Ted. Maybe some more will show up here.

In the bible, Jacob goes into exile. It is one of those journeys triggered by family dysfunction and political intrigue that are so common in the old testament. One night in the desert he rests his head on a rock and dreams of a ladder to heaven. There are angels climbing up and down the ladder. I love that image.


  1. Not all Jewish people believe in circumcision. Brit Shalom is an alternative naming ceremony to celebrate the birth of baby boys to Jewish families. These sites are all run by Jewish people opposed to circumcision:

  2. Contact details for celebrants of Brit Shalom. It's not an idle question whether an old man might be less likely to have a heart attack while holding a baby at such a ceremony.