Its a girl! Jews finally welcome daughters with panache

The Jewish community still has a men's club. Boys are born into it, and are welcomed with fanfare: a brit milah, ritual circumcision.

Girls, by contrast, are traditionally announced in the synagogue with a baby-naming ceremony — but then everyone goes home.

No party. No fanfare.

No fair!

Today Jewish daughters are just as welcome into the covenant as Jewish sons, says Rabbi Mark Diamond of Oakland's Temple Beth Abraham. Gradually, celebrations on the scale of britot are evolving.

Since there aren't any biblical guidelines for bringing baby girls into the tribe, there's little tradition to rely on.

But with the help of their rabbis and such books as Rabbi Debra Orenstein's "Lifecycles: Jewish Women on Life Passages and Personal Milestones," local Jewish parents of daughters are creating traditional festivities of their own.

Diamond explained that according to one of the oldest Ashkenazi traditions for naming a girl, parents went to the synagogue anytime the Torah was read to receive an aliyah (Torah blessing). At that time, they officially named the baby. But both parents didn't necessarily attend. Instead, the new father might appear alone at the synagogue on the first Sabbath following the baby's birth. The rabbi would say a blessing for the mother's speedy recovery and give the girl, in absentia, her Hebrew name.

Sephardic celebrations might include prayers, recitations from the Song of Songs, music and a meal, all held in the parents' home.

A modern tradition appears to be evolving from these roots.

June and David Marinoff held a Simhat Ha-Bat (names and spellings of these celebrations vary) last December for their daughter, Sophie Rose, born in October. About 35 friends and relatives gathered at the Marinoffs' Oakland home along with Diamond, their rabbi.

While both parents held the baby, her father read: "As your mother and I stood together under the chuppah to be joined together as husband and wife, now we stand together to welcome you into our family."

Grandmothers Amy Galas and Dossie Marinoff lit candles and delivered recitations that the Marinoffs had written with Diamond's help. Other grandparents joined in.

"As you cry for food and comfort now, so may you one day cry out to correct the injustices of the world, to help clothe the naked and feed the hungry," they declared.

Diamond filled a cup of wine and recited the Seven Blessings. The parents explained how Sophie got her name. An uncle and great-aunt read a dedication, and the rabbi finished with a blessing.

"I found it so touching," said June Marinoff.

A lunch of salads, sandwiches and desserts followed.

San Franciscans Katherine and Henry Hollander held a Birkat HaBrith at home last month for their daughter Ruth Beatrice, born June 26.

An honored guest carried the baby into the living room where 40 friends had gathered with Rabbi Alan Lew of San Francisco's Congregation Beth Sholom.

Everyone welcomed the baby in Hebrew and English. A few verses from the Song of Songs followed, with the baby's father reciting:

"Who is she who shines through the dawn,/Beautiful as the sun, radiant as the moon?"

The mother answered:

"My little dove is unique,/Her mother's radiant child./Women see her and acclaim her./Queens and consorts sing her praises."

The rabbi gave the mother a blessing for having undergone labor and delivery. Then both parents, the rabbi and a friend spread the mother's tallit on the table, placed the baby in the center and lifted her up.

It was an act that symbolized the baby's inclusion in the covenant, said her mother.

They all drank wine and placed a drop in the baby's mouth.

Participants — including the baby's 10-year-old brother — read aloud a story the baby's mother wrote, which was inspired by a suggestion from Orenstein's book.

The author "approaches [baby-naming] within tradition," said Katherine Hollander. "That's where we're coming from."

A lunch of noodle kugel along with blackberries, cheese, cake, cookies, wine and beer followed.

Cantorial soloist Sara Shendelman and her husband, Avram Davis of Berkeley's Chochmat Ha'lev, help couples personalize the baby-naming event.

"What we do is deal with existing tradition," said Shendelman.

She finds it useful to draw on women's mitzvot, good deeds. One is the mikveh, the ritual bath, she said, "so we wash the baby's feet."

Shendelman also likes to involve siblings in the ceremony, as she did at her own newborn's naming.

"My older daughter poured water over her sister's feet," she said.

Girls, she said, are lucky, because they can experience the Jewish sense of community without the discomfort of circumcision.

"With everyone at the ceremony surrounding you, this is an indication of what life will be, this loving Jewish family. You are a part [of that family] and you aren't alone."