My name is Chaya, and when I was a young girl, I lived with my parents and my big brother in a one-room apartment in Siberia, which in those days was under the Communist regime. My brother and I were often quite sick because it was so cold and we had hardly any food. But that is where we were taken and that is where we had to live.

It was during that time, though, that I was given my best birthday present ever—a baby brother!

Eight days later was the time for my baby brother’s brit (circumcision). But how could we have a brit?I was given my best birthday present ever!

The secret police in our village watched us closely to stop us from doing anything Jewish. They would never allow us to have a brit for my baby brother.

But still, my parents wanted their son to be able to have a brit.

The Russian guards did not want Jewish people to gather together. They were afraid we might be gathering to pray together or do something else that wasn’t allowed.

The rabbi who was to perform the brit came into our house very, very quietly early in the morning so the guards would not notice him.

My father had secretly told the Jewish people who lived near us about the brit. One by one and very, very slowly, friends came to gather in our house. They all were so excited to be at a brit, even though it was not allowed.

They were all very brave to come, but nobody wanted to miss this very rare and special celebration. Everyone hoped that the Russian guards would not notice all the people coming into our room.

But suddenly, there was a very loud pounding on the locked door of our house, and we could hear guards yelling for us to open up right away. My father hurried to unlock the door, and in stormed two very angry Russian policemen.

“Why are all these people here?” the bigger guard shouted, looking around, red in the face, while everyone froze in fear.

“You wouldn’t dare be doing one of your Jewish customs, would you?” he growled, staring down menacingly into my father’s face.

And my father—miraculously—thought very quickly, even as I clung to his leg, shaking.

“We’re having a birthday party for my daughter here!” my father answered, patting me on the head.

I picked up my head and smiled brightly at my father.

Then the guard stood straight up, with a broad grin now on his big, round face. He smiled at me and said in Russian, “Good! Good!”

My mother hurried to bring the guards pieces of the littleThe guards left happily with their cake cake she had managed to bake from the small amount of flour she had saved for this special occasion. The guards left happily with their cake as they wished me a happy birthday.

After they left, our door was locked again, and the rabbi performed the brit.

Then the baby was given his Jewish name, and lots of people came over and said, Mazal tov! Mazal tov!” to me. We all shared the little we had to eat, and sang and laughed—and some of us even cried from all the joy we felt.

I’m very grateful that I’ve had so many birthdays since then, but this is still the birthday celebration I remember most of all.

Bracha Goetz is the Harvard-educated author of several children’s books, including Remarkable Park, What Do You See in Your Neighborhood? and The Invisible Book. You can contact Bracha for presentations or questions here.
Chaya Krakauer teaches precious preschool-aged children in a playgroup in Baltimore, Maryland.
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Silvina Argentina February 9, 2017

I loved the story!!!Friends and family celebrating together...Congrats Bracha. Reply

Spider-Man Dallas, Texas, USA January 21, 2017

intence I like it! Something like this could even happen today! Thanks, Bracha Goez! Reply

Rey The Resistance April 8, 2017
in response to Spider-Man:

I agree with Spidey! Reply

Spider-Man Dallas, Texas, USA December 28, 2016

sad but good I like it!!! Reply

Keren Paronik California July 14, 2016

I believe this story made me feel very sad but also very happy. Thank you for sharing this. Reply