BROOKLINE, Mass. The population of this near suburb of Boston is disproportionately Jewish now, but it is also the birthplace of John F. Kennedy, the nation’s only Roman Catholic President. “In many ways, this is the perfect place for the old and the new strands of the Judeo-Christian tradition to be woven together,” says Rabbi Moshe Zuckerman of Temple Beth Shalom with a smile. “It’s a wonderful ecumenical project that will bring together two major world religions while keeping out wack-job cults like Scientology and Buddhism,” adds Father Andrew McConnachy, pastor of the Church of St. Rocco, the patron saint of tow-truck drivers.
Birthplace of JFK.
The two clergymen are referring to “Songs of Circumcision,” an attempt to honor with choral music the anniversary of the bris, or ritual circumcision, of Jesus Christ traditionally celebrated on New Year’s Day, thereby elevating the holiday to equal status with Christmas. “I got tired of hearing Jews whine about how Christmas takes over the month of December,” says McConnachy. “I gave Moshe a call and said ‘Hey, let’s do something together for once, instead of giving each other the side-eye all the time.”
“This is going to hurt you more than it hurts me.”
The result is a fifty-member choir–half Catholic, half Jewish–that will publicly perform, then record, songs that shine a favorable light on what for many men is an event too painful to contemplate; the removal of the foreskin of the penis to comply with the covenant in the Book of Genesis that Abraham made with God for reasons that are not entirely clear. “I’m not sure what we got in return for it,” Zuckerman says, “other than Sandy Koufax and control of the world’s economy.”
Sandy Koufax: The Chosen Pitcher
The difficulty creating new content for the holiday becomes apparent as the singers launch into “Careful With That Freaking Knife,” a plea to the attending mohel, a man trained in brit milah, the practice of circumcision, whose melody bears a strong resemblance to “Angels We Have Heard on High”:
Careful with that freaking knife–
that you wield so clumsily.
Dad will take your worthless life,
if you don’t cut carefully.
The harmonies rise in the apse of St. Rocco’s high above the singers’ heads, and echo there in a pleasing effect that is almost anesthetic in removing images of pain from the minds of the men in attendance. “Beautiful, simply beautiful,” McConnachy says. “Let’s try one of the novelty tunes,” and the choir engages in a few seconds of collective throat clearing before singing the opening bars of “Ouch–It Really Hurts Down There!”, a rousing tune that again resembles a familiar melody, that of “Ma, He’s Making Eyes at Me!”
Ouch–it really hurts down there,
Ouch–don’t you dare touch my pair.
Your instructions are very clear,
Snip the foreskin–then let me get out of here!
Feelings of terror bring the two groups together through shared sensitivity since the ritual of circumcision is now followed almost universally among Gentiles such as McConnachy and his hand-picked vocalists, some of whom–children of low-income rural parents–waited until they served in the armed forces to subject themselves to the procedure. For those men the song “Your Freezing Hands”–sung to the tune of “O, Holy Night”–brings back painful memories that the purgative power of art helps to dispel:
Your freezing hands
are causing me to shrivel,
can we please get this
over with soon.
Your freezing hands,
cold as a witch’s nipple.
Is it too much for you
to warm them up first?
Satisfied with the results, the rabbi cries out “It’s a wrap!” and the choir and their religious leaders gather to listen to the raw takes, which will be remixed for several target markets, including religious, dance and “emo.”
“That should give guys something to do on New Year’s Day instead of watching stupid football games,” says Brother Evan Winstead, choirmaster at the Pope Innocent XII Seminary in the western suburbs.
Silence falls on the formerly jovial crowd, and Winstead looks around, then finally asks “What–what did I say?”
McConnachy glares at him, then says sternly “We still punish heresy around here, you know.”