The unforeseen life of Pittsburgh’s newest mohel, Rabbi Elisar Admon
Previously, he was involved in a group whose volunteers gathered blood, limbs and displaced body parts of victims of terrorist attack, car accidents or disasters for proper burial.
The circumcising, motorcycle-riding, Talmud-teaching Israeli-born rabbi who last year became an American citizen is less a conundrum than a living mosaic of amplified experiences.
There was the time that Rabbi Elisar Admon, Pittsburgh’s newest mohel, once transported an abandoned baby across state lines, and then there was the occasion when he performed a circumcision on a grown man who lay on his back, in bed, holding a tablet above while streaming a movie.
Couple those instances with the geographical reality that when Admon is not in Pittsburgh, he may be either in Charleston, S.C., leading High Holiday services or in Youngstown, Ohio, where he frequently travels to make a minyan, and it is easy to conclude that the tricenarian, married, father of six lives a pretty wild existence.
Yes, Admon does, and largely because so much of his life has dealt with death.
Before relocating to western Pennsylvania and becoming a United States citizen along with his wife, Tovi, in a ceremony last April at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, Admon was a member of the Israeli army, where his service was related to a similar involvement with ZAKA, an organization whose volunteers, apart from aiding in rescue-and-recovery practices, gather the blood, limbs and displaced body parts of victims of terrorist attacks, car accidents or disasters for proper burial according to Jewish law.
“The hardest ones were times when people would jump into the train to commit suicide, and I don’t know why, but it would happen most of the time on Friday afternoon,” said Admon.
Sometimes the group would resort to covering the myriad rocks with sand; other times, the ZAKA members would clean each individual stone. When the latter was performed, the tissues, wipes or materials that came in contact with either blood or other bodily matter would be buried alongside any human remains, he explained.
“We had a case on Pesach where it was an Arab-Israeli restaurant,” recalled the rabbi. There was a stench of “matzoh, wine and bread, this was the smell, and I remember we laid down a family: a father, mother and two kids next to each other because it was a family who died. You remember these pictures.”
The thing with ZAKA, though, “was that if you arrived on scene and someone was still alive, you switched your vest” and served as an emergency medical technician, he said.
Those experiences, of which there were many, aided Admon in his current Pittsburgh pursuits.
“You teach yourself to not be under stress, to not lose your mind, to not panic. All of those times, I wish it would have been for happiness, but, baruch Hashem, now I can deal with happy occasions, being a mohel for a baby.”
Admon’s decision to adopt a new trade resulted from the leave of a particular circumciser.
In a letter dated Oct. 3, 2017, Ya’aqov Abrams, a former UPMC physician who relocated to northern Israel, wrote: “In light of my departure from Pittsburgh I recruited Rabbi Admon to replace me. I have trained him in sterile technique, newborn genital anatomy and circumcision technique. I observed him do all aspects of circumcision of the normal newborn and hereby certify that he is qualified to circumcise newborn males.”
While Abrams’ tutelage was highly beneficial, so too were other undertakings, such as a stint last summer in Israel, where Admon assisted on more than 50 circumcisions, or more recently, when Admon experienced an intensive period in London last month during which, over two weeks, he aided Ephraim Josovic, a British mohel, on 28 circumcisions. Among those treated were babies, toddlers and a 25-year-old man who regularly suffered infections. Admon’s clients include both Jews and non-Jews.
Having the opportunity to practice alongside Josovic in London was advantageous as it not only allowed Admon, who as a first responder in Israel regularly rode a motorcycle, to travel in an Audi TT on the other side of the road, but to join a network of fellow students.
“I’m the 264th,” said the Squirrel Hill resident.
Given the fact that many of Josovic’s students have traveled from all corners of the globe for training, several disciples continue corresponding through digital communications. To date, 63 students, including those from New York, Italy and Israel, participate, along with Josovic, in a WhatsApp group.
“It’s a great experience that mohelim back in the day didn’t have,” said Admon. “It’s a lot of halachah and medical questions.”
Even so, “if the police stopped me, I don’t know what they would think.”
But appreciating other people’s perspectives is part of what makes Admon so successful in his endeavors either as a mohel or in his role as an educator at Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh, said Rabbi Sam Weinberg, the school’s principal.
“Because of Rabbi Admon’s atypical upbringing and bountiful energy, he is able to connect to people from all walks of life. He is a truly a special person, with so many unique talents. We are incredibly lucky to have him at Hillel Academy.”
“As a rabbi there are so many things you can do,” said Admon. Some people focus on burials, others on bar mitzvahs, and “according to the Jewish way, we have a lot of connections between death and life, and therefore we don’t see it as a contradiction to do both jobs, rather, it’s a responsibility for us. This is the circle of life that our faith is built on. If in every step in our Jewish life I can help and I can feel proud of myself, then why not?” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.