WINDSOR – A Detroit mohel who also happens to be a doctor was detained at the Windsor-Detroit border last month and ultimately turned back to the United States, posing a potential problem for the availability of mohalim in Canada’s most southern city, with a Jewish population of about 1,000.
There are no local mohels in the city and it has been longstanding practice to bring them in from Detroit, located minutes away and with a much larger Jewish population.
Dr. Craig Singer, a certified Reform mohel who also is a practising dermatologist and pediatrician in Southfield, a Detroit suburb, was detained at the Windsor-Detroit tunnel May 19. He had been driving to Windsor to meet a family in their home to perform a ritual circumcision, or brit milah.
But when he pulled up to the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) booth and explained the nature of his trip, the officer he spoke to challenged his credentials and sent him to a follow-up interview. There, Singer said the official “told me that [the bris] is surgery.”
Singer explained this was a religious rite of passage. The officer then asked if he knew of any legislation that would permit him to come to Windsor. “And I referred to religious freedom laws and he said this is really surgery and you need a work permit to do this,” the doctor said.
Singer said he was then told that if he tried to enter again on such grounds “‘We’re going to have to prosecute you.’”
The incident occurred around 6:30 p.m., and the bris had to be performed before sundown. The CBSA official wouldn’t contact the family on Singer’s behalf, and upon returning to the United States, with poor cellphone connection, Singer had to leave messages, distressed about how the family may have been reacting.
Singer, who has travelled to Windsor a number of times to perform the ritual, isn’t banned from Canada generally, but only for the purpose of performing the rite.
Singer said he’s perplexed by his treatment and might seek legal advice from an immigration lawyer about what his next steps should be. The family declined comment, and he doesn’t know how they proceeded.
Windsor typically has fewer than 10 brit milahs each year, which should be performed on the eighth day of life.
Rabbi Sholom Galperin of Shaarey Zedek Synagogue and head of Windsor Chabad, said the incident doesn’t bode well for the city’s Conservative and Orthodox Jews.
“It puts Windsor in a very hard situation,” he said. “The closest city to us is Detroit, [which has] for years facilitated this need of the mohel. Otherwise, we need to be travelling and getting people coming in from Toronto, which is four hours away.”
Nevertheless, Rabbi Galperin said he’ll still pursue mohalim from Detroit, particularly one he uses on a regular basis, and hope for the best.
“If it just gets worse and they cannot come in for whatever [reason], then we’ll be left with no choice and have to bring in from Toronto,” he said.
Rabbi Galperin thinks the reason Singer was turned away might have not been because he was a mohel, but because he was a certified physician. “So do they make that distinction saying, hey, ‘You’re coming as a professional doctor. You know you’re taking away from another doctor who can theoretically, in their mind, do the same thing.’”
But Rabbi Jeff Ableser of the Reform Congregation Beth El said, “I don’t think it’s that much of a problem.” He said there are obstetricians in the congregation who can perform the surgery while he presides over the religious ceremony. “There are no concerns, because people know that I’m available to say the blessings,” Rabbi Ableser said.
But Singer said this could be problematic. “What if one of these people is not available?” he said. “It’s much harder to co-ordinate the schedule of two people than one… And what if a family is not affiliated with a synagogue?”
A CBSA spokesperson said in an email that admissibility to Canada “is considered on a case-by-case basis, and based on the specific facts presented by the applicant in each case at the time of entry.” She said the onus is on the traveller “to understand and meet the entry requirements.”