My maternal grandmother was Rita Bear Strauss Flehinger She was born on November 8, 1895 in Richmond Virginia. She grew up in a staunchly Reform German family. Along came a traveling salesman, selling goods to Rita’s father. Oscar Strauss, born in 1884, an Orthodox Jew from Baltimore, also of German descent, fell in love with Rita, his religious opposite. They became engaged and kosher food had to be brought from Baltimore to the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond for the wedding. Rita had to agree to follow all the religious laws, which she did with Oscar’s encouragement. They were married on February 27, 1916.
Rita and Oscar were blessed with three daughters. Their last daughter Harriet’s nickname was “Son,” so it seems they had hoped for a son, but it was not to be. Sadly, Oscar died in 1936.
Which explains why when Rita’s first grandson was born, she was very excited to buy the new baby a special outfit to wear for the occasion of his Bris. She bought what was worn in those days, a dress, long dubbed by the family as the “Bris dress”.
When Rita bought this “bris dress”, she could never have imagined that it would be worn again and again, not only by every one of her grandsons at their britot, but by future generations, as well.
Rita had nine grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren. She attended every one of her 6 grandsons’ and 14 great-grandsons’ Britot, until her death on June 24, 1987. Every one of them wore the bris dress, including the one great-grandson who was born after she died.
For all of her grandsons and many of her great-grandsons, Rita would carefully wash and iron the Bris dress and place it in a cardboard box. After she could no longer take care of it, her daughter, Nanette would do the same, always having it ready for the next boy’s Bris.
Rita’s great grandchildren grew up and many married. Now there were great-great-grandchildren, and the family continued in the long tradition of the Bris dress. By this time the Bris dress was over fifty years old, and the material had gotten very thin. The baby boy could no longer be dressed in it. The Bris dress began to be placed on top of each baby. The family also began branching out. Whereas all of Rita’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren lived in Baltimore, Silver Spring, or Cherry Hill, the next generation moved to many different locations, including some in Israel.
Today, the descendants of Oscar and Rita number 78. All 42 of the boys in their family, from 1942, to the most recent baby’s bris in July, 2017, have worn the bris dress.
The Bris dress is as thin as a tissue. Around fifteen years ago, it was suggested that Nanette, make a needlepoint bag for the Bris dress to replace the old cardboard box. She did, and now after each Bris, it is lovingly placed in this beautiful bag to await the Bris of the next boy, the next descendent of Rita and Oscar. We hope and pray that there will be more of Rita and Oscar’s great-great-grandchildren to be born and will continue to the next generation, their great-great-great-grandchildren. God willing, each baby boy will have the privilege to have the Bris dress come out of its needlepoint bag to be placed upon him for his Bris.
Dedicated In Memory of our Grandparents,
Rita Bear Strauss Flehinger and Oscar Strauss
and our parents,
Carolyn Strauss Rubenstein Froehlich and Leon Rubenstein
Nanette Strauss Lehman and Merrill B. Lehman
Harriett Strauss Macklin and Sigmund Macklin