My Hebrew name and I have not always had a good relationship.
It was only bestowed upon me around the time of my Bat Mitzvah. It refers in no way to my English names and the only time I would ever hear it referred to (repeatedly) was in our shul’s list of prayers for people who are not well. In my meshuggeneh mind it had many strikes against it, and I battled to find meaning in why it was mine.
I was named after my grandmother, who had been alive when I was born, but was not by the time a name had to be chosen and so the whole thing seemed like an ill-fitting winter coat. Not something I had to deal with in everyday sunny life, but not comfortable when I did need it. I didn’t want to feel this way about something so important. I needed some small sign, some pattern, something to attach meaning to, so I could love it like I should.
Then last year whilst on a Jewish mindfulness and meditation course one of the course facilitator’s said something that ultimately started the ball rolling for me and my name. She was speaking about people who had been born into Judaism and those who hadn’t, but had chosen it for themselves. It switched on a light of gratitude in my mind. Without my grandmother’s forethought, my mother and I would not be Jews. And my bashert and I would not have been married by the shul that had married so many of my ancestors.
You see, my maternal grandmother had not been born Jewish, and had converted Orthodox and received her Hebrew name when she and my grandfather were going to be married. When I saw having her name as the ultimate way to show gratitude for her forethought and effort, I saw my name in a better light. I needed to absorb that it’s an honour for her that I carry her name, because her soul is elevated based on my behaviour. Meanwhile, its good for me, because having her name inspires me to follow her good examples, of which there are many.
While in Israel this past December, a few people asked me my Hebrew name and more than once I was told what a beautiful name I had. Here I was comparing my name to all the ones I thought were more ‘Jewish’, or more ‘Israeli’, and it turns out (as it usually is) that it was all in my mind. I even met a knowledgeable guide around my age at Yad Vashem with her name badge bearing our shared name, and all these experiences came together to start a positive familiarity between my name and I.
While on Masada I watched a Rabbi writing Torah scrolls in a little room designed especially for this purpose. He heard my accent and guessed I was South African, and with a little more conversation, realised I was Jewish. His face lit up. “What’s your Hebrew name?” he asked, taking out a little piece of pearly-white paper. I told him, and there on the top of Masada, my name was written for me in beautiful script. How magnificent it looked.
I then returned home to the news of a baby girl born into our community. Her second name? My name! Seeing a tiny, perfect human (with very cool parents) using the name I had for so long felt unsure of gave me such a sense of relevance and pride and yiddishkeit. How incredible it is to ask for patterns and signs and receive them in spades.
But last of all and most importantly, in shul the other day my mother mentioned a poetic Hebrew love song she adores, which has my name in the title. I saw my name through her eyes — the name she gave me to honour her late mother — and finally my name found a home in me.