Ger Tzadik (Sorta)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Hebrew Name That Solved All Problems Is...

What radical thought solved the name issue? Reflecting on how unhappy the thought of supplementing my name was making me, I decided to think about the problem in a different way. Was there a way to choose a name that would both honor my parents and make them happy? That was when the solution hit square between the eyes.

Before we get to the answer, let’s have a quick family history: My father is an immigrant to this country. He came over on a boat when just a young teenager. His first day in America, he already had a full time job as well as night classes to learn English. Not much about his life was conventional, and certainly none of it was easily won. I know only bits and pieces of his life before he met my mother. This is not because he felt the need to hide it, but because he was never overly nostalgic about his life before he met my mother.

After my folks had met and married, they wanted to get on with making a family. Throughout childhood, the knowledge that yours truly was first fruits of those efforts was unquestioned. After all, I was named for my grandfather in the tradition in my family, no? There was never a question. Once I grew older though, our earlier family history slowly trickled out.

It turns out that my mother had been pregnant a couple of years before my birth. During that pregnancy, she miscarried and lost the child, which they knew was a boy. To even a young adult, that concept is so abstract that there was never any way to sympathize properly with my mother. Looking back, I can recall and recognize the pain my mother had when talking about it. While not an open and painful grief, it is undeniable that she still feels like the loss. He is still a very real person to her in some ways.

Back to my father; one thing I do know is that his best friend after he arrived in this country was a Jewish kid. On the rare occasions Dad talks about him, it’s only with the most glowing terms…terms he doesn’t use even for his own siblings. While not an unemotional guy, he is not one to venture into areas of emotional intimacy very often. Thus, these stories have always left an impression on me.

I am writing in the past tense because he died while they were both very young, perhaps 18 or 19. He had leukemia at a time when that meant a very short life expectancy. He had made such an impression on my father that he planned on naming his first born son after him. If that child had been born he would have had his Anglo name. In fact, before my own birth, one of my father’s siblings went into the hospital to pester my folks into not naming me that, but after my grandfather.

This seems like a sign, does it not? The older brother I never had would have had that name. *I* almost had that name. God was trying to get that name into my life. I’ll just use his Hebrew name, and feel like I’m closing that chapter of my family’s life. Problem solved, happy ending, the end.

Except for one detail: My dad has no idea what his Hebrew name was. His Anglo name isn’t one that lends itself to an obvious translation either. It took awhile to even get him to remember his last name. After all, this was over 40 years ago now, and a name that a young kid from another country could not relate to or pronounce. So I know what name I want, but I don’t know what that name is. I am resigned that nothing about my conversion process is going to be easy.

The bright side is that an adventure now begins. There are a few facts at my disposal. I have a legal American name, and a general time of death. I know when and where he lived and died, and thus can search public records and obituaries, and perhaps find some living relatives. The more exciting tidbit is that my father knows which cemetery he is buried in. It’s a Jewish cemetery of course, not far from the home where I grew up and in which my parents still live.

Look for the next chapter of this story after my next visit home, at some undetermined date in the future.

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