13.2.07

That's my name... don't wear it out...

I just had the opportunity to see members of my extended family (on my mother's side), and every time I do I'm amazed at how odd they are. And when I say "odd", I mean different.

How? Let's start with the name thing. Over 120 years ago, back in The Old Country, my great-grandfather was one of nine children. One of his older brothers, S., had married and started a family when the Tsar's army came a-knocking. Rather than serve, he convinced a younger brother, B., to serve in his name (B. not being married, etc. and henceforth known as S2.). Later, S. and S2. immigrated to the US, as did my great-grandfather and at least one sister. There's actually a lawsuit recorded when S. sued S2. for his legal name! S. won, apparently.

Over 70 years ago, my great-grandmother died. In the Jewish tradition, you name children after (in honor of) dead relatives. My great-grandparents had six children. In each of the six families, there is a child named after my great-grandmother. I'm not talking creative honoring, with a Laura and a Linda and a Lisa and a Lorraine. No, they're all Robert (well, one's a Roberta). So we have to use last names to distinguish between them in conversation.

Like many immigrant families in the Boston area, ours assimilated quickly. You'd sometimes think that my Chanel-clad great-aunts paid for the Mayflower; that's how rapidly they lost their immigrant status. Which isn't a bad thing... except in terms of religion. My grandparent's generation paid scant lip service to their Jewish heritage; my mother's generation is rediscovering it. One of her cousins (NOT a Robert, luckily) has actually embraced it to the point of really learning Hebrew (at 60+!), visiting Israel several times, studying the Bible, etc., and going to services daily. Part of the Shabbat service is the Torah service, when that week's passage is read. It's considered an honor to bless the Torah and read; in my cousin's congregation, you're called up with your Hebrew name, however, given the way he was raised, he didn't know his (despite making his Bar Mitzvah). He did know his younger brother's. This brother has converted to Catholicism and was clearly not in need of his Hebrew name any longer.

Of course, this has led to much soul searching, along the lines of Jacob/Esau.

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