Family Matters: In the Name of Love
For one freethinking clan, Jewish continuity means an innovative celebration complete with Manischewitz and a new name for an 8 year old.
I don’t know if my parents had a big party for me when I was named. I sort of doubt it because I was born during the Depression and my father went from meager job to meager job, so I don’t think he had money to make a party. For some inexplicable reason, I was named after my mother’s sister’s lover, Dr. Moishe Goudis, a socialist itinerant physician who believed in free medical care and free love and was supported by my Aunt Tania.
Despite my own naming history, my children were determined to celebrate the giving of a Hebrew name to their offspring. And these days, you can’t have a Jewish party with just sponge cake and Manischewitz. Even with Sonny, my wife, cooking all week we had turkey, chicken wings and pigs-in-the-blanket catered, and my eldest daughter, Marcy, made enough potato salad to feed Detroit. We also had on hand Wonder Bread and Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise for non-Jewish friends. There was food on every horizontal surface in the house.
The first of the 100 guests arrived at 2 P.M. Soon there was no place to park on our street. My three children arrived with their three children and the festivities began. There were balloons and streamers all over our backyard, and chairs were borrowed from every neighbor in a quarter-mile radius.
Noah, my 8-year-old grandson, didn’t want to be involved and wouldn’t come out of the bedroom unless he could sit with Benjamin, 7 months old, and Isabella, who was 9 months old, on his lap. When Noah was born his parents doubted the viability of an involvement in Judaism. It was the time of Birkenstocks and tofu on the Upper West Side of New York. But a few years ago they decided that Noah should know who he is and they segued back into the fold.
Our dear friend Fred Kazan is a rabbi at Beth Sholom, the only synagogue in the world designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Fred is charming and very knowledgeable, confident and passionate.
There were a lot of babies and children from my daughter’s day care center running around and making a racket, and parents running around after their children and making a racket. It took a few minutes to calm everybody down and then Fred, standing next to Noah, Isabella and Benjamin, began our Shabbat benediction for the day: “Please join me in a blessing for reaching this time. Blessed art Thou, o Lord, our God, King of the Universe, Who has kept us in life, sustained us and helped us to reach this day.
“Just about 2,000 years ago, we were exiled and we should have long disappeared from world history. We should have been supplanted by other nations, other people. But for some reason the Jews were linked to eternity…God’s people. After the destruction of the Temple, God said, ‘Be comforted, be comforted, My people, for there is yet a future. Jerusalem that was in rubble shall be like a beautiful bride and all the nations will come up to that place and rejoice.’
“This Shabbat afternoon we rejoice with three couples and three children who represent the continuation of Judaism.
“First there is Steven and Sallie [parents of] Noah. Noah will be called Tzvee Zeev, son of Shmuel and Shprinza, and named after his great-grandfather Harry and grandfather William.
“The second child, Isabella Grace, was born to Barry and Lucia. She’s named after two great- grandmothers, Nettie and Francis. Isabella’s name will be Nechama Schiffra, daughter of Beryl and Larah.
“And now we come to the Prince of Wales. Prince Charles has 12 names. Michele and Daniel have settled on 11. They couldn’t decide on a middle name until Noah suggested Reid, from where we don’t know, and so we have Benjamin Reid son of Michele and Daniel, named after a cousin of blessed memory, Ruth, friend Marion, Aunt Mickey and Grandfather Harry. His Hebrew name will be Mayer Tzvee, son of Malka and Doniel.
“We want to bless all three children. May God Who blessed our fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and our mothers, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah, bless these families so they may raise these three children who someday will stand beneath the huppa to establish yet other families and do ma’asim tovim [good deeds] throughout their lives. May the Lord bless these children in the life that is yet before them and give them the most precious of all blessings, peace for them and the world and let us all say Amen. And to the grandparents, Marvin and Sonny and Frank and Katie and Carolyn, mazel tov, and we remember great-grandparents who are here in spirit. Today we witness the continuation from generation to generation. Now, let us sing Siman tov and mazel tov. Mazel tov! Mazel tov!”
And as if on cue, Nechama Schiffra and Mayer Tzvee announced that it was time for their bottles, and the congregation swarmed in a beeline toward the food.
It was a sweet summer’s day and I stood back and observed all these connoisseurs of Wonder Bread and chopped liver and it occurred to me that all these people and this experience only happened because 49 years ago Sonny and I fell in love.