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מסורת לדור לדור

January 10, 2016

 

 

This is Rachele (רחלה) or maybe it is Broche (ברוכה). I am not sure. But she is my great grandmother on my father's side. 

 

I was named for her and for another great grandmother who's picture the family lost in a flood. 

 

As is the tradition in Ashkenazi families living in the גלות (literally "exile" but used to refer to the diaspora) - I was given two Hebrew names at birth and I was given two "English equivalents" - Barbara Rae. An odd practice to say the least. 

 

Naming a child after a family member is not odd but giving the names in honor of the family members and then not using them is strange. But this was always explained to us that we lived in the modern world and we needed modern names - not shtetl names. 

 

How using names that belong to someone else's tradition made us modern, I am not sure. But I believe it was done out of love and out of fear that if we went by our real names, we would be less safe and less accepted. So Barbara Rae it was. 

 

When I first came to Israel after high school, in 1974 my Israeli cousins asked me if I preferred to be called by my English name or my Hebrew name. I had never even considered going by my Hebrew name but I decided since I was going to live on a kibbutz that I would pick one of the names and stick to it. I chose רחל (Rachel). 

 

I lived on the kibbutz for a year and I was a different person with a different name. But eventually I moved back to Canada and took on the identity I had left behind. 

 

Three years ago when we moved to Tel Aviv we had to fill out all sorts of forms - no surprise. I had kept my maiden name as well as taking Ken's last name so I arrived with four names. This stumped the Israeli authorities. Why did I have two first names and two last names? They had to make special accommodations to get my documents in Hebrew to match the documents in English. Why did I not just have a name - a simple name - one first, one last. When I explained that I also had two Hebrew names, they gave up and filled out the forms. 

 

I have been Barbara Rae Kassen Taranto (BRKT) for a long time and now it does not feel quite right to revert to Rachel. But I think about it a lot. I think of the women who game me my name and how they were not hesitant to known as Rachele and Broche. They lived in a world much more uncertain than the world I live in but they were not afraid of their culture and their tradition.

 

Currently there is a revival on Broadway of the musical "Fiddler on the Roof", which is a good thing. When I was a child this production was required viewing. My father loved it. I thought it was sentimental and well....too old fashioned. 

 

I understand the current production is wonderful. Tevye is played by an exceptionally talented artist, the music is good, and the dancing is not bad. But now I think the production is not old fashioned enough. It has been cleansed of the very real sadness and pain of the shtetl. The pain I can see in my great grandmother's eyes.  

 

And though I do not go by her name, I thank my family for passing on that tradition and not letting me forget who I am and where and what I came from.

 

 

 

 

 

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