Tag Archives: Jewish History

January 21 – What’s In A Name?

by Ariela Zucker

My sixth grandchild who was born last week brought back this question of naming I often contemplate. For nine months I tried to guess the name, somewhat hoping, for a name that will carry a meaningful family connection, yet troubled by that old conflict of naming newborns after dead relatives. I was relieved but with a tinge of disappointment when the name was revealed, and it had nothing to do with either dead family relatives or any obvious cultural references.

Am I putting too much emphasis on names, reading too much into their place and meaning? Is a name just a name and nothing more? The answer to this question is elusive.

When I was born, in the middle of a legendary winter snowstorm, in Jerusalem. My parents decided to name me after my grandmother, on my mother’s side – Levia (a lioness in Hebrew). I can almost see the discussion that went on, at the time, between my mother, insisting on preserving her dead mother’s name, and my father, arguing for a modern name to go along with their new life, in the young state of Israel.

The compromise, as is so often is, was two names instead of one, Ariela, Levia. Consequently, I was blessed with two names that are almost one. Ariela, the one I use, means; let God be her lion resembles my middle name.

This is a good story, I believed, as I kept repeating it, over and over again. I have no idea where I got it from as none of the facts except my actual name is true. I discovered it years after both my parents passed away and I had to put the puzzle together all by myself.

According to the Jewish tradition newborns were often named after a dead family member; to honor and keep the memory. Being born to a holocaust surviving family, there were many naming options, and so I was named after my great aunt who ‘did not make it.’ My grandmother, her sister, was alive at the time I was born. I find it ironic that two names, not one, were not sufficient to keep the memory from altering itself in such a capricious nature.

Perhaps this is the reason that I keep mulling over the naming issue, about weighting a newborn with a name that is heavy with emotions and old memories, on one side, and wondering about the importance of keeping memories alive on the other.

Repeating a well-known quote “…you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” (Banksy). I can see how when one grows old names start to feel like a symbol, a continuation. A person searches for this thin thread of immortality to obtain comfort. I can also see that without the memories attached, a name is just a name and nothing more.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

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July 27 – My Novel and the Polish Trolls

by Fran Hawthorne

How could anyone object to my Twitter post on March 29, after my sister and I visited the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan to see an exhibit of long-hidden photos from the Lodz ghetto in Poland? I wrote:

Henryk Ross’s chilling photos from inside the Lodz ghetto in Nazi #Poland at @MJHnews: It’s like seeing what my great-grandmother saw when she was walled in there. (Oops is it now illegal in Poland to say that?)

Well, maybe the last sentence was too snarky, referring to Poland’s new law banning any reference to Polish collaboration with the Nazis — but isn’t that Twitter style? Otherwise, I saw the post as a loving tribute to my great-grandmother, who was murdered in the gas chambers, and hardly a controversial reaction, 73 years after the end of World War II. 

Boy, I didn’t know the ultra-nationalist Polish Twitter world.

Within a day, my previously invisible Twitter feed was flooded with people with Polish-sounding names furiously disputing my words, often writing in Polish. They claimed that “the genocide against the Poles [Catholics] began in 1939 but against the Jews not until 1941” and accused me of stomping on “the blood of innocent Poles.” They said that Polish Jews were Socialists in league with the Soviet Union and asserted that “the ones who betrayed Anne Frank were most likely Jewish.”

Naively, I thought: Here’s my chance to open some cross-cultural dialogue. After all, I had done months of research on Polish history and culture for my debut novel, The Heirs, which is about two Polish-American families in New Jersey in 1999, one Jewish and one Catholic.

But for each of my new posts — even when I acknowledged the factual basis of some of my critics’ arguments — came a dozen angrier replies.

Was my novel unfair? I had tried to portray the nuances of historical Jewish-Catholic relations in Poland through many characters’ lives and discussions. Two American Jewish cousins bluntly face the classic question: “If you were a nice Polish Catholic [in 1939], would you have been brave enough to hide a Jewish child in your attic?”

Was my novel inaccurate? Despite all my research, I couldn’t possibly know as many tidbits of Polish history as would someone who went through 12 years of school there.

“Don’t engage!” my friends warned me. “You’re just feeding them.”

Even worse: The next time I Tweeted about Poland — in mid-June, regarding a new law on restitution for stolen Jewish property – my Twitter feed was hacked and temporarily shut down.

That did it.

From now on, I will Tweet all I want about Poland, and as long as what I say is accurate and not nasty, I don’t care how much the trolls hate me. I just won’t read their Tweets.

But it’s upsetting and a bit scary. Who knows in what dark caves my Twitter handle is now bandied about?

Maybe my next novel will be about unicorns.

 
Until now, Fran Hawthorne spent three decades writing award-winning nonfiction, including eight books, mainly about business and consumer activism. Her book Ethical Chic was named one of the best books of 2012 by Library Journal, and she’s written for BusinessWeek, The New York Times, Newsday, and more. THE HEIRS (Stephen F. Austin University Press) is her debut novel. Read more from Fran at http://www.hawthornewriter.com/