Tuesday, November 24, 2009

861. Names

I really will finish this thought soon. Pre-Thanksgiving last-minute client craziness gets worse every year. Such is life; I am grateful for having work at all, so no complaints. Meanwhile, here's a short piece I wrote last night at class, where we continue to study texts about the time in between, twilight, bein ha-sh'mashot. (Names have been changed to protect the, er, anonymous.)

This morning I chanted Torah at my synagogue's minyan, and came home to a package from my nephew in California. Bruce is 10 years older than me; my half brother, his father, was 35 years older. My father was very, very old, even when I was a little baby. My brother died earlier this year and Bruce, when he cleaned out his dad's house, found a box filled with dusty papers. Inside one envelope was a cracked, black leather wallet sealed with a snap. Inside that were yellowed, onionskin pages folded in thirds, dated 1936 and crowned with a photo of my father looking like a sly Cary Grant. At the top, one signature with my father's original name, Daniel [Original last name]. On the back, a typed declaration: "This is to certify that the name of this person is now 'Daniel [New last name].'" Below that, he signed his new name.

I always knew my father had changed his name, but everyone in my family, my brother included, disagreed about when. At the immigration office? Five years after he arrived? All my brother remembered was that he was born with one name, and then it became another.

I always wondered what my father would think of my chanting Torah, an unimaginable thing for a woman to do in his world. Perhaps he would be proud but confused, as if he found out I was really from Mars, some kind of alien daughter. He would love me just the same, but be wary. As I looked at those two signatures, one from the old world and the other from the new, and imagined a handsome man with slicked-back hair and a snazzy mustache, I knew he would appreciate my daring with the same spirit as his own when he decided to break from the past and take this new name, my name.

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