WHAT’S IN A NAME?
My parents, G-d bless them, gave me six names at birth. They gave me the obligated English name, the much anticipated middle name, the celebrated Hebrew name, and the unrelated Yiddish name. And so, my Ketubah reads: Ava Floryn Chava Tziporah Chaya Feiga Shallman which is now written in full as:
Ava Floryn Chava Tziporah Chaya Feiga Shallman- Tombosky
I am a small person, only five foot two. This is the sort of name you’d give to a tall woman with hair that reaches from a tower to the ground that would end with “The Eighth”. The sort of name that royalty would need to pass on in order to fulfill its dynasty’s obligation to keep every past relative or high ranked female alive.
Last time I checked, I was not royalty.
According to my mother, she originally wanted to name me one name- “CHAVA”. But my grandfather protested saying kids would make fun of me and call me names like “Jabba The Hut” or Chhha-va (emphasis on the Cha). Being my mother was enamored with movies, she acquiesced and named me after her favorite star- Ava Gardner.
She chose Floryn, cause she just “liked it”. And I swear in all the years I’ve been alive, I have NEVER ever met anyone with that name before- which means she made it up.
I was named Chava at the Torah. But of course, if my English name had a middle name to follow, my parents had to give me a Hebrew middle name to follow as well. And they certainly weren’t about to leave out bubby’s mother tongue language in the mix, so Chaya Feiga, which is really part Hebrew part Yiddish, accompanied.
Plus Feiga was the only name that was actually after someone- my great-great-grandmother on my father’s side. From what I hear, Feiga was four feet tall and four feet wide and had an affinity for brandy and herring- together. ( I don’t like either.)
I was in fourth grade when my teacher, Rabbi Richler, confronted me by saying, “You have a Jewish Soul, therefore you will be called for now on by your Jewish name.” As of that day I was known to the world as Chava. Oh the teasing and the constant anguish that came with those first two letters. CHHH- as if you were clearing your throat every time the name was uttered. Apparently, my grandfather was a prophet.
It would be many years before I learned to appreciate this gift my Rabbi gave me or see the value in it becoming my calling card for the rest of my life.
It is said A Hebrew name is your spiritual call sign. The very link to your past signaling your soul to awaken your essence- your Jewish essence. It is the sound of your Jewish pride being announced. It embraces your legacy which states whom you’re named for and what that person’s spirit now embedded in you represents.
Great, my name represents a fat lady with a proclivity to alcoholism and a likelihood of high blood pressure.
It would be a good twenty years before I would learn to appreciate this new title.
This year my fourth grade daughter begged me to attend a Jewish overnight camp in Running Springs known as Camp Gan Israel. She had been begging me ever since she came back from visiting her brother two years prior from visiting day. And like every good Jewish mother, I waited for the last minute to make the arrangements. Lucky for me, the director of the camp was my dear old teacher, Rabbi Richler and he was more than happy to accommodate his grand-student to the program.
Rabbi Richler invited my family to join him for a beautiful weekend. With over one hundred campers ranging from ages eight through fifteen, the place was bubbling with a diverse group of beautiful children. These campers came from as near as Los Angeles, to as far as Arizona. Students of Jewish day schools, public schools, and Sunday schools all in for an experience to share together like one body sharing one heart.
The most inspiring and uplifting experience took place on Shabbat afternoon during the Torah reading service.
Rabbi Richler called up an eager young camper who had never been formally given a Hebrew name to participate in the age-old tradition of receiving a Jewish name by the Torah. As “Madelyn” approached the Bimah timidly uttering her Jewish name shyly to the Rabbi, the entire camp sat with abated breath as she waited to hear her full name articulated for the very first time in front of an entire congregation. Grinning from ear to ear, Madelyn beamed with great pride upon hearing her new Jewish name said out loud for the very first time.
“Chasha Freida” the Rabbi announced.
I knew what she was in for.
Although I never really bonded with the Feiga part, I later came to understand what my Hebrew and my Yiddish counterpart name means.
It translates as “Living Bird”.
Maybe my name is more then a fumble of colliding accidents. Maybe my name has been the biggest hint into who I am and what my main purpose in this world suggests.
I am obsessed with how ideas are born and with how to make life filled with purpose. I am also a free agent who cannot be tied down to only one agenda, point of view or idea. In fact in high school they used to call me the “idea girl”.
Much like a bird, I need my wings to soar. And much like the very first female ever created I am a mother to many. Just ask my three children and my six siblings.
Living with a Hebrew name means you honor the commitment to cherish G-d by becoming a person with Jewish purpose, identity and dignity.
A Jewish name states you are part of a communal and universal consciousness and a covenant that depicts the cherished Hebrew letters linking you to the greats like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sara, Rivka, Rachel, and Leah.
That Shabbat afternoon when Madelyn officially became “Chasha Fraida”, named for her maternal grandmother, she too became part of this everlasting chain. This, she innately knew with ever fiber of her being.
With great humility I finally understood this holy gift I was given at the tender age of nine to be branded with the name of the first woman in history.
“Mother of all life” is the meaning of Chava.
I have the power and gift to awaken Chava’s essence through my actions every time it is uttered just by being.
And even if others will fumble with the CHHH or mispronounce the linguistics, it is who I am. Thanks to the inspiration of Chasha Fraida so eager to participate in this age -old tradition, and only too determined to wear her name with much pride, like a badge of honor, instead of a badge of shame, was I awakened to the magic of my own Hebrew name.