Our daughter in-law Marina gave birth this past week to hers and Daniel’s second child, a boy this time, who they named “Leon BenAmi” after my father, the baby’s great-grandfather – and his two grandmothers, each with the name Barbara (using the “B” in BenAmi) affirming that little Leon is the “son of my people.”
When Leon was born last Friday morning (March 25), we were beyond thrilled with the news that we have a second grandchild. If that were all there is to say, “Dayenu – it is enough.” However, Marina and Daniel chose the name “Leon,” a name that is meaningfully large in the Rosove family-line. Daniel’s middle name is “Leon,” named in memory of my father, Leon Rosove (1905-1959). I too carry the middle name of “Leon,” but named not for my father, but for my maternal grandfather, Leon Bay (1881-1932).
When Jews name their children, they make their choices for many reasons. They like the sound of the name. They look for English names that have direct Hebrew equivalents, as Barbara and I did with our sons Daniel and David. And they name their children after members of their family who carry positive associations and values.
Sephardic Jewish families often name babies for living relatives. Ashkenazic families name their children in memory of deceased loved ones.
I always encouraged b’nei mitzvah young people in my congregation that if they were named for someone in their families, they owed it to themselves to learn as much as they could about their namesake – when and where they were born – who were their parents and grandparents – what they did with their lives – what were their values and accomplishments – what and who did they love. Knowing these things can serve as a guide in their own lives and, in a way, as a mentor of sorts, to fashion their values based upon the values of the one for whom they are named.
In that spirit – here are a few things about Leon BenAmi’s namesake, my father and his great-grandfather, Leon Rosove (z’l).
My Dad attended UC Berkeley as an undergraduate and entered the University of California San Francisco Medical School and earned his MD degree in 1932. He specialized in internal medicine with a sub-specialty in cardiology. Upon finishing his residency, he returned to Los Angeles to practice medicine.
On December 7, 1941, already a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Naval Reserves, he enlisted that day and left a month later for service on the medical staff at the Honolulu Naval base. As his ship sailed into Pearl Harbor he saw the burning oil and debris still in the waters from the attack a month before. He treated troops there from 1942-1943. Then he was assigned to be the chief medical officer on Midway Atoll in the South Pacific theater from 1943 to 1944 (a year after the consequential battle there). He was honorably discharged in 1944 and returned to Los Angeles to resume his medical practice.
He met my mother in early 1947 and they married later that year. Both my parents were somewhat older (my mother was 31 and father was 42) and so, like many after WWII, they wasted no time in having children. My brother, Michael, was born in 1948. I came along a year later in 1949.
We were a happy family in the 1950s. My Dad, as the Assistant Chief of Medicine at the Wadsworth Westwood Veterans Administration Hospital, had normal working hours, coming home by 5:30 every evening, doing rounds on weekends, but being available to us the rest of the time. He also taught medical students at the UCLA Medical School.
His patients and students loved him as did everyone who knew him. He was kind, attentive, smart, humble, generous, and wise. I never saw him lose his temper or say an unkind word about anyone. He loved people, and as an only child he was devoted to his extended family of cousins and my mother’s large family of siblings and their children.
When he died in 1959, he left a hole in my heart that never was filled. Though I was only nine years-old, I learned much from him. The impress of a parent’s influence upon a child begins very early and lasts a lifetime. He taught me by example the virtues of compassion and empathy. He was a gentle man and a gentleman. His liberal politics reflected his concerns for justice and the rights of the underdog.
My father was part of what Tom Brokaw called “the greatest generation of Americans” who gave selflessly to country, bore with courage and perseverance the deprivations of the Great Depression and the burdens of fighting in World War II, worked hard, and helped rebuild America after the allied victory over Nazism and autocracy.
My father was devoted as well to his Israeli cousins, Orthodox rabbis from Ukraine, who he helped financially in the 1930s to pay their passage to Palestine. He also assisted in 1949 a young cousin who had been raised by German Christians during the Shoah to come and live in Petach Tikvah with his uncle and aunt, my father’s first-cousins.
Holding little Leon BenAmi this week as I held my sons decades ago, felt so familiar, so natural, so wonderful. Barbara and I are immensely happy for Marina, Daniel, and Violet (now 3 years old) who happily has a little brother, and our son David who is a loving uncle for the second time.
I mentioned yesterday to Daniel as I held Leon that it’s with awe and wonder that I realize that in these first days of Leon’s life there are so many years ahead in which he will grow and carry forward his family name to help create new worlds and make a contribution to the well-being of others as did and are doing the generations in his family before him.
As Pesach arrives in two weeks, it’s enough for us to say especially this year, Dayenu.