Changing Names

Families differ according to their respective cultures, often in the names by which family members are called.

In my wife’s family elderly aunts were called “Tchocha” and their male spouses “Fetter”. For me, all aunts were called “Tante” and all of their male spouses “Onkel”.

My father referred to his elderly aunts as “Mummeh” and their male spouses “Fetter”.

My wife’s grandparents were called “Tatashe” and “Bubbashe”, whereas mine were called “Zaideh” and “Bobbeh”.

My children discarded all those “galut” names and my wife and I became “Ima” and “Abba” and their children prefer “Saba” and “Savta”…. prefer to what, I do not know.

In Czarist Russia, Jewish boys were often taken into the Russian army at the age of ten and had to serve for twenty years. By the age of thirty they no longer knew who their parents were and their Jewish birth became changed by force into the Russian Orthodox church.

The policy of the Russian military was to take one son from a family if there was more than one and that young child became Russified and lost all Jewishness.

In order to evade twenty years of army life, my zaideh chose a name from a tombstone of a deceased Jew in the local Jewish cemetery, and thereby , since he was not found, he was not conscripted into the Czar’s army.

That was the first change and the family new name into which I was born. In 1951 a new change was on the horizon.

In that summer I was working in the tobacco fields of Kibbutz Matzuva, north of Nahariya, and a too-close walking distance to the border with Lebanon.

One of the madrichim (older counselors) was a young man by the name of Elyakim Haetzni He had been severely wounded in the 1948 war of independence and was hospitalized for more than one year with big scars covering much of his body. His survival was a miracle.

At that time I knew very little about him…. A young man who would eventually become a brilliant lawyer, a member of the Knesset, and a leading figure in the settlement movement.

But when I knew him in 1951 he was just a patriotic Israeli who almost gave up his life for the country.

One day he asked me why I did not Hebraicize my family name as was a custom to do in those days. We together searched the Hebrew bible to find names suitable to the original name.

In the book of the prophet Isaiah he found a phrase referring to a noble vineyard (in the Hebrew it is Sorek). I liked it. So did he. And to honor my father, I became a Ben-Sorek, went to court and had the name officially changed.

Once he invited me to a session in the court of the Jerusalem Russian Compound where he brought a law suit against Amos, the son of the prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. Needless to say, he did not win his case. But he argued brilliantly before Judge Agranat.

Several years later when he was a member of the Knesset in the Tehiya party he invited me for coffee in the Knesset cafeteria. We sat at a table together with one of his friends, a doctor at Tel-Aviv’s Ichilov hospital.

In the course of conversations, the doctor asked me about my children who were not living in Israel although they had been Israeli citizens at birth.

He was curious why my son, also a doctor, did not come to practice medicine in Israel. I asked him if I could ask a pertinent question. He obliged.

I asked how much his salary was per year. When he told me I replied with no hesitation, “my son earns more in one year than you earn in three or four years. Now you can better understand why.”

“Isn’t your son a Zionist?” he asked So I referred him to the source of all Zionism… our Hebrew bible.

“Al naharot Bavel, sham yashavnu gam bachinu bizachrenu et Tziyon…..” By the rivers of Babylon we sat and we wept when we remembered thee, o Zion….

My point was to indicate that for thousands of years we had been Zionists without living in the land of Zion. The proof is that millions of Jews who call themselves Zionists and who support Israel politically and financially in all the lands of their dispersion, choose to remain in the countries of their births rather than physically removing themselves to Zion.

The doctor understood what I said but could not accept it. And Elyakim Haetzni, who had given me my new Hebrew name years before, turned to his friend and quietly remarked “Ee-efshar l’hitvakayach im Esor”… you can’t argue with Esor.

My beloved wife could have told him the same thing…much, much more. But love is understanding and forgives all things.

And in speaking of name changes, one of her favorite names for me was “ha-akshan”.. the stubborn one.

As usual, she was always right !

Elyakim moved to Kiryat Arba near Hebron in 1967. He is now 93 years old. Ad maya v’esrim ! to 120.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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