Van Wallach
A Jew from Texas, who knew?

Philanthropists: Name that ship!

The German newspaper Bild reported that Germany and Israel have signed an arms deal. Through it, Germany will supply Israel with two guided-missile destroyers, for use in protecting Israel’s gas pipelines.

I’m not interested in the financial terms, technologies going back to Germany (attack drones, supposedly) or military uses. I leave those serious matters to the experts. I want to know, how will the ships be named?

After all, every vessel, from a humble rowboat to the most fearsome aircraft carrier, deserves a name. The Israeli Navy follows that ancient tradition with names that mostly reflect geography (Yaffo), weapons (Herev/Sword, Hetz/Arrow) or nautical matters (Sufa/Storm, Gal/Wave, Dolphin). They’re serviceable names, steeped in the land and language of Israel, but a little generic and dry. I think the Israeli Navy could use this as an incredible opportunity to raise funds and honor those who support Israel through a creative, dynamic naming auction.

To set a baseline for what a ship might be worth, financier Stephen Schwarzman donated $100 million to the New York Public Library and had the main building on 42nd Street named the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. For his $100 million, Schwarzman’s name was chiseled into the front of the library five times. Mortimer Zuckerman chipped in $200 million in 2012 to endow a Mind Brain Behavior Institute at Columbia University, with his name on it. And our support for Facebook gave Mark Zuckerberg the wherewithall to donate $498 million to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, also in 2012.

What might an awesome guided-missile destroyer, lovingly built with impeccable Teutonic craftsmanship, fetch on the charitable-donation circuit? And more to the point, how would a donor exercise the naming rights?

I can see the naming rights being auctioned off at a gala charity event, deluxe all the way. I’m talking, classy. Billy Crystal and Bette Midler could do the MC honors, with Jerry Lewis making a guest appearance. Billionaires with elegant paddles could quietly raise their hands in increments of, say, $5 million for a spirited evening of memorable Jewish fund-raising.

What about the names? First, some ground rules. The names on the missile destroyers could not be a bar or bat mitzvah gift; no 13-year old should have a naval ship named after him or her, despite the awesome cool factor (especially for boys). Likewise, the names “Madoff,” “Boesky,” “Alexander Portnoy” and “Lewinsky” would be off-limits, to preserve the dignity and decorum of this serious matter. Finally, donors cannot name the vessels after themselves; friends and family, yes, but no self-celebration. There will be no Submarine Hunter Mort Zuckerman, no Battle Group Zuckerberg.

I would like to see the ships named as a pair, given that the Israeli Navy is acquiring them as a couple. The auction might off a slight discount for a dual purchase – who could resist that deal!

On to the names. Here are my ideas, which reflect my status as an Ashkenazi Jew living in the Diaspora. Israelis may have other ideas or cultural references; these are just a starting point for the fun. The names are in pairs, with some explanatory text. Since the ships are valued at one billion euros each, let’s start the bidding at a modest $50 million. Tycoons and visionaries, get your paddles ready!

  • For the shtetl sentimentalist: “Bubbie” and “Zayde.” Who wouldn’t love to serve on ships bearing the Yiddish names of grandmother and grandfather?
  • For the let-bygones-be-bygones realist who likes German opera: “Siegfried” and “Brunnhilde” from main characters in Wagner’s epic Der Ring des Nibelungen.
  • For the Russian plutocrat with a historical bent and a taste for barbed mischief: “Battle of Stalingrad” and “Battle of Kursk.” For one with an interest in wartime espionage, the good ship “Red Orchestra.”
  • For William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, if they’re looking to invest their residuals in some real battle cruisers: “The Captain James T. Kirk” and “Mr. Spock.” Warp shields up against the jihadists, set phasers on vaporize, Mr. Sulu.
  • For billionaire Ron Perelman, seeking to immortalize ex-wives: “Patricia Duff” and “Ellen Barkin.” However, since Perelman is deeply committed to Judaism and Chabad, he might opt or “770 Eastern Parkway” and “Menachem Mendel.”
  • For the Broadway show-tune enthusiast with a taste for duets: the “George and Ira Gershwin” and “Steve and Eydie.” The ships can sail into combat blasting “Rhapsody in Blue” and “Blame It on the Bossa Nova,” sort of like the helicopter attack in Apocalypse Now using “Ride of the Valkyries.”
  • Finally, what I’d do with $100 million: In the spirit of reflecting on the contribution of German-speaking Jews to world history, I would name the ships “Albert Einstein” and “Sigmund Freud.” One explored outer space, the other inner space, and together they bookend the far reaches of fearless exploration and knowledge. Fair winds and following seas, Albert and Sigmund.

Now, who wants to make the opening bid on these two fine vessels? Dig deep!

About the Author
Van "Ze'ev" Wallach is a writer in Westchester County, NY. A native of Mission, Texas, he holds an economics degree from Princeton University. His work as a journalist appeared in Advertising Age, the New York Post, Venture, The Journal of Commerce, Newsday, Video Store, the Hollywood Reporter, and the Jewish Daily Forward. A language buff, Van has studied Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Yiddish and Hebrew, although he can’t speak any of them. He is the author of "A Kosher Dating Odyssey." He is a budding performer at open-mic events.