“You have yourself a real good Christmas,” Dr. Dayan Goodenowe told me at the conclusion of our Zoom consultation to review my patients’ blood tests. I’m used to people mistaking me for a non-Jew. After all, my name is Marjorie Ordene. What’s Jewish about that? And how would a gentile from Saskatchewan guess that he’s speaking to a religiously observant Jewish woman?
When I had my first consultation with Dr. Goodenowe about a month ago, I took note of his name—Dayan. An odd first name, I thought, I’ve never encountered it before. Could he be a Yid? Not likely. He did sport a baseball cap, which has come to be accepted, in certain circles, as a way of hiding your kippah—a rather flimsy Jew-detecting device. But if I had any illusions, his parting remark dispelled the notion.
No Jew would say that, at least not in my world. Here in New York, we’re all careful to say, “Happy Holidays!” You never know what tradition the other person might be observing.
My memories of how to relate to this holiday date back to early childhood. My cousin Judy, fifteen years older than me, had a fight with her new husband over whether to celebrate Christmas. Judy wanted to, claiming it was an American holiday. Irv wouldn’t hear of it. I remember their 1959 wedding in the living room of my aunt and uncle’s Upper West Side apartment. Four men held up the chuppah poles and Judy and Irv stood beneath dressed like a perfect wedding cake bride and groom. Although Irv wasn’t religiously observant, he apparently had a closer connection to Yiddishkeit than Judy. At my son’s bar mitzvah some fifty years later, he told our black-frocked, homburg-hatted rabbi that his father had learned at Slobodka, the famed Lithuanian yeshiva. Who knew? Irv had told us only that his father owned a grocery store in New Britain, Connecticut.
Now at my second consultation with Dr. Goodenowe, I resolved to ask about the origins of his name. The test we were discussing detects deficiencies in our cell membranes which, when corrected, can prevent or reverse Alzheimer’s. Having lost both my mother and my mother-in-law to this dreaded disease, I am passionate about preventing it. After a lively discussion about brain biochemistry that took up the better part of an hour, I thanked the good professor for his patience and apologized for all the biochemistry I had forgotten since medical school.
Then I broached the topic. “I’d like to ask about your name,” I tendered.
“Oh,” he answered, not surprised, “I’m not an Israelite; my family traces its roots back to England in 1638.” He paused before continuing. “But I was born around the time of the Six-Day War. My parents named me after Moshe Dayan.”
“Of course,” I answered, “the man of the hour. He was quite the hero,” I reminisced, photos of the khaki-clad, eye-patch-sporting Dayan flashing before my eyes. “But we’re not so fond of him now,” I added, thinking of his unfortunate decision to hand the Temple Mount back to the Islamic authorities.
“Well, people’s reputations do change over time,” he acknowledged.
“Do you know what dayan means?” I asked.
He didn’t. “A dayan is a judge,” I told him.
“That’s interesting,” he answered, “I thought it was just a name.”
That evening, I recounted the conversation to my husband. Dr. Goodenowe’s answer surprised him.
“They’re not Jewish? Why would they care about the Six-Day War?” But of course, they care; everyone cares. The Six-Day War was not just our miracle—it was a miracle for the world. With its dazzling military victory, Israel gained new respect in the world. Famed refusenik Natan Sharansky described how the Six-Day War changed everything. He wrote, “The call that went up from Jerusalem, ‘The Temple Mount is in our hands,’ penetrated the Iron Curtain and forged an almost mystic link with our people. And while we had no idea what the Temple Mount was, we did know that the fact that it was in our hands had won us respect.”
And that same call, it seems, penetrated the minds of a non-Jewish couple in Saskatchewan who decided to name their son, Dayan.