Why should I change my surname? A Shavuot passport

He held the photo page of my passport next to my husband’s passport. His eyes darted between the two passports at least six times.

Tell me, what is your relationship?

We are married

Please wait a moment.  And he took our passports away. A few minutes later, his supervisor appeared. Looked my husband in the eye, looked at me, looked back at my husband.

And tell me, what is your relationship?

We are married.

Come with me to stand number 5

At stand number 5, another security professional – a young woman – asks,

And what is your relationship?

We are married

And how long have you been married?

25 years.

Wow! 25 years.

For 25 years, I’ve washed his clothes,

Cooked his meals, cleaned his house,

Given him children, Kept my name

After 25 years, is this such a shame?

So what is the purpose of your trip to Israel today?

To visit our children for Shavuot – two of them live in Israel

And their name?

They have both of our names.

For 25 years, I’ve lived with him,

Fought with him, starved[i] with him

For 25 years, my name was never his

And if that’s not love, then what is?

I am staggered – these young street-smart kids, used to ferreting out potential terrorists, could not seem to get their head around a rather conventional looking middle aged, religious couple who did not share a surname.  In a flash, I think about the names we have embraced – Jew, Israeli, Hebrew; and the names that have been thrust upon us – Zhid, Kike, JAP.  I can’t help thinking that they’ve asked the question precisely because my husband and I are wearing our respective head coverings.

Ah, Shavuot, such a lovely time in Israel.

Yes, it is. 

Smiles all round and she circles a letter on a transparent security label and sticks it in my passport. She does the same for my husband.

Enjoy your flight.

And so we did.

And now, on the cusp of Shavuot, we remember and celebrate the mystical marriage between God and the People of Israel. As we collectively negotiate this new relationship, the challenge is how to maintain one’s individual identity, yet remain connected to a shared purpose. But on this passport to Jewish life,  I’m happy to share my surname with the whole Jewish people.

[i] A certain poetic licence was taken by the author at this point, for indeed, I have never starved with my husband, nor have I lived in the imagined Anatekva or other similar place – unless you call London’s Golders Green a shtetl.

About the Author
Sally Berkovic is the author of Under My Hat, short-listed for the Jewish Quarterly prize, which reflects on raising her daughters while straddling the tensions between Orthodoxy and modernity. First published in 1997, it is being reissued in the summer of 2019, with an extensive update reflecting on the changes in Orthodox women's lives over the last 20 years.
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