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Black, Gay, And Jewish: Say My (Hebrew) Name

Good News-The Date is set.  No, I’m not getting gay married to my sweet Jewish girl-I’m getting converted!  On August 17th at the West Side Mikveh I, Erika Davis, will join the Jewish people!  I cannot fully put into words what I’m going through right now.  I walked into my rabbi’s office last week expecting to have a normal “check in” and instead after a few minutes of conversation she said, “You’re ready.”

I sort of just looked at her.  I think I played it really cool.  I calmly took notes on the things I’d need to solidify over the next few weeks.  Personal Statement and Hebrew Name.  I smiled and nodded and when I got to the corner of 83rd and Central Park west my hands were visibly trembling as I dialed my girlfriend’s number.  She barely answered before I shrieked into her ear, “I’m GOING TO BE JEWISH ON THE 17TH!”

That was last week.  This week I’m in panic mode.  I knew that choosing a Hebrew name would be a vital step, I was just counting on having a bit more time.  I’ll admit I went pretty girlie with it.  I’ve written out my Hebrew name options in script, in print, and in my favorite fonts.  I’ve spoken them aloud, quietly and even shouted them.  When I first realized that I would have to choose a Hebrew name as part of the conversion process the idea seemed fun, even novel.  As my conversion date approaches it has become less novel and much more serious.  While I don’t think that I will legally change my name in the near future, my name will be on many halachic documents.  First and foremost, it will be on the piece of paper that declares my Jewish identity.  While it’s true that this piece of paper will not be sufficient for me to make Aliyah, it will declare me Jewish.  When I get married it will be on my ketubah and in most synagogues it will be the name used when I’m called to read Torah.  It will be used when I apply to, study, and graduate from rabbinical school.  It’s the name that will be on my children’s birth certificate and on my headstone.  Even when I am gone, my Hebrew name will be tied to my children and their children.  When I think about it in this way, it becomes so much more than just picking out a good sounding name from a list of names.  It becomes more than how it looks on paper.  It, in many ways, is a reflection of who I am as a Jewish convert and the Jewish person that I hope to be.

I started with a list of twelve names and have it narrowed down to 3: Adva אַדְוָה which means ripple.  Batyah בַּתְיָה which both means daughter of God-Pharaoh’s daughter left Egypt with the Israelites and renamed herself Batyah.  Dalia/Dalya דַּלְיָה which means branch-The idea of a branch is really attractive to me.  I don’t necessarily see it as a branch coming from a tree but as a branch connecting one thing to another.  Like as converts we are connecting our past to our Jewish future; weaving who we are into Judaism.

Born Jews have the opportunity to acknowledge their parents and therefore their Jewish past with Hebrew names.  When one is called to Torah or at any time when the entire Hebrew name is used, you hear those parent’s name; “Erika daughter of Vince and Pathy.  “My parents” will be Abraham and Sarah.  That, too, is a lot of pressure.  It carries a lot of weight and a lot of responsibility.  I don’t want to let the family down!  I’ve never actually been in a synagogue that uses this way of calling people up to Torah.  In all likelihood I’ll only use my Hebrew name at life events.  It shouldn’t be as hard as I’m making it.  Still, when I’m tossing these three names around in my head I remember one of my readers who lamented on their own impending name change, “What if I name myself wrong?”

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