Hand Me Downs
The below is the text from the speech I wrote for my son’s Brit Meelah (circumcision). I promise to get back to the funny soon. Thank you everyone for your support and kindness.
Forgive me if I’m long-winded. You see, I’m more of a writer than a speaker, and have a tendency to ramble on a bit. It’s a family trait. You could even call it a hand-me-down.
I’m kind of into hand-me-downs. I have a lot of them. Take this morning. I put on my maternal grandfather old jacket, davened [prayed] in my paternal grandfather’s spare tallit, [prayer shawl] held together with a tallit-clip that my father wore when first married. The tefillin [phylacteries] I wrapped around my arm belonged to my mother’s zaidy [Yiddish for “Grandfather”], and even my cufflinks were from my shomer [Unique concept. Best translated “Best Man”], Mikey Butler.
However, one thing I did not inherit: a name. When I was born, my parents were lucky in that they had no one to name after, so they decided to keep going with the Mem-Aleph-Lamed [Three Hebrew letters] pattern that had spontaneously developed. Of course, it turned out there was a Mordechai, and he was very interested in why someone was being named for him when he wasn’t dead, but that’s a story for another day…
Our son, Benjamin Zev, on the other hand, has been handed down two amazing names, the origins of which I want to share with you.
I’m going to depart from form and discuss his second name first. This is especially for my father, who was probably hoping for “Ben Zakkai” Luchins, but I am sure he’ll understand [Note: family joke, but at least one reader will get it!].
I grew up in a very special neighborhood, where I was influenced by some pretty amazing men. Many of them are gone now. In the past I’ve tried to honor them by writing about them. This time, we wanted to honor them with our son. While we could have chosen to give Ben the longest name in Jewish history, we instead opted to honor and acknowledge two people, two Zevs who symbolize the core of the Pelham Parkway of my youth.
The first was Mr. Gingold. Mr. Gingold , who I have never called by his first name and do not think I ever could bring myself to. The best word to describe Mr. Gingold might be “stalwart”.Like many in our shteibel [Small synagogue, generally without a Rabbi], he was a working man and his words and attitude towards work and religion helped instill in me a real idea of what Torah Im Derech Eretz – Torah in the Every Day– more so than years of attending a school with that very motto. Mr. Gingold taught me about small-scale communal responsibility in how he made sure the shul had what it needed and was kept in shape. He also taught me how to give a proper handshake, and set an example with his love for the State of Israel.
The second Zev was one of the few men I automatically call Rebbe. While many people have a “Rabbi”, to me a “Rebbe” is someone you have a connection with. Someone who’s more than just a person who got ordained. He was the first person other than my father that I asked my shalylot to, and was a confidant who I could go to when something in Judaism bothered me. His name was Rabbi Stimler, and his middle name was Zev. He was my Bar Mitzvah teacher, and put up with a lot of nonsense from me. I try to pay him back by leining [reading] that one aliyah [segment] of Nasso [a Torah portion] when I can.
In many ways, Rabbi Stimler is responsible for every article or story I’ve ever written. Back when I first started writing, Rabbi Stimler would let me use his study to work on my projects. He would totally displace himself so I could sit there, be it to write a script, a poem, or just check my e-mails. Almost all my early published works (and a lot of unpublished) were either written in Rabbi Stimler’s study or at his desk (another hand-me down). He was always encouraging of my desire to write, when other rebbem and authority figures would try to convince me what I wanted to do was silly and that I should just sit and learn or focus on a more “realistic” career.
These two Zevs are the source of our son’s middle name, and through it our goal is not just to honor them, but also all the gentlemen of Pelham Parkway and Ohel Moshe-Anshei Sfard who have left us, and left behind a mark.
As for Binyomin, well, that comes from my late grandfather, Ben Osdoby. An amazing man who I have written much about and likely will again and again. He was a constant yard-stick in my life, someone who I aspired to live up to in many ways. While sometimes critical, it was never nasty. He just honestly wanted to show us how much easier everything would be if we all just did what he said – another inherited trait in our family, the proverbial herd of cats.
All kidding aside, one thing I loved was how he and Suzannah had a special relationship. She absolutely treasured him, and I know for a fact the feeling was mutual. My father likes to joke “Luchins men marry far better than they deserve.” Grandpa *meant* it. Suzannah could have robbed a bank, and he’d have found a reason why it was the bank’s fault.
Then there’s Daphna [my daughter], who one day at the young age of six announced “I’m going to talk to great-grandpa now, ok?” and started a habit of calling him at random, just to go over her day. In the last year or so those calls involved her getting up and leaving the room – she wasn’t willing to share her conversation. Her words were just for him. I confess to being a bit jealous of that relationship, from both sides of the phonecord.
In fact, the last conversation I ever had with my grandfather was about Daphna.
“Mort,” he said “that little girl of yours is a chip off the old block. I took that as the greatest compliment ever (and yes Motie, it was a compliment!) – because it meant he was comparing me to her.
Our son now has his first hand-me-downs. Like all hand-me-downs, he’s going to have to grow into them. May the z’chutim [merits] of those who had the names before him help him do so.