Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Baby Naming Ceremony: Pt. 3--Explain The Name

Before not too long Stella was hungry, again. So Randi took her out of the service and brought her to an abandoned office to breast feed her. I periodically checked in on them, and it was during one such time that we were sought out. It was time for the actual naming ceremony.

Luckily Stella was momentarily sated, so we could re-enter the chapel (really a converted library, I believe) with a degree of peace. We didn’t know many of the people in the room, but they all greeted us with happy faces and smiles.

I was elected to say whatever prayers were needed, as Randi felt like that would be too much on her shoulders, what with holding a baby and all. I am proud to say that I didn’t blow a line, this time, although the presence of an English transliteration helped, although I tried to avoid reading it, whenever possible.

We the parents were introduced by our Hebrew names.
Then Stella’s Hebrew name was announced: Miriam Rachel (pronounced Rahkel).

There was more service, which introduced her to the religion on a more formal basis, although I regret that right now I don’t remember all the details of what was said, and pointed out. Part of that is because it's late, and I'm a little tired. Stella herself was perfectly calm, and seemed quite relaxed for a baby.

Soon enough the actual religious part of the whole event was over, which only took a handful of minutes. The baby naming ceremony itself was quite lovely, and sweet. One highlight of it was that Becky read a long passage in Hebrew quite perfectly, which was both impressive and inspiring to see, and hear.

Next we spoke for a few moments about Stella’s Hebrew name, and what it means to us. Here is what we said:

(BBD speaks first)

“The first question is who Stella Rae is named for. The answer is that she’s named for herself. The name means star of the sea, which is a lot to carry around, it’s true. We had considered the name, and wanted to see if it would match the baby. And it matched this sassy lassie to the T.

But the Hebrew name is something different. Her name is Miriam Rachel. In honor three great matriarchs, two we knew intimately, one known only from history.

On my side the name Miriam is in honor of my dearly beloved, and departed grandmother, Minnie Feig, a righteous woman. An immigrant to America from Eastern Europe at the age of 16, she lost much of her family during World War II. But you would never know it from her demeanor. Lively, fun and above all loving, people were drawn to her, as she radiated kindness.

I’m a little biased because I am her grandson, but it’s true. A better bubbie could never have been asked for.

But she was also a tough, motivated woman, who guided her family, and ensured they enjoyed the finer things in life, or as many as she could provide. She even worked as a chambermaid upstate so her children could get out of the city. To this day I will never stiff a maid.

Minnie was also an active and lively adult, giving energy to her senior groups, and supporting those around her. And she lived right in the borough of Brooklyn. Her stuffed cabbage was legendary, her sponge-cake, not so much, but if that’s the worst thing I can say about her, that speaks volumes.

A part of Minnie lives on in Stella Rae. Specifically in her hands, with her long piano player’s fingers. I know this because they are my fingers, which are also my mother’s fingers, which were my grandmother’s. Truly, this shows me, those we love never die, as a part of them truly lives on, literally, and in spirit, in us.

(Here Randi spoke)

On my side, Miriam honors my grandmother, Millie Miles. Much like Dave’s bubbie, Millie, or Mamaw to her grandchildren, was a seemingly endless well of adoration for both her offspring as well as anyone else who crossed her path. Her biscuits were second to none, as were her ghost stories.

Much like Minnie, she worked hard to give her family a better life. She worked as a cook in many restaurants where her patrons where joyous to sample the food we were fortunate enough to eat on a daily basis.

I’ll never forget when Mamaw met Dave. This was the first time my Kentucky grandmother really spent time with a Yankee, so she wasn’t sure what to think. Before she had much time to consider it, though, Dave had broken out his acoustic guitar and played her some Carter Family tunes. My grandmother was a huge fan of Dave’s from that point on!

At this point, I’m not sure what physical features Stella has inherited from Mamaw, but I hope she inherits her huge heart, her sense of humor, and her loyalty to family. Oh, and if Stella can make a chocolate pie or red velvet cake as good as Millie’s that would be just dandy.

(Back to me)

Oh, and guess what? By one translation Miriam also means star of the sea.

As for Rachel, of course Rachel is one of the great matriarchs of Judaism, and the beloved wife of Jacob. By some descriptions she was also a midwife, which is meaningful to us as that’s how our daughter was delivered, via midwife.

Also, we have to say what a great honor it is to share this event with the anniversary auf ruf of Dan and Becky, two great friends who are also the godparents of our daughter. It has been an amazing pleasure to watch them grow as people, and as a couple, and we are so proud that they will be a part of our daughter’s life. They organized this baby naming, and even helped us move our furniture into our apartment. Dan? The guy’s a schtarker (which means strong man in Yiddish). And Becky, is kind, wise and caring. Stella lucked out.

As did we. We are lucky to have such warm, loving family, and Stella is doubly lucky. It is fitting that she has two names, for she will walk in at least a couple distinct worlds, one secular one religious. But we shall all be there to guide and love her. So that we are her constant stars to navigate by, even as her light brightens our lives.”

The best part of it all is that we got to honor our beloved grandmothers, of course, but life is kind of funny.

For all my love for my grandmother, how well did I truly know her? Not as well as I thought.

Last weekend we were all at my sister's house for a pool party, and I heard my brother speaking to my cousin Ilene (on my Dad's side) about my Bubbie, who was on my Mom's side.

She originally came here at 16 to be a flapper for couple of years, have some fun and then go home. I didn't know this. A flapper? That's pretty crazy.

Of course events overtook her in a million different ways, not the least of which is that she met a man, my grandfather, whom I never met. Also immigration quotas changed by the early 20s to exclude Eastern Europeans, primarily Italians and Jews, I believe. She had to know that if she left she couldn't come back.

So she stayed, her flapping over, presumably, and soon settled down.

But I didn't know this when I wrote the speech. If Stella can have half this kind of spunk she will be a plucky little lady indeed.

Oddly enough a few years ago I looked through some old pictures in my Mom's house, and saw some old small b&w photos of my grandmother, as a very young woman, with another woman, and they were both wearing men's pants, and clothes. My grandmother was laughing, and looked extremely pleased with herself, confident and strong. Transgressive too, to be frank.

Who was that woman? I don't think I will ever know.

But I am proud to name Stella after the woman I did know. It's more than enough.

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