Does a rose by any other name...?

My grandfather was born in Radin, in the "Vilna Guverne", that was then under Polish rule. While living there, and for a couple of years in the nearby city of Lida, he never thought of his name as anything other than...


of course, when he applied for a Polish passport, he was given the Polish spelling of his Hebrew last name, and that was "Chejfec". While researching my family history, especially in the States, I found that among my relatives the spellings changed significantly, so the name is spelled "Chafetz", "Heifetz", "Hafetz", etc etc. Yet all these are my relatives, descendants of my grandfather's siblings.

Early on when I came to this country, I was asked how my name was pronounced, and of course I took advantage of the chance and started using the correct pronounciation, which has been a source of bafflement to countless people including my sister in law. She once asked me "Why don't you change the spelling so people will pronounce it right"? That got me thinking, but my conclusion was that the spelling of my family name is indeed part of my family history, and changing it would be like erasing a part of it, so I kept it.

In the Middle East, people often call facts by names that do not reflect their true nature...The mistreatement of Palestinians becomes "The Israeli Holocaust of the Palestinian People"; a battle in a West Bank City in 2002 was dubbed "The Jenin Massacre"; the establishment of checkpoints in the West Bank is called "Bantusans", every battle between Israel and terrorist armies is called a "Genocide" and the separation barrier is called the "Apartheid Wall". All these name changes happen because names carry the power of cultural meaning and cultural context, and we can conjure the cultural context by using the name. Obviously the use of all these names doesn't make Israel look good; in fact they are intended to present Israel as the new South Africa and making it look as illegitimate by equating the Afrikaan regime with the Israeli government, thus making anti-Israel slogans palatable for the crowds of left wing activists who should know better.

The Left should pay more attention to the fact that women in Palestinian society are subordinated to their men, that conversion out of Islam is punishable by death and that women are denied education in the Gaza Strip. Female peace activists have been raped by some of their "Arab protegees" but conviced by their fellow activists to put a lid on it so as not to damage the legitimate battle of their friends against the "brutal occupation of the Zionist regime". It is only recently that some of these rape victims have begun to speak up.

So yes, there is power in names. "Beh Sabagah" was their Kurdish past,  "Sabagh" their Kurdish Israeli identity; "Sabar" was their new, "reinvented" non Kurdish identity. "Chejfec" reflects the story of my family in ways that none of the other spellings could.

Using names evocative of Nazi Germany and Appartheid South Africa casts Israel as a pariah State and robs it of its legitimacy. While it is legitimate to disagree with the policies of any government, including the Israeli, the use of these names is the political equivalent of the playground bully name calling - crude, immature, but still effective.

In a time when content is being replaced by passion, and logic by emotional appeal, this is a battle that Israel needs to fight, and we as Jews need to fight the battle with her, because our fates are intertwined. Wherever Israel goes, Jews will follow...when Israel is painted as illegitimate, a Star of David can be called "offensive" and kosher slaughtering called "barbaric", as it is already hapenning...think about it.



Add Comment