Monday, May 27, 2013

What's in a name?

Four years ago, I went on a very special women's mission to Israel called the Jewish Women's Renaissance Project (JWRP).  During the trip we had a tour of Masada, King Herod's castle in the desert.  In this special place, women who did not have Hebrew names were given the opportunity to pick their names during a special Hebrew naming ceremony.

I was given a Hebrew name, but to my knowledge, my parents never did an official announcement at Shul.  I also didn't have a middle name, for whatever reason used to make me frustrated.  Everyone I know has multiple names.  I just had a first name, last name and no middle initial.

I took the opportunity four years ago to pick my middle name.  I had a really hard time with the decision.  I thought of using my grandmother's name, since she was such a strong woman.

I was drawn to the name Esther.

It was through Esther, in the story of Purim, that the Jewish people were saved, from Haman's evil decree.  Well, it was through G-d, through Esther.  Esther was married to a non-Jew, King Achashverosh.  In the story of Purim, G-d is hidden, in that there aren't any obvious miracles like a sea splitting, more a series of coincidences where everything just happens to work out.

I am married to a non Jew, and I have found that G-d has always been around, in this same kind of hidden way.  Whenever I felt really lost, a path would magically appear and show me the way.  G-d's Hand.

I was drawn to the name Esther, but I still wasn't sure whether it should be my new middle name.  This was a big decision.  I had this constant thought about the words, G-d is Hidden.  I didn't know why, but then it came together just before the naming ceremony.  Translate G-d is Hidden into Hebrew, and that will be my Hebrew middle name.

So I asked one of the Rabbi-guides on our trip.  How would one translate G-d is hidden into Hebrew?  He told me, "Nistar".  Hmm.  That didn't sound very appealing.  So I asked, how would one make a name out of it, his answer, "Oh, Esther of course".  Huh.  How about that?  (No, I was not aware of that until this very moment, in case that wasn't obvious).

(Fascinating that Hebrew naming is actually considered presently one of the last vestiges of prophecy.)

On the top of Masada, almost 4 years ago, I was officially given my full Hebrew name, Chana Esther.  Chana (or rather Hannah) chosen for me at birth, and Esther, chosen by me (or would that be strongly hinted to me), in Israel.

Here is one of the latest participants in the JWRP trip speaking about getting her Hebrew name (recorded my Lori Palatnik.  See other videos from the JWRP trips here).  I find these stories so incredibly powerful.

What is your Hebrew name?  Did your parents pick it or did you get to pick in adulthood?


  1. I was named soon after birth. My great grandmother was called Henya and she perished in the Holocaust. My parents wanted to name me for her. My mom wanted something more modern that Henya, but my Dad wanted to stick with it. They finally agreed on Hadassah. My Dad went to shul to name me. He named me Hadassah Henya. The both got what they wanted.

    You have a beautiful name, and a wonderful soul. So thrilled you have a new blog - I cannot wait to read more! xoxo

  2. Thanks Hadassah! and thanks for sharing your story! Wasn't Esther also named Hadassah too :)

    1. Esther's "real" name was Hadassah, but they called her Esther... her middle name... ;)

  3. As a baby I was named Shimshona Chaya. I was named after my father's uncle Shumshan (Samuel) who I have only heard great things and apparently he was an amazing man. He was also the man in the family that was observant and always had the Jewish holidays. Chaya was for life since I was sick when I was born.

    As an adult when I converted I decided to keep the same Hebrew name that my dad chose for me.