No, the grave marker pictured is not in honor of Halloween. But it is about honor. ...
I saw this picture in a story about Natalio Nisman, who was a federal prosecutor in Buenos Aires, Argentina. What struck me right away was that this marker, in an Orthodox cemetery, included Mr. Nisman’s Jewish name, his father’s Jewish name and his mother’s Jewish name as well: Avraham bar Yitzhak ve-Sarah.
It may simply be the Hispanic tradition of including mothers in the family line, but whatever the reason, I like it. Nisman was a brave man who risked his life for 10 years as he investigated the tragic, terrorist bombing of the Jewish Center in Buenos Aires which killed 85 people in 1984. He met his end just before he was to release the results of his investigation, in which he determined that members of the Argentinian government had collaborated in hiding evidence of Iran’s role in the bombing. Death threats against him were common over the years, yet just before he died he wrote, “Estoy mejor que nunca y más temprano que tarde la verdad triunfa” (“I’m better than ever and sooner than later the truth prevails”).
I hope his mother is proud of her son. Proud of how he stood up for what is right, and proud that her name is permanently connected to his, even in death.
I think most of us feel we are the products of both our parents. From their DNA to their way of speaking to their hopes and fears and dreams, we find signs of them in almost everything we do. So why is it that when we identify ourselves Jewishly, we say we are only the son or daughter of our father?
We can do better. As Reform Jews we examine tradition and choose what to keep, what to discard and what to improve upon. Here, it seems, is a tradition that cries out to us for improvement. All we have to do is to learn our mother’s Jewish name if she has one, and to use it when we are asked. Do you have an aliyah at a relative’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah? Give them your whole Jewish name – your name, your father’s name and your mother’s name. Are you getting married? Be sure the ketubah includes both your parents’ names, too. And yes, when it is time to create a memorial for a loved one, tell (don’t ask!) the monument company that you want to include the name of the deceased’s father and mother, because both of them deserve to be remembered for creating the person whom you are honoring.
I have my father’s flat feet and my mother’s back problems. I would also like to believe that I have at least some of my father’s quick wit and my mother’s bravery. I have the illnesses they nursed me through and the vacations we spent together. I have my father’s quest for perfection and my mother’s staunch belief that everything I did was perfect. I am the product of my father and my mother: Daveed ben Betzalel ve-Na’omi: I am the son of Betzalel and Na’omi. It says so on my semicha, my rabbinic ordination certifícate; it says so on my ketuba; and one day it will say so on my gravestone. That thought does not make me sad; it makes me proud. I am Sol and Niki’s son.
If we can be of assistance to you in honoring your parents, all of us at TRT would be glad to help. We can help you identify their Jewish names from old documents or even from old memories, and we can print them out for you in Hebrew, or transliteration, or both. Whether you want to honor them at a simcha or remember them in a cemetery, this is a tradition whose time has come.
Rabbi Don Weber
© 2015, Temple Rodeph Torah