Religion & Beliefs

Change Your Jewish Last Name

I want every Jew to change their last name. Katz, Goldberg, Weinstein…these names need to perish into the history books. Am I suggesting the complete obliteration of hundreds of years of familial titles? Am I suggesting that we disconnect the … Read More

By / October 19, 2009

I want every Jew to change their last name.

Katz, Goldberg, Weinstein…these names need to perish into the history books.

Am I suggesting the complete obliteration of hundreds of years of familial titles? Am I suggesting that we disconnect the one thing that keeps some people Jewish? Eliminate our historic, Old World flair?

You bet I am! And for a very good reason. But first, I have to get personal.

Patrick A is the name I use in my daily life. I only recently started calling myself Patrick Aleph because I could not blog on many sites (including this one) as “Patrick A.” But Patrick A is my name in every way: my stage namemy writing name, the name I use at my job, the name my friends call me, it’s everything. You can tell immediately, though, that the name “Aleph” is a Hebrew character, and not an “actual” last name. No one knows my family name. And they’ll never know.

The Jewish Name Game is an amazing sport. At shul, a networking event, or any situation where name tags are involved, Jews go into Jewish Geography overdrive. “Your name is Grossman? Is your family from Monsey? Did they own the glatt deli down the street from Temple Beth Blah-Blah-Blah? Oh, my G_d! We went to summer camp together!”

This can be fun, and I’ve played this game before. But it has a dark side to it.

Jews have banded together through history because of persecution. So a Jewish last name was a “screw you” to the establishment. And when two Jews met, they had an instant connection, a feeling of safety and comfort in each others presence. A name was an easy way of saying, “don’t worry, we’re in this together”.

In a world where anti-Semitism is becoming less a reality and more of an inside joke, what happens to the Jewish Name Game? It becomes a commercial nightmare; a transactional tool that is exploitive and frankly, demeans the Jewish people.

Today, Jewish Networking Events are about doing business because being Jewish gives you an “edge”, not because we aren’t invited to participate in the Chamber of Commerce. Jewish fraternities and sororities are bonus points on a resume, not a fragile family that takes care of its own in spite of hostility from the goyim. Jewishness is an identity that is just as flexible as your ITunes playlist.

And what happens if your name is Joe Smith or Susanna Rodriguez? In my experience, you can be wearing a kippah and a Manishewitz t-shirt, but if that damn name tag doesn’t say “David Klein” or “Sarah Bromowitz”, you are out of luck. At a recent event, I heard a speaker talk about the greatness of the Jewish community, that we reach out to Hispanics, blacks, and Asian. The hidden bias: you can’t be a black, hispanic or asian Jew.

The Jewish Name Game also demeans Jews-By-Choice (another term I despise). I know many Jews who speak perfect Hebrew, can lead services and are involved in Jewish activism, who grew up Christians. Their leadership creates a fresh perspective on the Jewish tradition. Their “biologically Jewish” counterparts are off scoring blow and eating ham sandwiches.

We need to take the commercial, transactional, capitalistic urge out of Jewish relationships. Jews are a family. We are Israel. We should love each other and help each other because helping and loving people is the right thing to do, for ourselves, and for the world. What’s in a name? Absolutely nothing worth saving.

Malcolm X, after converting to Islam, encouraged people to drop their “slave name.” I would encourage all of us to drop our last names, regardless of what it is, Roth or Rivera alike, so we do not become slaves to our own pathetic urge: to take the glory of the Jewish people, and reduce it to a business opportunity, or alienate those Jews who we feel, of no fault of their own, aren’t “Jewish enough”.

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