There is this beautiful poem by the late Israeli poet Zelda Schneurson Mishkovsky, known simply as Zelda, titled “Each of Us has a Name”. A naive title at first glance; after all, do you know anyone who doesn’t have a name? If he or she didn’t have one, you probably wouldn’t know them for you wouldn’t be able to address them in the first place.
“Each of us has a name given by God and given by our parents” (in the Hebrew “by our father and our mother”), the poem opens, maintaining that we first receive our name from God and only then from our parents – thus recognizing the supremacy of God (we are born into a specific religion before we are given a first name) and then of our parents who give us our name and surname (our “tribal” name; our social belonging). This corresponds with the book of Genesis in which God creates Man and then names him Adam. Adam, in his turn and under God’s mandate, names all the living beings on earth, including, in one version, the Woman, Eve (Chava in Hebrew).
The poem goes on down the hierarchy of the different things that “name” us throughout our lives: our stature, our smile, the clothes we wear, the mountains, the four walls of our dwelling, our sins… One interesting verse speaks of the name given to us by our haters (in the English translated into “Enemies”) and to contradict that, in the same verse, the name given to us by our love; not by our lovers but rather by our love to others.
What is the name given to us by our haters? Our haters don’t call us by our name but rather by a name. They rename us. Sometimes, instead of referring to us by our first name (the one given by our parents), they climb up the hierarchy ladder and turn our God given name against us: “Jews”, for example, and more recently “Muslims” (“Christians” has yet to become a pejorative but that might have to do with our western perspective of that word).
I am reminded of an exhibition at the Jewish Museum Berlin titled “The Whole Truth” in which the visitors were invited to record the word “Jews” (“Juden”) on a tape recorder and play it back to themselves, to see whether they are able to pronounce it removed from the derogatory layer which was so common only a few generations ago and which, ultimately, paved the way to the biggest catastrophe in human history. For in the ultimate act of hatred our haters strip us of our name altogether and turn it into a number. In order to contradict that, the poem perhaps suggests, we have to give these people, the “hated”, their name back and by doing so regain our own name, for we cannot consider ourselves “human” if we consider others as anything but.
Some time ago, while at a doctor’s waiting room, I saw the kid in the picture below doing something kids do: spelling out his name on a magnet board. His name is one which according to many nowadays, including the current American Administration and its recent ban on Muslims, is supposed to strike fear in our hearts: Yusuf.
Say it out loud. Does it?
Each of Us Has a Name | Zelda
Each of us has a name given by God and given by our parents
Each of us has a name given by our stature and our smile and given by what we wear
Each of us has a name given by the mountains and given by our walls
Each of us has a name given by the stars and given by our neighbors
Each of us has a name given by our sins and given by our longing
Each of us has a name given by our enemies and given by our love
Each of us has a name given by our celebrations and given by our work
Each of us has a name given by the seasons and given by our blindness
Each of us has a name given by the sea and given by our death.