We decided to go to synagogue for Shabbat services this morning, and for the first time in a very long time, I had an aliyah. When the gabbai asked me for my Hebrew name to insert in the blessing, I said “Pessel bat Yosef.” I had not used my Hebrew name in any public way since I started doing all the genealogy research, and beforehand it had not meant anything too layered for me. It was just my Hebrew name.
The “Pessel” I knew was for my great-grandmother Bessie, but I knew almost nothing about her.
The “Yosef” was manufactured by the rabbi who married us back in 1976. He had asked me for my father’s Hebrew name for the ketubah, and I didn’t know what it was. When I asked my father (whose English name is John), he said he had never had one. He’d not had a bar mitzvah, but had been confirmed in a Reform congregation which did not use Hebrew names. So the rabbi picked Yosef, figuring it was at least a name that started with a similar letter to John. That was fine with me. For a while I thought I’d switch to Yohanatan, figuring it was closer to John, but then I thought I should stick with what was on the ketubah (and easier to say).
So when I told the gabbai this morning that my name was Pessel bat Yosef, I felt a real connection to Bessie Brot Brotman, my great-grandmother, and I had a revelation. I didn’t know it in 1976 when I was married; I hadn’t even known it when I last had an aliyah several years ago. But now I know that Pessel bat Yosef was Bessie’s Hebrew name as well. Her father’s name was Joseph. So that rabbi in 1976 did not realize it, but he had in fact given me the same Hebrew name as my great-grandmother. When I realized that for the first time this morning, it gave me the chills.
Now that I know so much more about Bessie and her life, I feel particularly honored and moved to share her name. I am proud to be called Pessel bat Yosef, carrying her name and her memory into the present day and into the future.