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March 28, 1980     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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March 28, 1980
 

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Paoe 14, HERITAGE. Florida Jewish News, March 28, 1980 "Pick a Name, Am# Name' Will the Real Harry Goldberg Please Stand By Robert Joseph Greenbaum Reprinted from Baltimore Jewish Times The byline you see above is not my name. But neither is it, exactly, a pseudonym. It's almost my name. I do indeed go by Robert Joseph. And Greenbaum was the name of my father. But it isn't his any- more, and it was never mine In 1937, my father hired a lawyer, went before a New York City judge, and asked for a court order changing his name. Not from Greenbaum to Graham, or to Gaines, or to Grissom, but to his mother's maiden name, Dynow. "'It was as much my name as Greenbaum was," he says now. But while his father's name was a very common one, he told the judge, his mother's was exceedingly rare. As things then stood, he explained, there were no male heirs to perpetuate it. Adl this was quite true, but it wasn't the whole truth. My father, a third year chemical engineering student, would soon be entering the job market. The world war that would fire up the Depression economy was still some years away. "You're knocking yourself out in college for nothing," friends would tell him. The Chemical industry was no Jewish monopoly. Anti-Semi- tism was still all the rage. "You're a Jew and you expect to get a job? As a chemical engineer? With a name like Greenbaum? Why they won't even give you an interview." (It turns out, my father reports, that this picture was a little overdrawn. Today there are many high level people in the chemical industry with names like Weinberg, and Cohen and Schwartz. But in the insular little world that was Brooklyn in the 1930s, this was how Jews by and large saw it.) So, he petitioned his father, could he change his name? "What's the matter with Green- baumT' asked his father, who was a kosher butcher, "It's good enough for me, why isn't it good enough for youT" But dad kept hitting home on the career prospects. And Mends of the family who were, as my father puts it today, "'out in the world"--meaning the larger gentile world--backed him up. "He won't even get in the front door," they'd say. After six months of this, my grand- father came around. The judge needed less convincing and granted the order routinely. Indeed, name changes generally were routine back then. "It was going on all around," says my father. Slutsky would become steele; Cohen, Kane. And when a change went through, word of it occasioned no great surprise, no social awkward- ness. "You'd run into some- body on the street," my father recalls. "He'd say, 'How you doin', Danny? You'd exchange pleasantries, and before you went your separate ways you'd add, 'Oh, and my name is Dynow now.'" Though my father remem- bers feeling few qualms about the change back then, he neither eagerly recalls it now nor wishes it to be trumpeted about. His adopted name-- the one I here call "Dynow" -- is so unusual that it stands by itself in New York area tele- phone directories, making the whole story instantly traceable to him. This prospect does not please him. Accordingly, both "'Oreenbaum'" and "Dynow'" are stand-ins, as it were, for the actual names in question. Pick a name, any name... Surnames came quite late to the Jews. For most of our history, we were simply Zvi ben Moshe--Zvi, son of Moshe. This worked well enough in the shtetls of the Ashkenazic Jews, but not so well for the Sephardim, who were both more urban and more inte- grated into the life of the Medi- terranean countries they inhabited; so they began adopting surnames in the Middle Ages. Between about 1787 and 1845, the rulers of Europe one by one began insisting that Jews take on surnames. From the towns in which they lived comes Posner, Brodsky, Sulzberger. From the trades they followed, comes Schneider (tailor), Drucker (painter), and Schecter (from the Hebrew schochet, or butcher), Hirsch means stag, Fuchs, fox. Rothschild refers to the red shield design that adorned the family's houses in Germany. Katz is a contraction of Kohen Tzeddelc or priest of righteousness. Sometimes, as in Austria, the names Jews got bore more than coincidental rela- tion to the size of the registra- tion fees they forked over. The well-off might get named after flowers or gems, like Rosenthal or Goldstein. Names like Stahl (steel) or EJsen (iron) went to those of more modest means. And to penniless registrants, notes Dan Rottenberg in Finding Our Fathers. his guide to Jewish genealogy, went Winners like Wanzenknicker (bug squasher), Temperatur- wechsel (temperature change), or Galgenstrick (dirty trick), rve never met anyone with such names, so I can only guess that ultimately their bearers rose in the world enough to buy or bribe their way into more gracious monikers. The name Fink, inci- dentally, which is borne by more than a few Jews, is really quite innocuous It is derived from the German word for "finch," a bird no moreodious than other birds. The American slang word goes back to the early days of the labor movement and was orig- inally "pink," shor[ for the despised Pinkerton security guards who functioned as company spies and scabs. Names follow fashion. Last names are largely insulated from short-term trendiness, but first names often perfectly mirror it. What's "in" today, though, is often hopelessly out-of-style tomorrow. "How often," James Yaffe wryly notes in The American Jews "did the immigrants turn away from the old Jewish-sounding names like Abraham, Moses, Jacob, to give their American- born children fine gentile names with a genuine Anglo- Saxon ring--like Irving, Sidney, Morris, and Seymour." Back in the 1940s, Alfred J. Kolatch wandered through the birth columns of the New York Times whose listings were at least 80 percent Jewish--comparing the first names of the newborns with those of their parents. While a few mostly Biblical names, like David, Joseph and Ruth, retained their popularity across generational lines, most did not. Take Sidney, a name with 75 appearances among the parents; it reversed these figures. Swings of such violence invite speculation as to their source: The name Ellen was given to ! 74 Jewish babies during the period of Kolatch's survey, 1943 to 1945, though among thou- sands of the parents it had appeared not once. Did its sudden popularity represent a subconscious collective acknowledgement of the Holocaust then at its height, and a choked raging against it? Ellen, a form of Eleanor, is derived from a Teutonic word meaning "fruitful." Actually, there's a trend for young couples these days to choose Biblical and blatantly Jewish names. In an article entitled "How Kimberly and Chad begat Adam and Tamar," Albert Vorspan noted in Moment that popular names now include Aviva, Hillel, Gideon, Yaacov and Rachel. How is it that the grandchil- dren want to remember what their parents wanted to forget? It is simply a sign that many young Jews have gone back to their roots and feel secure enough in their religion to pro- claim their identity to the secular world. My great-grandfather was named Joseph I was to be named after him, but neither my father nor my mother were particularly wild about the name. Yet they did wish to observe the Ashkenazic custom of naming the child after a relative no longer living. What to do? Well, it seems my great- grandfather was something of a student of the Talmud, and back in the Galician town in which he'd lived had been known by the honorific of Reb Yosef. The feb, of course, was not part of his name, but meant "teacher" or "rabbi." Never ones to have their styles crimped by too scrupulous adherence to "the rules," my parents seized on this happy circumstance and Robert Joseph I became. The postscript to this story came six years later, when I entered first grade at P.S. 203 in Brooklyn. There must have been a whole slew of families in the neighborhood with revered Talmudic scholars in their pedigree, because of the 15 or 20 boys in my class, five were named Robert. John Kelly and other Jews. When the immigrants came to Ellis Island --and no doubt the same was true when they came to Baltimore-- immigration officers were not always dililgent about getting names and spellings right. Accordingly, a host of stories--some true, some fanciful--sprung up about the name switches and distortions that inevitably resulted. Herewith a sample: eA saloonkeeper on Rivington Street on the Lower East Side had the quite plau- sible name John Kelly. Quite plausible except that he was a Rumanian Jew with a long black beard and sidelocks. When he'd entered the country, it seems, some clerk had asked for his name. "Yankele," the saloonkeeper- to-be replied, giving the diminutive of his first name, "Yaakov. John Kelly," wrote the clerk. eln the Old Country, my maternal great-grandfather's name was Shepatovsky. But that must have sounded like gibberish, no name at all, to the Immigration Man, because he asked for it again and again. "Your father's name," he said, by now impatient. "What. Is. Your. Father's. NameT' "Oh Yes," said my great-grandfather, ing, "Hyman." This set better with ' because Mr. promptly country. eThen there of confusion tension that the young couldn't gration officer's his name. Final next in line, seeking an angry ceded. "He's a he assured good-a-man." And on, he was--a eA woman Hester Street man standing in to his store, the which read GUSON, LADIES "Sean Fer exclaimed, stoppir midstride and man. "You're that. for a Jew is Seao l "Well," came the Old Country I Smulowitz. But over here would be better English name... "But Sean "No, No--that one I was going when I finally Island and name, rd fergessen, remember.'" Will the Goldberg please s and large, Jews wedded to their gentiles are. names, after all, 150 to accc lands--and that meant adopting Even today, in a c hospitable to us anywhere else, to account for the 50,000 narneC go through state! yar. Back in the father changed practice epidemic first exempt. One tells me, which and down distant relative Goldberg who care for the had it Except that there His brother. changed his The real thought much 1980 Nationwide Campaign Reaches Halfway Mark UJA Leader Says Trend Up in Jewish Giving PHILADELPHIA (JTA)-- American Jewish fundraising has reached new heights and shows every sign of achieving even greater gains in the decade of the 1980's, Irwin Field, national chairman of the United Jewish Appeal declared here. Sn a meeting of (JJA national officers and regional chairmen hosted by Phila- delphia's campaign and community leaders, Field reported that the nationwide campaign pledges. Results to date represent the largest sums raised, at the eadiest date, with the active participation of more com- munities, than at any time since the 1974 campaign which began with the Yore Kippur War, he reported. For the first time since 1974, Field stated, a campaign total of more than $500 million is assured. "This unprecedented flow of peacetime pledges," he majority of our communities are inthe midst of their most productive and fastest-paced campaigns in six years. The potential of American Jewry-- despite any and all psycholog- ical and pseudo.demographic prophecies of doom and gloom--is unlimited. I fully expect that new records in giving will be established year after year, throughout this decade." s of ccss treasurer of the Jewish Agency, in a graphic presenta- tion of the Agency's budget of needs in the coming year. Campaign income at current levels, he indicated, would not meet the cost" of already reduced programs and services. A campaign exceed- ing this year's, the assembled leaders agreed, would have to be achieved in 1981. Responding, UJA national chairman-designate Herschel An immediate test of Field's Blumberg outlined a compre- 1980campaign, now pastthe said, "is a reality that must ,rolection of escalatinn " ,hensive planning process, halfway mark, wascontJnuing sweep aside all unfounded '-,i,ns was --^' " already under way. for to register an increase of more predictions of reduced Ameri- ,, =,a=,r Aki,,, = ,=nck, structuring and carrying out r e  t n Field than 17 percent ove 1979 can philanthropic gMqg. Th ..... " ............... "' the 1981 campa'g . .... . . . pointed to this vigorous early pre-campaign activity as evi- dence that the spirit of American Jewish philanthropy was "energized, not ener- vated." He credited much of the resurgence to intensively increased cooperation between UJA and Council of Jewish Federation leadership in planning, implementing and communicating the issues of the 1980 campaign. The meeng here was the latest in a series initiated by Field, bringing LUA's national and regional leadership together in major American communities. IRWIN 5,