Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Jewish Last Names

It's a joke now, right? In TV shows and movies, radio, and newspapers, when you see the goldberg/stein/witz/whatever, there is this knowing chuckle, some type of recognition and a quick pang of self-identification.

Which is why I was so interested in an article I found today on

The post, by Patrick Aleph, calls on American Jews to drop their Jewish last names in order to facilitate a more welcoming environment and less clique-y-ness. On one hand, it's an interesting thought, that Jews, who have suffered much often due to their names, should drop their last names not to fit in with the larger culture, but to help others fit in with us. Patrick A calls out Jewish geography and the name game as an exclusionary tool that keeps non-mainstream (read Ashkenazi) Jews on the defensive.

On the other hand, I really hope the piece was written in jest, at least partially, or that the author has the excuse of living in NYC. The reality is that, while overt anti-Semitism has decreased since the days of housing covenants and exclusionary country clubs and law firms, a good number of us still live in communities in which we are a very small percent of the population. The fact is that all Jews don't look alike, which is why the name game does start to play some prominence. So you notice the Chamsa necklace and find out the cute girl wearing it went to camp with a friend of yours from high school, where is the harm?

Names are identity. When Abram becomes Abraham his destiny changes.

Those who feel uncomfortable in the Jewish community represents an issue far larger than something that can be changed along with our names. Our responsibility is to alter our behavior to be more inclusive, not to water down our identity.

1 comment:

PunkTorah said...

Hey this is Patrick Aleph. Sorry that I just found this post you did. Thank you for your analysis! I don't have the excuse of living in NYC (I'm in Atlanta) and nope, it wasn't in jest. I actually do think Jews should adopt alternative last names. I chose to drop my last name several years ago and go by Patrick "A" but in my blogging life, I use "Aleph" as a pun with the Jewish community!