Rabbi Shimon would say: There are three crowns—the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood and the crown of sovereignty—but the crown of good name surmounts them all (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers, 200 C.E.
As you see in the quotation above, Judaism considers our good names to be “crowns.” We wear them proudly on our heads – but we can never take them off. Our names are central to our lives, not just as people but as Jews. You probably know that Jewish baby boys receive their Hebrew names at their bris, once the harder part of that day has been completed. Baby girls, traditionally, had their names announced at an Aliyah to the Torah that their fathers received on the Shabbat after their birth. Today, baby girls, with both parents present, often have “Simchat Bat” (“blessing of the daughter”) celebrations, either at the eight-day mark (like boys) or shortly thereafter. But there is no time too late to receive or take on a Hebrew name – even adults some-times take on new or additional Hebrew names.
Ashkenazi Jews customarily name children after beloved members of our families or friends who have died. Jews of Sephardi descent are often named in honor of family members who are still living. When we name our children, we often consider the personalities of those who have come before them, elements of which we hope will be carried on by their younger namesakes. On my mind today is the newest member of our synagogue, a young boy (four days old, today) named Hunter Martin Shure. He will receive his Hebrew name at his bris later this week. His parents, Erika and Jeremy, wrote in an email that “we are confident that Hunter will carry the legacy” of his great-grandfather, Marty. What a very Jewish thing to write — Mazal tov to the entire Shure family!
A second quotation about names, this one from a more modern source:
“Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came.” (Cheers Intro Song, 1983-1992).
Some of us – myself included – remember watching Cheers when it was still on the air. Our kids have no idea what they are missing. The Cheers intro song came to mind recently as we heard the first reports from the UJA “Thriving Synagogue Learning Tool,” the survey that over 200 members of our synagogue participated in over the last several months. The survey results – just now coming in – will allow us to focus and gain deeper insight into our congregation. Our goal is to use the data gleaned from the tool to prioritize action and empower our leaders (lay and professional) to make informed, strategic decisions about our synagogue’s future. Thank you once again to the many members of our congregation who participated in the survey. Expect more information coming your way in the next several weeks and months as we digest the results of the survey.
So, why did the theme song from Cheers come to mind? Be-cause of one statistic that was immediately shared with us by our partners at UJA Federation: 94% of the congregant respondents believe that the clergy (Rabbi and Cantor) know their names – and vice-versa. This is a great data point, we were told, particularly vis-à-vis other congregations that participated in the survey. Not that we are competing with other synagogues – okay, maybe just a little bit – but we were certainly glad to know this survey result. Why? Because knowing each other’s names is the first step to building a strong relationship with one another, with the synagogue and, ultimately, lifelong, with Judaism. We’re always glad when you come – and knowing your names is how we begin.
But what about the 6% of you who claimed that we do not know your names? Ouch! Would you please help us fix that… now?! We are fortunate to be a mid-sized congregation. We have a full staff and excellent facility. But we are decidedly not too large and anonymous; on the contrary. We are just the right size, in my book. The “right” number of Bar/Bat Mitzvahs each year, the “right” number of kids in our Hebrew School. The “right” number of people on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – the Sanctuary is full but not overfull (we can all fit). And now we have a job – to get that 6% (among respondents) down to zero. Please – call or write and find me and find Cantor Marcos. Make an appointment. We will try to do the same. But there are more of you than there are of us. We ask you to take these quieter summer months to connect with us – especially if we don’t know one another as well as we should, especially if we don’t know each other’s names. It is incumbent upon all of us to work toward this goal together.
Please accept my good wishes for a blessed, healthy and fulfilling summer. Shalom u’vracha.