By Rabbi Jack Bloom
Names, especially in families mean something!
First, just to get it out of the way- about my name. All family members, following the lead of those who knew me when I was a little kid, refer to me to this day as Jackie, the affectionate diminutive of Jack. When my father started to “get religion” in the late 1930’s, I was summarily notified that my name was no longer Jackie. I was now Jacob Hirsch, named for Dad’s maternal grandfather, Yaakov Hirsch Cohn/Catz. It was okay with Dad if I didn’t have that whole sobriquet, especially the “non-American” Hirsch. Harold would be my English middle name.
And it was as Jacob Harold Bloom that I entered Ramaz, though often listed as Jacob H. Bloom. All teachers from that time referred to me — and where still around, refer to me — as Jacob. In high school, after seeing the play “Harvey” about an invisible rabbit, I took Harvey as my middle name and so became Jacob Harvey Bloom or, a bit more pretentiously, J. Harvey Bloom. My high school diploma reads Jacob Harvey Bloom. Summers were spent at Camp Massad where, officially I was Yaakov, I became known as Jake. So Jake I was, to all who knew me right through my seminary years. When I showed up at Columbia in the fall of 1950, I was determined to introduce myself as Jack. That lasted a couple of days until Gerry Kaufman, who knew me from Massad and Ramaz, came into the dorm hall and yelled out, “Jake, How are ya”? That ended that. And so it was Jake to friends, Jacob to seminary professors, and Jack to no one, until I arrived in Fairfield, Conn. There, though my first checkbook reads Jacob H., I decided to go with Jack H – with no period after the H. I joke with folks when I correct my middle name on a document, that “I never had a period in my life!”
Upon Dad’s death, rummaging through a whole bunch of documents, I came across two birth certificates. One from Christ Hospital, Jersey City, N.J., where I who was one day to be a rabbi was born. The other from the County of Hudson, N.J. Both had Jack H (without a period). My father had drawn a line through that given name and penned in Jacob Hirsch. Somehow I had stumbled back to Jack H Bloom, my given name, sort of like Harry S Truman. When Columbia, collecting data for my Ph.D., decreed that no initials were allowed, I filled in the space with “Aitch”. They responded with an ordinary H. I know immediately from what era a friendship dates and what the relationship is, by whether I’m called Jackie, Jake, Jacob, or Jack. Perhaps it is a metaphor for my religious quest. If the name is one’s identity, who I really am religiously has been beset by obstacles often parading as blessings.
So much for history. Recently a cousin, Nina Talmor-Segal, a relative through the late great Ephraim Catz, founder of Kiryat Bialik, north of Haifa, was visiting Romania and included a visit to a Jewish cemetery in Bucharest. Ephraim and his wife Sabinia, for whom the farm was named, were the first settlers there. I slept in their home back in 1953. My brother Sol was married there. Their home was rebuilt after the Arabs during the “disturbances” of 1929 destroyed much of Sabinia farm, including their home. Ephraim and Sabinia were saved due to their staying “in town”(Haifa), where they stayed every other Shabbat. Today, the community center of Kiryat Bialik is located in Beit Catz-the former home of the Catz family.
During her visit, Nina came across the tombstone of my grandmother’s brother, Yaakov Hirsch Cohn. I was blown away by one word on the tombstone. There below the name Yaakov Hirsch Cohn is the inscription “N.B.Haham,” which was and still is used in many Sephardic Jewish communities as an appellation identical to the way English speakers use Rabbi.
What’s in a name?
In some strange way-my being a rabbi may have been predestined.
I think my father when naming me, channeled Yaakov Tzvi Catz to me.
Jack Bloom was the founding rabbi of Congregation Beth El in Fairfield. He is the author of several books, including “The Rabbi as Symbolic Exemplar” and the book of poems, “Blessings For You From Head to Toe.”
KOLOT is a feature of the Jewish Ledger in which readers are invited to submit original work on a topic of their choosing. Inquiries and/or submissions should be sent to email@example.com