I am so glad to see that Rabbi David Sobel will be recognized for his service as a military chaplain (“New D.C. Memorial to Include West Hartford Native,” June 3, 2011). A wonderful person, he is well deserving of this recognition. He holds a prominent position in my life.
In 1975, when I graduated from Cantorial school, the college asked for my Hebrew name to be placed on the diploma. If I had one, I didn’t know it. So I got to pick my own. But what name to choose?
The closest names to Jerry are the prophets Jeremiah or Jonah. Jeremiah, to get people’s attention, streaked through the streets delivering his message. Jonah, known as the reluctant prophet, ran away rather than deliver the message of doom to Nineveh. So which was I – a bold spokesman, or someone who did not embrace the Divine calling? In my twenties, I could have gone either way, but Jonah won out. As is our custom that at least one Jewish name is selected to remember someone who has died. Rabbi David Sobel was a Jewish Chaplain who passed away in Southeast Asia, a year before I graduated. When I attended overnight camp the first time, I wanted to go home. David made me feel welcome. I’ll never forget his kindness, smile or stature (5 feet tall, but a giant of a person). I may have been a Jonah, but I would aspire to become a David. My HUC diploma reads “Jonah David son of Abraham” (father to all Jews). That is not my Hebrew name today. In a casual conversation with Rabbi Joseph Gopin, who had drawn me into a weekly study group, he discovered that I never had Jewish “naming” before a minyan, and therefore still did not have a Hebrew name! So at age 61, I got my official Hebrew name: “David,” I had become like David Sobol, a caring adult. “Joseph.” The Torah passage at the ceremony spoke of Joseph revealing himself to his brothers in Egypt. As I was revealing my “Hebrew name to the congregation,” I added Joseph as a middle name and as a sign of leadership. “Jonah” Jonah remained to reflect my creative personality that loves story telling. On my parents wedding certificate, I discovered my father’s Hebrew name to be Eliyahu.
So, now, when I am called to the Torah, I hear “Dovid Yoseph Yonah ben Eliyahu.” The Jewish Chaplain’s war memorial will elevate Rabbi David Sobel’s name once again. At last, the man who I have carried in my heart for fifty years, and whose memory lives on in my Hebrew name, will be remembered for his service.
Cantor Emeritus, West Hartford