My Hebrew name, Sarah Leah, reflects exactly who I felt embarrassed to be when I was a 19-year-old on the kibbutz, but it is exactly who I am proud to be today!
Last week was my 56th birthday and I spent it in a very special way! I received a message from a friend of mine inviting me to a “Covid Compliant” women’s trip to the city of Hebron on November 25th, my English birthday!
For those of you who don’t know what is special about Hebron, let me tell you briefly. Hebvron is a city that houses an ancient cave. The Matriarchs and Patriarchs of Judaism: Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, Leah, as well as Adam and Eve, and the head of Esav, are all buried in this ancient cave that Abraham purchased when his beloved wife Sarah passed away. (The Matriarch Rachel is buried near Bethlehem.)
The purchase of this cave, called Ma’arat Hamachpelah, is recorded in the Bible so that there would be a record of the sale and there would never be a dispute over who owned this holy site. In fact, the Torah records that Abraham was offered the land for free, but refused the gift. He insisted on paying, and then paid an exorbitant sum of silver just to be able to make sure that the cave was owned by him for posterity.
Today, there is a building that stands upon the cave, and people can come in to visit the Tombs. It is a very special place with a tremendous amount of holy energy that is often palpable to the many people who come to pray their hearts out to G-d, getting extra energy through these righteous holy Patriarchs and Matriarchs. One of our tour guides described visiting the Tombs as though we were coming “home” to visit our great-great-great grandparents, a place where we can feel Jewish continuity and a warm hug from our ancestors.
When the message about the upcoming trip popped up on my phone, I was beyond excited to hit the “register now” button for a very BIG reason. My beloved brother who has Parkinson’s was scheduled to undergo surgery on that very day. What a perfect time and place to pray to G-d and ask that all should go well and that the surgery should be a success and improve his condition. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my birthday, praying for my brother in one of the holiest places in the world for the Jews. His name is David Yosef Ben Chana Rachel, for those you you who pray for healing
The trip began with an hour in the building where the “tombs” are located. Each patriarch and matriarch has his or her own spot. I immediately found myself gravitating towards two tombs, that of Sarah and that of Leah, my namesakes. I have the honor of being named after my father’s mother, Sarah, and my mother’s mother, Leah, two women who I sadly never met, as they were both murdered during the Holocaust. Sarah Leah is a beautiful name rich with history and meaning, and I am the continuity of their names in this generation.
You may know me as Susie…that’s the name that I was called by my parents (Zusie with their heavy European accents). If you knew me as a child or as a teenager, you would know me as Susie. When I graduated high school and began looking for a job, I just couldn’t get hired. My wise mother suggested that I use my name Susan, because “Susie” wasn’t a name that sounded serious. I did, and I landed a job on my very next interview…and so, I became Susan. Anyone who knows me from the time I graduated high school, knows me as Susan.
After that first job, I came to Israel and lived on a Kibbutz. When people asked me what my name was, I excitedly told them that my Hebrew name was Sarah Leah. I was in the land of Israel! Finally, I could use my Hebrew name! I was immediately told, however, that ‘Sarah Leah’ was old-fashioned – the name of a safta (grandmother) or of a religious woman. At the time, I wasn’t religious. And so, I was called “Soo-zuun” (Susan in a thick Israeli accent). Every Israeli I know calls me Soo-zuun.
By the time Facebook was a thing, I was married, and everyone knew me as Susan Eklove. I wanted old friends, who wouldn’t know how to find me, to be able to look me up, and so, I set up my account as Susie Stearn Eklove. This created a tremendous amount of confusion as I made new friends – was I Susie or Susan?
Our Names Have Spiritual Energy
At some point, maybe 20 years ago, I met a rabbi who told me that I should start using my Hebrew name, Sarah Leah. Our Hebrew names are the “root names of our soul.” Our Hebrew names hold tremendous power and meaning. The Hebrew letters that make up our names in themselves have all kinds of spiritual energy, as the letters are considered to be the DNA of the creation of the world. We are named after family members and that, too, carries a lot of spiritual connection. Many of those names are connected to our biblical ancestors, and the spiritual essence of those people are connected to us as well. When a person is G-d forbid sick, we pray for them using their Hebrew names, as we believe that the Hebrew name is our “spiritual address.”
I tried for a little while to have others call me Sarah Leah, but it’s hard to change your name when everyone knows you by another. It also takes a tremendous amount of confidence and certainty to do it, and I didn’t have it back then. To make myself feel like I was using my Hebrew name, my husband kindly bought me a vanity license plate for my birthday that said “SARAHLEA.” I drove around for many years with my Hebrew name plastered to the front and back of my minivan! Finally, I was connecting in some small way with my Hebrew name.
Now that I have moved to Israel, my name comes up all the time. I meet new people every day, and they ask me, “What is your name?” Each time, I just don’t know how to respond. Am I Susie, as my Facebook page declares, Susan or Suu-zaan? I am 56 and having a name identity crisis!
Over the last three years, I have been studying Jewish Meditation. The techniques and ideas that I am learning stem from our Jewish tradition and sources. I learn about ideas that come from the Torah, Halacha (Jewish law), Chasidism, Kabbalah and Torah masters. Jewish meditation connects you to your soul, and the more I meditate, the more I am connecting to Sarah Leah, the name that I was born with and that has always been mine, no matter what I ever was or will be called in English! Meditating on the Hebrew letters of your name is extremely powerful. I have even come to learn that there is a beautiful melody that comes to me whenever I focus on my Hebrew name.
Yesterday, as I prayed by the tombs of Sarah and Leah, for the health of my brother as well as for the health and happiness of my husband, children and grandchildren, I realized that the desire to be called by my Hebrew name is calling out to me once more, and this time, I feel like it represents who I am and who I want to become.
As I write this post, I realize that I have grown into “Sarah Leah.” I am indeed a grandmother and a religious Jewish woman. The name reflects exactly who I felt embarrassed to be when I was a 19-year-old teenager on the Kibbutz, but it is exactly who I am proud to be today!
Yesterday, on my birthday, I walked into Ma’arat Hamachpelah (the Cave of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs) as Susie, Susan, Suu-zaan, after introducing myself to the 20 women that were with me on the trip. By the end of the day, all the women (including many who also had their own “name stories”), entered me into their contact lists as “Sarah Leah Eklove.” When I got home, I went on to my Facebook profile and added “Sarah Leah Eklove” beside “Susie Stearn Eklove.”
As Shakespeare said, “A rose is still a rose by any other name.” I will always answer to the names of my youth, just as I answer to the other names I have collected along the years, “Ima”, “Mom”, Sweetheart, Dear and Safta.” At the end of the day, I am me, no matter what I am called. But the next time someone asks me what my name is, I’ll take a deep breath, connect with my soul, draw up my courage, and answer: “Sarah Leah.”
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