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NAME THAT JEW

by Bruce Mufson    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Names and dress carry special significance, as they give someone an idea of what a person is and, more importantly, what he represents. Consider, for example, James Dean as the epitome of youthful cool with his red jacket, or Winston Churchill as an example of a courageous politician with his cigar.

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Names and dress carry special significance, as they give someone an idea of what a person is and, more importantly, what he represents. Consider, for example, James Dean as the epitome of youthful cool with his red jacket, or Winston Churchill as an example of a courageous politician with his cigar.

In the recent Torah portions, we note a concept which may seem strange to us in that all the major Jewish characters have Jewish names. Rabbi Meir Simcha HaKohen of Dvinsk, a foremost Torah scholar at the beginning of this century, cites the famous Midrash that the Children of Israel were redeemed because "they did not change their names, their language, or their clothes" while they were slaves in Egypt. Maintaining the external identity of a Jew, he writes, can often be even more significant in preventing assimilation than the performance of mitzvot.

It is interesting to also note that the Jews in Egypt were far less assimilated than we are nowadays. Being aware of their spiritual uniqueness, they considered it disgraceful to wear garments whose styles were dictated by a gentile or to give a child a non-Jewish name. In looking at our own experience as Jews in Europe and then America, we see what happens when the opposite course is followed. In an effort to blend in and be a part of the crowd, Jews rushed to change their clothes and names and thus wound up losing their very identity of who they were. The end result - wide spread assimilation.

Reading the recent portions in the Torah, one is struck by the plethora of these names: Moshe, Miriam, Aharon, Gershon, not a Courtney, Roland, or Troy among them. Although in Egypt the Jewish people fell to the 49th and next to last level of impurity, the concept of being separate acted as a kind of fail-safe mechanism, so that the Jews in Egypt never forgot that they were different for a G-d given reason.

Ironically, while the Jewish people rallied together to survive 210 years of Egyptian persecution and torment, culminating in the receiving of the Torah, the Jews in America, despite unparalleled peace and prosperity very nearly lost their way as we succumbed to "wanting to be accepted". Only in the last two decades have Jews rediscovered the joy in being proud of their Jewishness and in going back to the practice of wearing kippot and giving their children Jewish names.

Being separate to a certain extent from the rest of society is not a weakness but a strength, and makes it possible for us to serve Hashem as a unified force. Only with this kind of attitude will the Jewish people emerge victorious from any difficult situation. By the way, my newborn son is called Nadav Beryl Mufson.

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Bruce (Binyomin) Mufson, who now lives in Overland Park, Kansas, received a Masters in Social Work from the University of Georgia, and reports that he actually enjoyed living next door to his mother-in-law Harriet Cortell in Atlanta.

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