What’s Your Name – Oakland Workshop Writing Prompt

Am Yisrael Chai, Am Yisrael Chai,
Am Yisrael, Am Yisrael, Am Yisrael Chai

Born of the north of the land of milk and honey to parents of other native tongues who
Tasted the tones of Semitic proverbs that rolled on the winds of two millenia of Diaspora and now it sweetens their saliva, khalav v’dvash, and pass it in a name to their son.

My father holds me, his third boy, my mother’s first, eight days after birth – the brit melah.
This name hovers over the synagogue, not yet announced, but it seeps through the ceiling and out the hearts of the congregation, an ancient promise:

Am Yisrael Chai – the nation Israel lives,
In each beating heart of the minyan praying,
In the veins, in the loins, in the books that survived too many climates of xenophobia and burnings –
Despite Nebachaneezer, Darius, Herod, and Caesar,
Torquemada, Luther, Stalin, and Hitler.

Am Yisrael, Am Yisrael, Am Yisrael Chai,
Am Yisrael, Am Yisrael, Am Yisrael Chai.

The name is placed as my foreskin is shaved from my frame that was jaundice, but the circumcision is not delayed;
Amichai Shaul ben Elchanan
My nation lives, a king, son of another namesake that fought for religious freedoms remembered in a festival of lights in the cold months.

Over a year passes and my mother’s mother’s heritage comes to light so she and I and my youngest brother have to be brought to the mikvah for a treaty, a conversion, in spite of the names and hate Ora Chaya had endured for being the only Jewish girl in her school in Romania – her Kalderashi blood burns like the furnaces for their cauldrons but she submits despite bearing a child with a testament for a name. She submerges herself in the waters of baptismal purification praying for equality amidst the nation kicked on century’s stones and promises her sons will have a Jewish education.

Twenty-five years later, in a synagogue in Sin City on Purim night, Amichai marvels at the ululations of the congregation gathered here for the megillah reading, who all clamor at the death of a villain 2500 years ago -reveling in his execution and Amichai wonders why the tormented remember so vividly tormenting when the Midrash says HaShem Weeped at the drowning of the Egyptians. Amichai is outcast, unobserving Jewry and without Romanipen –  wondering now, which is more important: proo r’voo, the first commandment God gave man, or marrying a Jewish girl, because loneliness in Sansgraceland pounds like the heat here in August and playing piety like I’d learned in that followed-through upbringing my mother gave me in New York makes inhibitions manifest many-fold, walking through this city steeped in indulgences in a self-imposed Diaspora like nothing my matriarchs knew.

Elohey Sahrah, Rivka, Rokhel, v’Leyah, give me the strength of these convictions You have hewn to my soul; the ferocity of those who sacrificed themselves on Masada with the Shema on their lips; give me the wisdom of the ancient steps of Yerushalayim to recognize the pathways that lead to the holy places inside of people’s hearts, their altars and sacraments, their subtle differences in similitude devoted to You. Because I am a miracle walking about unknown, with diversity in my veins and love in my bones, who’s grown out the pegs I’d been boxed in before but without a destination, disembarking from shore.

Am Yisrael Chai, Am Yisrael Chai,
Am Yisrael, Am Yisrael, Am Yisrael Chai


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