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Thursday, October 25, 2012 | return to: columns, humor


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Tygerpen: Don’t name your Jewish baby Meth, if that was the plan

by trudi york gardner

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The most overlooked Bible character is finally getting his due. Methuselah, who died on the 11th of Cheshvan (Oct. 27) at age 969, soon will appear on-screen in the latest Noah film. Methuselah will be played by Sir Anthony Hopkins. Russell Crowe, if he’s sedated, will appear as Noah.

As far as I know, Methuselah has never been featured in any film. This is a disgrace, considering he’s listed in the “Guinness Book of Records” as the World’s Oldest Person. Noah is also, but not for surviving the Great Flood. Noah is listed for Attending the Most Yahrzeits for One Person, namely that of his great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Methuselah.

trudi york gardnerI’m glad Methuselah wasn’t around to see all the later fame of his great (times five) grandson Noah. Methuselah’s life must’ve been difficult for him and his family, especially finding the 900 or more candles for each birthday. So how do we repay him for his longevity? Some people name their children after Noah, which is, in fact, the most popular name in Israel (“Noam” for boys, “Noa” for girls).

When was the last time you heard of a kid named Methuselah Cohen?

I suppose there’s a reasonable explanation for this. Names are, as scientists know, critical to one’s success in life and how people perceive us. It’s unlikely you’d name your newborn son “Methuselah,” since the name connotes an old man with a long beard and exhausted medical benefits. Nor would it help to nickname your son “Meth.”

My parents named me Trudi, from the name Gertrude, before learning that both names were declared extinct in 1907 and relegated to horned women in Wagnerian operas. To compensate for this oversight, my parents also named me Tova (“good” in Hebrew, as well as “thunder” in Old Norse/Scandinavian).

Of all people, my parents should’ve been scrupulous in selecting my name because of their respective family histories. My mother’s grandmother was named Fanny Caplan, a delightful name, except in Russia where a Fanny Kaplan shot Lenin in an assassination attempt and later was executed for being a poor shot. My father’s father, Jake Yaroker, was handed the surname “York” by immigration officials puzzled over the meaning of “Yaroker” in Russian. My infant father Ari, pronounced “airy,” became “Harry York.”

For much of my life, the British name “York” provided cover for me in the presence of people inclined to denigrate Jews. My dilemma was whether to keep silent or stand up and rebuke the speakers, then walk proudly away holding up my head and what remained of my nose.

A distinguished surname like York was important in a city such as Portland where I grew up. A Jewish family’s last name immediately helped identify their successful business, e.g., the Schnitzer and Zidell families for their steel products, the Packouzes for jewelry, the Directors for furniture, the Rosenbaums for doctors, etc. My mother’s family, the Gevurtzes (“spice” in German), were identified with “big thighs.” I heard this directly from my mother’s cardiologist. Apparently, he had treated enough Gevurtzes to qualify as an expert.

My father isn’t around today to see a resuscitation of his given name, Harry, that had been disappearing in America. Now Harry is not only the name of the English prince and a well-loved book character, it’s the most popular name for a baby boy in the United Kingdom. “Harry” comes from “Henry” (as in Henry VIII), which possibly explains why there’s a tendency for Harrys to be girl crazy. When I see photos of playful Prince Harry, I’m reminded of my dad Harry York’s eye for the ladies. Most Harrys I’ve known, in fact, have this lecherous quality. My dad certainly did.

When my mother was deceased and he at 93 lived in a nursing home, he ardently pursued a younger resident (88) and asked an aide to buy him condoms. Dad also insisted on calculating the bust measurement of another resident, Bessie. She refused to tell him.

Weeks later, as he lay in bed moments from death with me sitting nearby, Bessie suddenly rolled her wheelchair into his room and yelled angrily at him, “It’s 42 double B!” With that, she departed and so did he.


Trudi York Gardner lives in Benicia and can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or via her blog, http://www.tygerpen.wordpress.com.


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