Dvar Israel: Shabbat, December 1, 2018





This sentence is at the heart of the way I choose to live my life. I love history, and in particular hearing family stories. I've always been curious about what it used to be like, why things happened this way and not another; and to understand where I  came from: da me’ayin bata. Today I want to share the roots of my name to better explain where I come from and who I am. I have a very long name, Yael Esther Jerassy-Etzion. My name was always a big deal for me. People often mispronounce it or are too lazy to say all of it. I would play a game in my head trying to guess how the person calling out attendance would read my name aloud.Yael E? Yael Jerassy? Yael Etzion? So, I am sure you can understand that I was embarrassed by my name as a kid. I thought it was too long and sounded weird.

But as I grew older, I came to know the fascinating stories behind my long name and I came to understand that it is awesome. My parents decided to call me Yael for two reasons. The first is after Yael the heroine from the Tanach who was the wife of Heber the Kenite. She is famous for killing Sisera, an enemy general who was leading his troops against Israel. To many, she is the symbol of a strong woman who was driven by her sophistication, courage and boldness. My parents wanted me to grow up to be just that.

Yael was also the name my Grandmother Joyce used when she made aliyah to kibbutz Ramat David back in 1970, she changed her name to Yael so she could fit in better with all the kibbutnikim. My middle name Ester is after my grandfather’s older sister that he never met. Ester was murdered in cold blood by the Nazis in the gas chambers of Birkenau along with her younger sister Gitel. My younger sister’s middle name is hers. So, we may never forget.

Jerassy, the first part of my last name, tells the story of my ancestors on my grandfather’s family that were expelled from Spain in 1492 because they refused to convert to Christianity. My family lived in the area of Jerass, and like many other Jewish people that were expelled from Spain at the time, they changed their last names to the names of where they were from in Spain to never forget their Spanish roots.

The second part of my last name Etzion is after my great-grandparents' friends who lived in Kfar Etzion. During the 1948 War of Independence, Kfar Etzion fell to The Kingdom of Jordan. Most of the members of the kfar and among them all of my grandfather’s parents’ friends were killed in the battle even after they surrendered. In 1950, as a memorial to the victims of Kfar Etzion, my grandfathers' parents changed their last name to Etzion.

My family’s story is stretched from Spain, to Poland, to Czechoslovakia, to England, to Romania, to the United States, to Israel and now to Toronto, Canada. My name is the story of my family and all our hopes for the future. Shabbat Shalom.

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