My parents, Orly Halpern and Elisha Goldberg, were married on June 20th, 2021, after a protracted courtship. You can read more about those glorious years spent with no responsibilities for any other livings things at: https://www.theknot.com/us/orly-halpern-and-elisha-goldberg/our-story
My name is Mikaela Grace Goldberg. I arrived gradually, then suddenly, about a week ago. I pronounce my name Mee-Kah-Ella, but will likely go by Mika (Mee-kah) for all but the most formal of occasions (the SATs, the DMV). My dad was agitating for a diacritical mark over the 'E' to clear up any pronunciation issues- Mikaèla- but the consensus view was that this would only further complicate matters. My mom calls me Meeks and my dad calls me MiishMiish (Hebrew for apricot, I'm slightly jaundiced). I am excited to meet you!
I am named after four of my great grandparents. Mikaela, for my mother's paternal grandfather, Marty (Mi-kha-el in Hebrew) Halpern, and Grace, for my father's maternal grandparents, Gertrude and George Kurz, and my mother's maternal grandfather George Pollak. In Hebrew, my name מיכאלה גיטל honors their memories and legacies as well.
If you'll indulge me, I'd like to expound a bit on the spiritual meanings behind my name and on the exceptional people who carried it before me.
The name Michael first appears in the bible in Bamidbar (Numbers) 13:13, as one of the leaders of the tribe of Asher. The meaning of the name is divided into three roots. "Mi" which means "who is," "Cha" pronounced like the ch in Bach and meaning "like," and El, which means "God." Michael- "Who is like God?" This question is meant to be rhetorical, no matter how much my parents intend to spoil me. As Rabbi Romm so graciously pointed out this weekend in his Shabbat sermon, the name "Michael" is a declaration of faith- "No one is like God" and is closely linked with the day's Torah reading. The portion read in synagogue on the day of my naming included the portion of the "Shema" and the 10 Commandments, two of the Jewish people's oldest affirmations of faith.
The Torah portion also has a link to my middle name-Gittel/גיטל. In Yiddish the name means "Good," or "Tov" in Hebrew. The reading from the week I was born includes a prophecy (Deuteronomy, 6:11): At some point in the future all of us will hopefully be with contentment, with happiness, with material wealth and comfort, living in homes full of "good" things. The Torah urges us to never forget the true source of this "goodness," that all things come from God. It is my hope that my first name, acknowledging God's presence in this world, will help me merit a portion of all the goodness this world has to offer.
Additionally, his week we celebrated the Jewish holiday of Tu B'Av, the 15th day of the month of Av. Tu B'Av was historically considered the happiest and most auspicious day of the Jewish calendar, a full-moon fertility festival replete with music and rejoicing. Mishnah Ta'Anit 4:8 notes that "לֹא הָיוּ יָמִים טוֹבִים לְיִשְׂרָאֵל כַּחֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר בְּאָב", "There were no holidays (literally translated as "good days") as joyous for the Jewish people as the 15th day of Av." As my parents can attest, despite the near total lack of sleep, this was a very very good week.
And now, a bit more about the incredible humans after whom I am named.
(Orly's Paternal Grandfather)
Marty Halpern exemplified fierce commitment to good faith and to good times.
A self-made immigrant from Vienna, Marty (Mi-cha-el, in Hebrew) Halpern carved out his own destiny. Taking great risks to cross many European borders, he found his way to America and built a profitable zipper business from the discarded rags of the garment district. His realization of the American dream required grit as well as the bold, brazen confidence that Grandpa (as my mom called him) was known for.
Strong will and, sometimes capricious, determination led Grandpa to success in all aspects of life — most noteworthy was his courtship of my Great-Grandma Selma as a waiter at Kutchers, pursuing the young daughter of an esteemed guest at the facility (very Dirty Dancing-esque), but also worth mentioning his bullish driving skills which he used well into his 80’s.
Grandpa Marty’s perseverance was only matched by his love of play.
An artist, an avid dancer, a singer, world traveler, and a genuine lover of life, Grandpa lived his to the fullest and never spent too much time worrying about the what if’s (as clearly signaled by his signature smile that stretched from ear to ear in nearly all situations). A man completely devoted to his friends and family, Grandpa left quite the legacy for me to match.
Somewhat ironically, many of the descriptors above have a far greater resemblance to my dad, Elisha, than my mom, Orly, but perhaps that makes perfect sense after all.
(Great) Grandpa Marty with (Great) Grandma Selma
(Elisha's Maternal Grandparents)
Gertrude Amster, or Trudy to those who knew her well, was born in Berlin on July 23rd, 1911. She was in the first female graduating class of the Hildesheimer Yeshiva, the famed Rabbinical Seminary. After the rise of the Nazi Party she joined a tennis team that was competing in Palestine, sailed there alone by boat, and never returned.
In Palestine she met her husband, George Kurz, an internationally acclaimed athlete. He was born in Vizhnitz, then part of Austria-Hungary, on October 28, 1904, but the family subsequently moved to Berlin. He competed for the German national track and field teams in the late 1920's and early 1930's, winning medals and setting national records. According to stories passed down to me by my grandmother, he emigrated to Palestine when the local crowd began to "boo" him at competitions due to his ethnicity, even after winning. In Palestine, George joined the Haganah, the Jewish Defence Force, helping rescue Jews fleeing the Nazis arriving by boat. After several years in Palestine, Gertrude and George Kurz moved to the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. Together they opened Trudy's, a fashion shop, which at one point was located around the corner from where me and my parents now live, on the Lower East Side.
They had a great love of family, prayed every day, and never missed Saturday services at Synagogue. Jewish education was critically important to them. They were kind and warm, well dressed, elegant, and dignified. My name honors the way they moved through life.
Gertrude and George Kurz
(Orly’s Maternal Grandfather)
Rabbi Doctor George Pollak was as (if not even more) impressive as his numerous titles suggest.
As a Holocaust surviver from Hungary, the obstacles and unspeakable experiences Saba George overcame are too challenging to comprehend, let alone recount. Far from pure survival (which would have been amazing enough), he chose to double down on his faith and commitment to Judaism, pursuing a career in Jewish education and playing the part of patriarch to a family of (now) 3 children, 8 grandchildren, and 17 great-grandchildren spanning Israel to Chicago.
After the war, Saba migrated from a Displaced Persons camp in Austria to Canada where he bartered for his Bachelor’s Degree at a Lutheran Seminary in Waterloo in exchange for teaching Bible studies in Hebrew. He then made his way south to the United States to become a Rabbi, circulating through the Northeast, leading communities in Port Jervis, Cleveland and Fall River. In some of these Rabbinical positions Saba George was also responsible for the local Jewish school system, putting new educational curriculae in place to help build the foundation of Judaism in one of the most populous Jewish geographies on the globe. He simultaneously got his PHD on The Impact of Jewish Dayschool education on Judaism later in life, the first thesis of its kind. Saba’s educational impact got him attention from national organizations, and ultimately led him to his final position as Director of Community Services at the American Association for Jewish Education, where he spent the remainder of his career flying to Jewish communities all over the country to help evaluate and improve the standard of education for American Jewry.
While his CV is far from shabby, it pales in comparison to the physical presence that Saba George carried into the room, no matter what that room was — a synagogue in which he addressed his community from the pulpit, a classroom where he brought his educational fervor to his pupils, or his humble kitchen in Queens where he showed his grandchildren how to make fresh marror for the Passover Seder.
Regardless of the time or the place, Saba was dressed to the nines, standing astoundingly tall (with quite the imposing stature), and speaking with authority and insights on nearly any and all topics — from European soccer, to the latest on world chess, to Talmudic studies. Beyond his seemingly infinite wisdom (which came from the multitudes of books he was always seen reading), he had a voracious appetite for learning and culture - you could never get into his car without cycling through his latest classical music tapes or overhearing a foreign word he exchanged in one of the 7 languages he knew. To say Saba was the epitome of culture and poise is a gross understatement. The hope is that his abundance of gifts, talents, passions and exceptionalism have managed to overflow to the next generation, bestowing me with just a bit of the “Grace” that Saba exuded and modeled for my mom, Orly.