Monday, February 2, 2009

Prepare for the Day of Reckoning

A while ago, my friend Mother in Israel posted a pair of posts about popular Israeli names. If you’re an expectant parent, I suggest that you check out the comment sections for many beautiful naming ideas.

Yet, at the same time, I must warn you that the Day of Reckoning will surely come.

You see - assuming that you’re planning on making aliyah or that you’ve done so already – someday, you just may find yourself sitting in your child’s gan, celebrating his or her birthday.

And now is the time to start preparing for that.

I should begin by noting that Israeli ganenets (nursery teachers) take birthday parties to a level unimagined in the US. Indeed, having been (ba”h) to a fair number of both, I can say that American nursery and kindergarten birthday parties don’t hold a candle (no pun intended) to their Israeli counterparts.

Israeli ganenets have a whole slew of birthday songs, games and rituals at their disposal, and it seems that each year, they come up with new ones.

But one thing never changes.

At some point in the festivities, the other children in the gan bestow brachot (blessings) on the birthday child. These brachot range from the sublime (“may you see the Beit HaMikdash and the Kohein Gadol) to the adorable (“may your mother have a new baby”); and from the spiritual (“may you ascend the rungs of the Torah”) to the material (“may you be healthy”).

And then comes the mother’s turn.

Inevitably, the mother is asked to give her own brachah, to share a story about the child, and… to discuss the origin of the child’s name.

Yes, you have to do this in Hebrew. Yes, the ganenets and all the other kids are listening. Yes, usually 2-3 kids celebrate their birthdays together, and so there are some other mothers listening to you as well.

And no, you can’t just say, “we liked the name.”

If you’re lucky and your child was named after someone, you can talk about that person and how your child is continuing in his or her footsteps.

But otherwise, you’re going to have to be creative.

For instance, you can link your child’s name to the parsha/haftara of the week s/he was born, the season, or upcoming festivals. You can explain what the name means and how it fits your child. You can talk about your child’s Biblical or Talmudic namesakes. You can cite an obscure Midrash or resort to Gematria.

All it takes is advanced planning and thinking, and you’ll be fine. So, I recommend that you start early.

Like the day you bring the baby home from the hospital.

Or, you can wait until the morning of your child’s three-year-old birthday and then hope to somehow wing it.

But don’t say that I didn’t warn you…



  1. that can lead to some uncomfortable moments... but only if you afterwards regret the name you chose. if you really like it, and continue to, you should be ok...

  2. Rafi G - Picture the following "hypothetical" scenario:
    Five months after your aliyah, you're at your first gan birthday party. As it so happens, you gave birth a few weeks before and are completely sleep deprived. To your surprise, the ganenet hits you with a request to talk about your child and his/her name... in Hebrew... in front of the entire gan and the three other mothers who are there for their children's birthdays. It's a bit daunting, to say the least...

    Again, this is just "hypothetical"; I'm not saying that such a thing ever happened...

  3. tell her you have not yet finished ulpan! :-)

  4. Rafi G: Why didn't I think to say that ten years ago--- I mean, that would be good advice should anyone ever happen to find themselves in the "hypothetical" scenario I delineated...

  5. don't worry - you can always use that excuse... there is no time limit.. if the situation "should ever" arise....

  6. Nice post. There's so much in a name!

  7. That is part of the reason why I resisted giving my children names with "chet" and "resh" in them - I was embarrassed to pronounce them, especially at these gan parties.

  8. WBM - Until we made aliyah, I didn't realize that "lamed" is problematic as well...


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