Step-by-Step: Making Aliyah to Israel

Documenting the very personal process of making Aliyah (immigration to Israel) by one very atypical Israeli-American girl. Aliyah on 17, August, 2005. Roadmap: What do you mean there's no roadmap?! Hang on, we're in for a bumpy ride! Ole!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

It's all in a name?

First, it is still Tuesday? I didn't make it to the store. I was starving and all we had was instant oatmeal (tres disgusting, but I ate it anyway) and then I fell into bed "for an hour" --but just woke up. Hey it is early! My body is telling me it is 5:30 in the morning.

Ok, I want to blog about the whole name thing. Or maybe names is the better way to put it. I'll start off with the name of this blog: Oleh girl. Yes, I know that it is grammatically incorrect and should be "Olah" because --I'm a girl. But, I liked the idea of using "oleh" because it is also the spanish version of a rousing "woo hoo!" As you can see, I'm not much for following the rules :)

My name. I like my name. No, I love my name. It was carefully selected by me, myself and I, because I hated the name my parents carefully selected for me. I spent 18 years living with the name my parents picked (and a last name they were also stuck with) and I hated every minute of it. So when I turned 18 I changed it. The whole shabang from first, to middle, to last. I even added a second middle name. I've now spent almost 18 years living with a name I LOVE. And it is great because I have lots of nice nicknames from it. But now there is a problem. This lovely name, except for Yael, is gaelic.

Yes, gaelic. Celtic. Totally not Jewish. Not by any stretch of the imagination is it a Jewish name. And this is fine with me.

It is not fine with folks in Israel. The problem first arose when I was in line at the El Al counter. The girl whose job it is to grill each and every person to make sure we are not terrorists was like, ok, explain this name. So I did, and she actually thought it was pretty funny, but she also asked me about 5 times as many questions as she did everyone else, including what did I read when I made Bat Mitzvah (I should note that when I went to the Aliyah Center for the first time to meet with my Shaliach, I had to recite the shma to the security guard before he'd let me in). Things got worse when I hit pass control on the other end. You are here for what reason --aliyah pilot trip with this name? And you don't have any close relatives living here? Hmmmm.

And of course, they all want to know what my name was before. Fine, except that even though my old first name was a nice, standard name for a Jewish girl, my last name was ...British. And unpronounceably British too. Because, you see, my father is not Jewish. For that matter, my maternal grandfather was also not Jewish. Nonetheless, I am halachically Jewish because my maternal grandmother was, therefore making my matre, and thus me nice Jewish girls. And given that the _maternal_ line is considered to be so all-important by the Orthodox what is all this emphasis on having a paternally-delivered last name?? Oy!

I got double, triple, and quadruple takes everywhere I went (not to mention the 3rd degree). The nice lady at the Ministry of Absorbtion that I talked to kindly informed me that when I make Aliyah , upon arrival, I can have a free name-change and she strongly suggested that I USE IT. Oy.

The good thing is that I won't have to change it in the U.S. and so can still be me as I reinvented myself. The bad thing is that I can already forsee the hassles of going through U.S. customs everytime I return home to see the family --your name is different on your passports why? What kind of a lurking terrorist are you? Oy, again.

And I like my name!! Alright, I'm whining.

Another good thing is that I now, for free, have the opportunity to reinvent myself yet again. This could be fun. And one thing I've noticed, having done this once already, is that when you take on a completely new name your personality really changes in many ways to fit that new name. I wouldn't say that you are suddenly a completely different person but you are, in subtle ways and in larger ones, different from who you were before. I've talked about this phenomenon with other people who've changed their names and it seems to be quite common --it is like you shed aspects of yourself that you didn't like and associated with the old name and begin to adopt new ones that fit your new image. Or maybe not really new ones, just parts of yourself that you couldn't express when you were saddled with this other identity. For instance, I was painfully (painfully) shy as Sherri (American spelling of Shiri). When I officially became Katie it is not like I suddenly became little miss gregarious but I did become a hundred times more outgoing, more self-confident.

So now the question is, who do I become? I don't want to, as was suggested, go back to Shiri. I don't really feel like a Yael and I don't feel like Yael fits me as a first name. A friend suggested Yael Moked --pronounced Mo-ked --because it is close (sort of) to my chosen last name. Hmmm, I've been rolling it around in my mouth for days now and I kind of like it but...it doesn't feel like me or like a me that I could become. This is going to take some serious thought (hey any suggestions out there?)

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