Updated Esthers

8 May

A while ago I wrote two blogs:  “Too Many Esthers” and “Your Heart Just Gets Larger” (links below).  I realized that they  needed to be a bit condensed and combined.  The following is a new blog combining these two.  I read it last week at the Cloud Burst program at Congregation Beth Torah in Kansas, and felt I had to share this new version here.

My Grandma Esther had a problem with her name.  She did not mind that she was named after her grandmother, Esther (Etka) Lew Wolf(f).  She enjoyed being named after the heroine of the Purim story.  She just hated that she had four first cousins all named Esther and all named for the same grandmother.

This caused her years of anguish….really.  She even told me about it when I sat down with her in the 1970s to get her family history.   She was already 80 when we spoke.  But it still bothered her that there were so many Esthers.

Why?  Because each of the Esthers, except for the oldest, was given a family nick name to designate which Esther people were talking about.  There was Pepi Esther; Meshuganah Esther, Curly Esther, Little Esther, and of course, Esther (the oldest who could just be that).

When you look at the family tree, it is confusing, so many Esthers and some with the exact same first and last names! Part of the genealogist nightmare. They were all born in the late 1890s, when census taking was not as organized as now. But my Grandmother’s memory was fantastic.  So I have an accurate listing of all her aunts and uncles and cousins, including the many Esthers.

My Grandma was Curly Esther, because she had very curly hair.  Thank goodness she was not called Meshuganah Esther, she told me, that would have made her so mad. But then she said,  Meshuganah Esther was really crazy.  So there you go.  But I think, did the name depict her, or did she conform to the nick name she was given?  We will never know.

Grandma told me NEVER EVER to give my child the same name as another first cousin.   It is too confusing.  That is why, when my Dad was born, although he was given the Hebrew name David, his English name just started with a D.   He already had a first cousin named, David, and Grandma was not taking any chances!!. Her children would not have nicknames!

The Esther story followed me to Ann Arbor, Michigan.  My husband and I spent two years there when he was studying.  Grandma said, you have cousins there.  You should go for Passover.  He is the son of Pepi Esther, Joel.  So of course, my husband and I had seder with my second cousin once removed and his family.

When we were ready to leave, I told him to say hi to his Mom, Pepi Esther.  He had NO idea what I was talking about.  Pepi Esther did not suffer the same trauma as my grandmother.   My cousin called me later that week to tell me he spoke to his Mom and found out about the Esthers.  He was laughing as he told me about his conversation with her:  “All my cousins call me Pepi,” she said.  “We just never used it at home.”

Later, when I had my first child, I received a sweater in the mail.  Knitted and sent with love, from ‘Pepi’ Esther.

Needless to say, I was careful about how I named my children.  Since my daughter was the first grandchild on one side, and only the second girl on the other side, I was safe.  She was the only one named after her grandmother who had passed away a year before she was born.  And, although I used her Hebrew name, my daughter’s English name was different.

My son also was the only one named for my grandfather and my husband’s uncle. So no duplicate names there either.  However, the fact that we adopted our son, made it possible for me to learn more about the story of Meshuganna Esther.

My dad was nervous about how his mother, my Grandma Esther, would react to our adopting a child. As far as he knew, there had never been an adoption in the family. How little he knew.

Grandma was now 92 and living in New York.  She called because was so happy about my son and told me more about the story of her cousin, Meshuganah Esther.  She told me in the old days, late 1890s/early 1900s, people, who had no children, often adopted orphan children. Most of the time they were related. But sometimes, they were the children of friends. I must say that orphan sometimes just meant one parent had died, usually the father.

In any case, my Great Grandmother Ray, had a sister, Chamka.  When Chamka finally made it out of the Bialystok region to join her siblings in the USA, she was a widow with three young children. And she was pregnant.  What was she to do?  Her sister Sarah had no children. and Sarah had a good job and could support a child.  When Chamka gave birth, the daughter Esther, was given to Sarah to raise. Because so many girls were named Esther, she received the nickname, Meshuganna Esther.

One of my cousins recently discover a photo of a grandmother and her granddaughter.  The photo is touching. It actually shows Chamka holding Meshuganna Esther’s daughter, Lenore.  And it tells part of the story on the back.

Tante Chamky and Lenore.  Lenore was Meshuganna Esther’s daughter. Esther was raised by Tante Sarah but was really Champka’s daughter.

My cousin wanted to know if I knew the story.  Of course I did.  And I told her.

In my mind, I wondered, is this why they called her Meshuganna Esther?  Because she was raised by her aunt as her mother and it confused her siblings and her cousins?  I am not sure.

But I do know that Meshuganna Esther named her daughter after someone named, Leah and named her daughter Lenore.  My Grandma Esther names her daughter after the same person and named her Leona.  The two of them had learned their naming lesson.

And I also know, I would never call anyone Curly or Meshuganna. I know my Grandma would disapprove.



7 Responses to “Updated Esthers”

  1. rochellewisoff May 8, 2018 at 2:59 pm #

    Dear Ellen,

    I enjoyed this Sunday. Incidentally, I was named after my grandmother Rose. We both share the Hebrew name Rukhel. So we share the R. My brother Jeffrey is named after Grandpa Joseph. Yet my mother had a fit when I named my first son Shannon after my Grandfather Sam. Shannon has Grandpa’s Hebrew name Shlomo (which isn’t even Sam). Go figure. Oy, Mishpochah.



    • zicharon May 8, 2018 at 3:04 pm #

      You never know how people will react. As for your Grandpa using the name Sam and not the English for Shlomo, I think many did that. My grandpa’s name was Nissan. When he got his American citizenship, he legally changed his name to Nathan. Which is not Nissan at all!

      • rochellewisoff May 8, 2018 at 3:28 pm #

        Exactly. I pointed that out to my mother. It still didn’t go over well. And Wisoff is shortened from Wissosky which was changed from Bader due to the passport out of Lithuania. I think we could go on and on. 😉

      • zicharon May 8, 2018 at 3:29 pm #

        Absolutely! We do the best we can.

  2. Amy May 8, 2018 at 6:28 pm #

    I recall the earlier posts and enjoyed this combination of the two. In my father’s family there are way too many women named Eva—on several different lines. It drives me crazy! Great post.

    • zicharon May 8, 2018 at 7:11 pm #

      Thank you. I was trying to pick out something for this reading event. I read “Too Many Esthers” to a friend. Then I mentioned that the story continues in another blog, and read that. It was her idea to combine the two for the reading. And she was right!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: