Me, Myself, and I
The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’” . . . And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac [meaning, “He will laugh”].
Gen. 18:13 and 21:3
I, Chaim Yehudah Gruber, was originally given no English name. When I was in the 5th grade and living in suburban New Jersey, I had a great difficulty in my Hebrew day school. Due to that, my Orthodox-Jewish-raised father and Reform-Jewish-raised stepmother sent me, for the first time in my life, to a public school. The following is what I remember about my first-day initiation there, an institution into which I was switched mid-semester:
My stepmother took me in; and, at first, we went to the school’s administrative offices. There, she spoke to the principal while I sat alongside. After some time, we got up, and the principal, a man, escorted me, with my stepmother, to my new class. When we arrived, he, at once, broadly opened the classroom’s door. Then, like victims to a jack-in-the-box, we, from our position in a calm hallway, suddenly became witnesses to a classroom riot!
In the next moment—after being thrust by the principal into this raucous room’s periphery—he hurriedly announced to the teacher that she had a new student. Then, not even mentioning my name, he abruptly slammed the door behind me and vanished with my stepmother.
Although too young to understand at the time, in retrospect, I imagine that his extreme hastiness was caused by him being mortified by the classroom’s dramatic lack of decorum being shown to a new parent. Whatever the case, there was I, at the door, staring at the teacher—surely embarrassed herself due to her sloppy teaching practices having been caught by the principle—while she desperately tried to quiet the riotous group that was my new class.
“MARK,” the teacher cried out!
Mark! Sit Down! Mark! Sit Down! Mark! Mark! Mark! Mark!
Mark was the last boy to sit and be quiet. Just before that point, after all the other students had finally sat, Mark was running around and around the room’s circumference. Hence, the teacher’s screams: Mark! Sit Down! Mark! Mark! Mark!
At last, Mark sat. The teacher, then, gathering the class’s attention toward still-standing-at-the-door me, announced a new student’s arrival. Because of the hijinks and the principal’s swift exit, the teacher did not even know my name. So, she asked in front of everyone. My spontaneous response: “Mark.”
Seemingly, I instantly replied with this name, one that I had never before been called, due to my concern that no one in my American public school could rightly pronounce my given name: “Chaim.”
Again, Chaim Yehudah Gruber is my original name. While Orthodox Jews have no problem pronouncing Chaim, American Gentiles do; and, what fifth-grade boy wants his name mispronounced as “hymen”?
From that day on, I was Mark. Although being Mark caused a problem with my Orthodox-Jewish mother and her (and my) ultra-Orthodox family because I had chosen Mark with a “k” and not with a “c,” which is the Jewish way of spelling the name. But of such letter differences, I, ten-years old, did not know. Moreover, by the time that I did know, it was too late to change my new name that had, somehow, gotten onto school records. (In fact, this name remains on my legal identification until this day.)
For fifteen years, I was Mark in the Gentile world and Chaim in the Jewish. However, one day, after speaking to my friend Teddy, I changed my name again: to Max.
As it happened, I had told Teddy that I preferred the name Max to Mark. With due respect to the great name of Mark—of such historic significance as to be the namesake of one of the only four Gospels—Mark may be either good or bad. For instance, when someone has made his or her mark, that is something good; and, when china or silver has a manufacturer’s mark, it is more valuable. Yet, when an item is on discount due to it having a mark, that is bad. Moreover, who wants to be a marked man or some scammer’s mark? With all of that in mind, I told Teddy that I had wished, all those years ago, that I had chosen Max over Mark. After all, Max is the very most.
Teddy’s response to my quandary was simple: I should change my name to Max from that moment forward. So, taking his advice, I did: I went home and put, as a reminder, a large sign on my inner, front door that read, MY NAME IS MAX. Then, when I met someone new (and being a twentysomething in Manhattan, that seemed to happen all the time), I introduced myself as Max. Everyone believed me. (Even if, at first, I did not believe it myself.) Not only that, I morphed into someone else: as pertains to identification both by the self and from others, a Max truly is different from a Mark.
That conversation with Teddy happened over twenty-years ago; and, since that time, I have (due to, perhaps, my already-established pattern of name changing) collected many other names to become, impossibly, more than Max (“impossibly” because, by logic, how can someone be more than the most?):
When I lived in the U.S. Mid-West, I started to teach Hebrew to Christians. There, I felt that I needed, other than the very German sounding Max Gruber, a new name to lend authenticity to my on-the-job, Hebrew-teaching persona. While Chaim, of course, is a genuine Hebrew name, not everyone, who either sees the name written or hears it, knows that. So, after praying for divine inspiration, I took “Israel.” And, to this day, it is as Israel that many know me. In fact, among some, I am even nicknamed “Izzy” or “Is.”
Over the years, considering both how my theology has dramatically broadened and the prevalence of small-mindedness among a large-enough segment of the religious population, I—in deference to ignorance being bliss—have discovered that having multiple names can be a great shield against myopic accusations of heresy.
In Holland, I am David. To explain this name, about thirteen-years ago [now, at this edition’s publication, it is the time of the 2018, Summer Solstice (Hebrew year 5778)], I travelled to Holland from France. En route, as I perceive divine messages, the LORD told me that I should, when I arrived in Holland, use the name “David.” I refused! . . . Although I did, at the least, give an excuse to the LORD: I told God that I would not again change my name because doing so would make me appear crazy! Further, it would become challenging to remember who I would be!
To explain, over the years, when contacting someone either whom I had recently met or whom I knew from some time in the past, it may have been, due to my sloppy record keeping about how I introduced myself, that I did not remember by which of my monikers that I was known. Therefore, because I did not want to appear so foolish as not to be aware of my own name, I would frequently reel in such people with a fishing game of “Guess-who-this-is?” And, such an amusement, which some, including myself, may find childish, does not, to say the least, suit every occasion.
Continuing with the difficulties of having multiple names, sometimes, I was mistakenly convinced that I was known to a so-and-so by such-and-such a name. However, when I got in touch with that so-and-so (say, on the phone), after my greeting and saying who I was, the dumbfounded reply would be, “Who?” Then, if, due to embarrassment, I did not immediately hang up and—after the “crank” call was presumably forgotten—telephone, perhaps, a week later with an introduction by another one of my names (the one that I thought the likely plan-B), I, rather, may have, in the most flippant manner, mentioned another one of my litany of monikers and added something like, “Oh, did I use a middle name when we were introduced?”
In any event, having many names is exhausting. In fact, it is so tiring that I, despite not wanting to disappoint God, adamantly refused to change my name to David at His request. However, the Almighty, being all mighty, had other plans:
When I arrived in Amsterdam, I had to arrange lodgings. So, going through my phonebook of local contacts, I came across the name of a woman, Joanna, an elder, who I had known in Jerusalem. While, during my years in Jerusalem, I was known to some as Ha’Cha’yo’yam (or Ha’Chai for short—and here, due to space considerations, I do not go into further details), to this Dutch woman, I was, with 100% certainty, known as Chaim. So, when I called her, I planned to introduce myself as such. However, after she picked up, before I had a chance to say more than a hello—that is, before I said my name—Joanna’s response was, “David?” Then, after a second of being utterly stunned, I replied, “Yes.”
Seemingly, Joanna mistook my voice for her son David’s. Whatever the case, in that fraction of time that it took for me to respond to Joanna in the affirmative, I said in my mind, “Okay God, you win; I’ll become David.” So, due to playing along with Joanna’s mistake, I am, to this day, David in Holland (and more recently, in the South of France as well).
To near-end this multiple-name saga with a bang, as of late, that is, from the time of Passover 2017, due to clear divine signs of the sort that I have learned not to mess with, I was given three names! An ancestor’s name to take as a first name (Y’hoshua, my maternal grandfather’s name, RIP), a name adjustment (HaChaim from merely Chaim), and a brand-new name (Christopher). Consequently, I am the then Rabbi Chaim Yehudah Gruber and the now Y’hoshua HaChaim or Christopher.
However, as my Rabbinic self, since many name alterations may be too confusing, I have simply added the initial “H.” to Chaim, to become Rabbi H. Chaim Gruber instead of Rabbi HaChaim. (However, while written “H. Chaim,” my appellation is meant to be pronounced “HaChaim” and not “Aitch-Chaim.”)
Actually, in our age of Big Brother, I somewhat revel in all of my name adjustments and metamorphoses. I so exult due to being a role model for change! After all, in such an era—where one’s named identity can be difficult to alter due to an extreme reliance on identification cards and government numbers—it may be less likely for a person to change his or her moniker. However, when people in such a policed age are locked into a name, what may result are dramatic problems with their destinies. This is because, traditionally, a change of name equates to a change of destiny. (To mention again, being a Max is palpably different from being a Mark.)
God gave new names to 66.67% of the three Patriarchs (Abraham and Jacob) and to 25% of the four Matriarchs (Sarah). Therefore, because the Bible relates eternal guidance, God may similarly direct someone, in his or her lifetime, to take a new name, and thereby, a new fate. Meaning, by being forthright about my panoply of name changes, I may encourage others so that they, when appropriate, can, too (or three or four), more easily modify their names.
Consider: were there no destiny to a name, God would not have bothered to send the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary to let her know that she must name her child Jesus; and, the Hollywood honchos who rechristened Marilyn Monroe, RIP, would have been satisfied, rather, with her original name of Norma Jeane Mortenson-Dougherty.
In fact, Donald Trump’s presidential victory may be name related! His slim majority over Hilary Clinton may have been triggered—more than any Russian meddling or Bernie-Sanders affect—by the positive, (sub)conscious associations that English speakers have with the word “trump.” After all, a trump has more might than even the Ace of Spades. (Relatedly, and considering that both the word “nix” means to get rid of and the word “on” means who or what is on top, could it have been a mere coincidence that the first U.S. President to resign was named NixOn?)
Considering the power of a name, it may be that, in my future, I may retroactively change my name from Rabbi Gruber to Rabbi Groovier, due to my will to be identified as more than groovy! . . . Immediately after writing the previous sentences, I feel that that future time has already come but not quite as expected. Namely, I will forgo any retroactive change of surname so that, from this time forward, I may be called, in the Gentile world, Christopher Groovier—a name that sounds oh-so sweet!