First Person

First Person

Nava Shira


Imagine a timeline on a scroll.

The scroll is full of characters and their stories, just waiting for air and light. When the scroll opens to the right place – just say, for example, to October 19, 2013 – the story written on that bit of parchment comes to life. In this case, to gurgling, sucking, cooing, crying, dimpled, lovely life.

That also means that the parchment that has been covered once again goes dark, and all the life and stories in it fade to black as well.

In the Torah – our quintessential scroll – the stories come to life every year, with absolute regularity. We know them all; we know what’s been newly covered again just as we know what is about to be revealed with a turn of the spindles. Sarah and Abraham died last week, and their stories have been replaced with Isaac and his twins, who are about to come to squalling life.

In our lives, we know what’s passed but we have no idea what’s to come. So there is much poignancy as well as great joy when we name new babies; they remind us that just as life itself is ever-renewing, there are people you’ve loved who you never will see again.

But I do not want to dwell on sadness, simply to acknowledge it.

But what do you say about birth? Because the truth is that it is impossible, at least for me, to stop babbling about miracles, about perfection, about tiny little fingers and toes and ears and perfect rosebud mouths and exquisite ears and elegant eyebrows and just the right amount of fine dark hair.

Absolutely wonder. Complete perfection.

Two Shabbats ago, my granddaughter (and oh my does that make me sound and feel, and to be realistic BE old) was born.

Because of the tradition that we not use her name – and in fact that her parents not divulge it – until she was named officially, we called her Isabella Snuffleface, a name to which we grew attached. Eventually, her mother, my daughter Miriam, settled on Snuffie.

Of course Jewish boys undergo brit milah on their eighth day of life. Traditionally, girls are named by their fathers on the bimah at the first convenient Torah reading after her birth. But as liberal Jews, we give our daughters naming ceremonies.

The ceremony to which the baby came as Isabella Snuffleface was held on Sunday, October 27, eight days after her birth and four days before her father’s 30th birthday. It was held in Temple Emanu-El of Edison, the Reform shul whose rabbi he has been for the last year. Dave’s parents carried the baby up to the bimah, where one of the two rabbis leading the ceremony – both friends of Dave’s from rabbinical school – gave her to me. I sat holding her as my husband, Andy, stood next to me.

Before an audience of about 200 people, Dave’s brother and sister lit candles, the rabbis spoke, and they announced the baby’s name. She is Nava Shira.

Dave explained that the baby’s first name, Nava, is after his great uncle, Nathaniel, who sponsored his father and grandparents and gave them a place to stay when perestroika allowed them to immigrate from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, to Montreal.

And then Miriam, my brave and wonderful daughter, said that her new baby’s middle name, Shira, is in memory of her own big sister, Shira Beth. Her sister had been smart, creative, funny, and charismatic, she said – although she said it far more movingly and gracefully than I am doing here – and she hopes that her own baby, Nava Shira, will inherit those characteristics.

Together, she said, the name means beautiful song. Shira, my Shira, was named right because she always sang – at times when walking down the street, little medleys of Cole Porter and Noel Coward that could have come from no one but her – and she hopes that Nava Shira will sing, and that the song will be beautiful.

I hope so too.

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