For Our Cal Eiden/חייא עדן
I'm a father now?
Sorry for my lack of posting last week. My wife and I did a thing!
Our son was born last Thursday, October 13th at 2:47pm. He is a champion and my wife is a warrior. I am hopeful to get some writing done in the weeks ahead on what I have observed, learned, and experienced in these early days of parenthood. For this post, I wanted to write what my wife and I shared about our son’s namesakes, Edie Feury and Irene Belsky.
While unfortunately Cal missed out on getting to love and be loved by two of his great-grandmothers during their lifetimes, inheriting their names—and if we’re lucky, their personalities, quirks, and hearts—is the next best thing.
Cal, your middle name, Eiden, or Eden in Hebrew, is for my maternal grandmother and your great-grandmother, Edie Feury. My grandma was born on October 12, 1922—exactly 100 years to the day before I went into labor with Cal. Edie was born in Germany and when I was growing up, she regaled my siblings and me with stories of her childhood: sitting with her father as he played the piano, eating marzipan as a special treat, she and her brothers getting into all kinds of trouble in their neighborhood in Cologne.
Less often, she spoke of her experiences during WWII, of her time as a nurse, of the loss of her family. Her older brother, a pilot, died in a plane crash; her twin brother commanded a U-boat that was never found; and her parents, non-Jews who harbored their Jewish neighbors in their basement for many months as the war waged, were shot dead in their home when they were discovered. She was detained in a Russian prison camp, and was only released when a doctor issued her a fake tuberculosis diagnosis. Following the war, she met and married my grandfather, James Feury. They moved to the United States and had three children - my mom and her two brothers, who gave her four grandchildren. When I think now of what it must have been like for her to lose her entire family of origin, it’s no wonder that she had to become incredibly tough, and that she held so close the loved ones she had left, perhaps none more than her grandchildren.
Despite her thick German accent, I think Edie tried to embrace aspects of life in America: she immediately adopted the all-American Dallas Cowboys and NY Yankees as sports teams, her favorite department store was Sears, and she never turned down a hot dog from Texas Weiner, our local burger and hot dog joint. I couldn’t appreciate it as a child, but now I marvel at her ability to adapt to a whole new world, to cope with such profound loss, and the resiliency and strength it must have taken to keep going.
In addition to the initial “E” in our spelling of Eiden to honor Edie, in Gaelic Eiden means fiery, which is a fitting word to describe my grandmother’s spirit. Cal Eiden, we hope that that same fire ignites within you and helps sustain you through life’s tricky times.
For years, every Sunday my grandma would drive down to our house from Wayne, NJ, and stay at our house until Wednesday to help care for me and my siblings as both of my parents worked. That meant that Sunday was always my favorite day of the week, as it signified fresh boxes of Kaiser rolls and rumball cookies from her local bakery; afternoons spent getting a treat after she picked us up from school, her little magenta Toyota Corolla waiting in the parking lot at least 45 minutes before school ended; and hours of stories from her childhood and young adult life. These things, though seemingly small, demonstrate my grandma’s understanding that the “big” things in life are actually these little things - a wisdom we hope, Cal, that you inherit too.
And finally, through those moments and more, the common thread is how deeply seen and loved I always felt in my grandmother’s presence; there is a warmth and light even in my memories of her that I carry with me always. Our hope, Cal, is that you feel it too - that throughout your life, you continuously experience the gift of what it is to be seen and loved by those around you, and to give that gift to others too.
Cal, your English and Hebrew names represent your paternal great grandmother, Irene Dolores Chervitz. The C is for her last name Chervitz and her Hebrew name Chayya is represented by your Hebrew name Chiyya, both linguistically linked to life. She was a life-giving force and we hope the same for you.
While we didn’t choose Caleb’s natural Hebrew name Calev, we hope that the aspects of what the Biblical Calev stood for are embedded in your Jewish soul.
Caleb was one of the spies that came to spy the land among twelve, and he was one of two that has stood throughout time for his ability to withstand the evil report of the other twelve spies.
It’s hard to know exactly what drove Biblical Caleb to stand up to the evil spies, but a certain self-awareness and fortitude must have been behind it.
This was illustrated when the other spies described the land “eretz ochelet yoshveha,” a land that consumes its dwellers. The spies were worried that the very act of being in this new and foreign place, with all of its unique land, people, and customs would consume them.
Calev responded to their concerns by stating “lachmeinu heim,” they are our bread: Not only won’t the land consume us, but as the Lubavitcher Rebbe noted, we will consume it and turn it into a vehicle for holiness. To be a person that can stand in the face of such a force and stare it down is what made Caleb, Caleb; we hope it’s what’ll make you Cal.
In a similar vein, Rav Chiyya of Talmudic fame was described as “ari she’bachabura,” the lion in his crew. Not only was he a student and friend of the great Rabbi Yehuda ha’Nasi but he was known as someone that was ferocious and loyal, ready to fight, and protect what was his.
My Baba/Bebe embodies these principles. She lived fully in the world, never afraid of speaking up and out, whether it was for a classmate with developmental delays in elementary school when she was 12 years old or throwing herself into the latter parts of her life after her husband, Morris z’l passed away, with a true zest. My baba was a pure soul of abundance.
There is one more story that is told of Rav Chiyya that I want to bring to mind today.
In the tractate of Ketubot in the Talmud, we learn the following:
Rabbi Ḥiyya said to Rabbi Ḥanina: I am working to ensure that the Torah will not be forgotten from the Jewish people. For I bring flax and I plant it, and I then weave nets from the flax fibers. I then go out and trap deer, and I feed the meat to orphans, and I form scrolls from the skins of the deer. And I go to a town that has no teachers of children in it and I write the five books of the Torah for five children. And I teach the six orders of the Mishna to six children. To each and every one of these children I say: Teach your order to your friends. In this way all of the children will learn the whole of the Torah and the Mishna.
Rav Chiyya believed deeply in the importance of passing wisdom on to others. Painstakingly laboring from a single flax plant, he disseminated Torah to countless children
My Baba debated long and hard in her younger years about becoming a teacher or a nurse. The truth was, while she chose nursing, she was always a teacher, passing the love of nursing and teaching on to many of her children.
Most of my memories with her are wrapped up in her teaching me life lessons. Two of them come to mind today.
Yahtzee and salmon patties: When my mom went back to nursing school later in life, I spent many a morning and afternoon at my baba’s house. She fed me, entertained me, and taught me the beauty of a game of yahtzee. God bless you if you could beat her. For a woman who claimed non-competitiveness, she HATED losing. Those days embodied my baba. Her home was full of warmth, fun, passion, and so much joy.
Honda Civic Shabbat-For probably 5 or 6 years, my Baba’s white Honda Civic rolled up to our house every Friday afternoon where she would proceed to spend Shabbat with us. I recognize that it was complicated for my parents but for me, it was pure bliss. Those memories of shabbat with my Baba are priceless. Those visits served as an extension of what her home served for me: the center of gravitational pull for my jewish life and identity.
She was a communicator par excellence. She called constantly always by moniker to her, Adireleh or little Harry (for my similar look to her father, Harry). I’ve saved many of her voicemails, cards, and emails from over the years. They almost always expressed a desire to see each other more frequently, excitement for our wedding, and not-so-subtle asks about great grandchildren. Well, here you are, Baba.
She was an avid learner. In the latter parts of her life, she uprooted her religious ideology and threw herself into adult learning. Not for nothing, she loved Rabbis. That makes one of us!
The final image I want to share comes from the cruise she took me on to celebrate my bar mitzvah. Like many 13 year old boys, I much preferred the company of my fellow teenage cruise companions to my grandmother. After the trip, I heard that she had a great time but she felt like I hadn’t hung out with her as much as she would’ve liked. I’ve always felt sad about that memory.
It popped into my head in a very powerful way in the hospital looking around at the angels that assisted us in the form of our labor and delivery nurses, which was her profession.
You were there in the hospital in our nurses. You came to me when I needed you the most. We want to bring all of that into you, Cal/Chiyya.
We want that fire, toughness, adaptability, family oriented nature, instinct to pass wisdom along to others, love of the rhythms of the Jewish calendar, great communication skills, and most importantly a big heart with enough capacity to love all those that come into your orbit.
As your life begins in this world, Cal, may it be elevated with the souls of Edie Feury and Irene Belsky.
We love you