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What’s in a Name? Remembering Elijah

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At our grandmother's 90th birthday party
Bagel buddies
I don't know - we put everything on the table on our heads.
It was the early 90s, can't you tell?
Elijah held a chuppah pole at our wedding

It’s been three years since Elijah died. Elijah was my first cousin, born three months after me. I got the call during our annual family vacation to Maine – nobody could reach us, since the cell phone reception there is so spotty. We packed up immediately and drove the six hours or so back to Rhode Island. It’s a surreal and shocking memory – did it really happen? Sometimes it just seems like an impossible mixup.

It’s a strange mix of emotions, to remember somebody and miss them but also be pretty freaking pissed off at them. I also struggle with guilt. After fighting for sobriety and working as a counselor for others in need, Elijah overdosed. I am angry that his addiction killed him, and I feel guilty for not being at all active in his recovery. Mostly, I miss him – his delicious giggle and silly side, his caring and warm devotion to friends and family, his creativity and love for music.

A lot of my favorite memories of Elijah are just plain silly. Sitting around the seder table and singing SNL and Weird Al parodies. Putting tons of found objects on our heads. Eating ice cream and watching movies.

When Elijah died, I knew that I wanted to carry him with me for the rest of my life. He was also close to my mom – he even had a commemorative tattoo of her that helped inspire his sobriety. I knew almost immediately that I wanted to name my baby after both of them. It’s strange that their lives and deaths are so separate but also so tied together in my heart-memory. I wish they could both see my beautiful baby; he has long, thick eyelashes like Elijah. I desperately hope that he will take on their best qualities.

Here’s a little bit of the email I sent to friends and family about Eli’s name.

Eli’s Naming

August 9, 2016
This morning Jonathan and I welcomed our son into the community, and gave him the name Eli Herschel. Eli is a Hebrew name that means “ascend or uplift,” and is a variant of the Hebrew name Eliyahu (or Elijah). Hershel is a pet form of the Yiddish name Hersh, and means “deer.”

The name Eli is after my mother, Ellen Kurtzer White, of blessed memory. The name Ellen comes from the Greek name Helen, and means “light.” Although Eli will never meet this grandmother, we name him after her in the hopes that her memory will shine through Eli’s life. We will strive to teach Eli the values she held close: the centrality of family and our obligation to care for others, the closeness that comes from the friendships we nurture, the joy of making music together, the brilliant spark that strikes when creativity blooms, the thrill of intellectual discovery, the necessity of questioning and even of outrage, the beauty and power of books, the shaping force of imagination and play. She was truly a light to her friends and family, to the community, and to the families she served through her work. May Eli uplift our world with light; we hope that our son will inherit Ellen’s commitments, joys, passions, and loving creativity.

Eli is also named for my first cousin Elijah Friedman, of blessed memory. The name Elijah comes from the Hebrew Eliyahu and means “The Lord is my G-d.” Elijah was a beautiful soul who struggled with powerful demons – though in treatment he found comfort and solace in his connection with G-d and of his fond memories of my mom. We hope that Eli will bring forward the best and most loving aspects of Elijah’s memory: his silliness and beautiful laugh, his love and commitment to his friends and his family, his joy in music, his desire and willingness to help others. May Eli feel uplifted personally through the connection and support of community, and from a relationship with the Divine.

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