Michael J. Radwin

Tales of a software engineer who keeps kosher and hates the web.

Monthly Archives April 2013

A letter to Emma Margalit on the day of her Simchat Bat

Dearest New Little One,

We are so very happy to greet you, meet you, and welcome you into our immediate family, our big family of friends and neighbors and loved ones, our community, and our big world.

We have chosen for you the name Emma Margalit, named after two phenomenal women in your family tree. Your great-grandmother Emma passed away 7 months ago, on the night of Kol Nidrei. She never knew you, or even about you, but she would have loved you. Your great-uncle Lewis will tell you a bit more about her in just a minute, and we have much more to tell you about her through your whole life but there are just a few things we would like to tell you right now.

Emma was a devoted mother who raised three sons, and took responsibility for teaching her children and grandchildren proper manners, grammar, nutrition, and posture. She was an amazing cook who could turn vegetable scraps into coveted soup, and was a gracious hostess as she served it. She was a great believer in hand-written thank-you notes and letters, and her slashy handwritten correspondance earned her great admiration in certain small corners.

She made sure that we all took care with our “who”s and our “whom”s and thought that an elevated vocabulary was a sign of a well-educated person. On daily walks, she took care to pick up coins from the ground that others had dropped, over a period of years eventually assembling a kitty of over a hundred dollars. That single habit says volumes about her dedication, sense of propriety, humility, and patience. We hope that you can emulate some of those great qualities.

She lived for 91 years and is greatly missed. Her, and your Hebrew name is Nechama, which means comfort, and it is the words used to describe the way we comfort mourners after a death. We hope that you will be some comfort after her death for those who loved her. More importantly, by naming you for Great-Grandma Emma, we hope you carry on some of her graciousness, her intelligence, her beauty, and her modesty.

Your middle name, Margalit, means “pearl” in Hebrew. We have chosen the name for several reasons, but one of them is that the name Margalit reminds us of Grandma Emma’s dear cousin Martha Benenson, who was like a big sister to Emma. As children, they grew up together after Emma’s parents took in Martha and her brothers. As an adult, Martha lived on her own in Washington, D.C. She lived quietly and modestly, never moving out to California despite Emma’s requests. Your mother remembers her annual visits to Studio City, sitting in the winter sun at the breakfast table and doing crosswords puzzles.

By naming you for both Emma and Martha, we not only remember two extraordinary women, but we also pay tribute to the loyalty and devotion of friendship and family. Their relationship was special in both of their lives, and we wish for you the same quality of intimacy and loyalty throughout your life.

The name Margalit, while literally meaning a pearl, can also be used to talk about the Torah, and Torah learning more generally. Great words of wisdom and learning can be called a Margalit, and we wish you a life filled with Torah learning. Pearls are a jewel of great beauty, and your date of birth is on the day of the Omer corresponding to Yesod shebe’Tiferet, the foundation of beauty. It is a miracle in the world that the foundation of beauty of a pearl is the oyster, not typically thought of as a paragon of beauty. We wish for you a life that recognizes that beauty can be found in all places, from all people, and from all walks of life.

On the Gregorian calendar, were born on April 15, which happens to be World Art Day in memory of Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday. Most Americans remember April 15 as Tax Day. Since your father now works at Intuit, he has joked for several months about naming you TurboTax Radwin if you happened to be born on the 15th. Luckily, you have a mother, and you’re welcome. You also share a birthday with the State of Israel; you were born on the 5th day of the Hebrew month of Iyyar — Yom Ha’Atmaut, Israel Independence Day.

But also, sadly, the day you were born will likely be remembered for acts of violence that happened during the Boston Marathon. You are not born into the same world as your great-grandmother Emma. Things feel more fragile, scary, and violent. It’s not to say that it’s a worse world, but the pressures of trying to make it better more urgently fall upon all of us, and upon you. We wish you a better world, and we will work with you as your parents to help you make it better in your own way.

Which brings us to our first charge. There is a line in the prayer for peace that we say on Shabbat: “We have not come into being to hate or to destroy. We have come into being to praise, to labor, and to love.” Little Emma, regardless of the hatred or violence in world at large, you must find a way to fill your life with praise, labor, and love. May you find opportunities to praise God in everyday things like washing your hands or eating foods, and recount the oneness of God in the recitation of the Sh’ma every night before you go to bed. Find fulfillment in your labor – work using your hands, your heart, and your head. And be sure to love. Love your family, your friends. Love deeply and passionately, even if it means your heart may be broken. It will heal. You have not come into being to hate or to destroy. You have come into being to praise, to labor, and to love.

You come into our family as the fourth of four very extraordinary children, each unique in their own many ways, each strong and determined already. Unlike the way that your older siblings may have molded the family around them, you more than they, inherit a family that is already somewhat set in its ways, a family that has already long ago given up on having children sit down while they eat dinner, but that has not yet given up on catching a Leprechaun. You will of course have the chance to make your own mark on our family and our rhythms. There are more conversations to enter and there are more conversationalists with whom to share the microphone. We welcome you to the big party.

Our final charge for you comes from the the naming ceremony. We recite “K’Shem she-nichnasah la-brit, Ken tikanes le-Torah, u-le-chuppah, u-le-ma’asim tovim”. This is usually translated as the congregation expressing its wishes that the newborn child will grow up to study Torah, be married under the chuppah (wedding canopy), and perform good deeds. Our good friend and teacher Dr. Rabbi Aryeh Cohen translates these a little differently: a life filled with Torah study, meaningful relationships, and and acts of justice and kindness. Regardless of whether you choose to study the sciences or humanities or Torah, we tell you today that learning is something you do not just when you’re in school, but something you do during your whole lifetime. And when it comes to “good deeds” – doing the mitzvot is just the beginning. To truly be a mensch, you’ll need to pursue justice and kindness, especially for those less fortunate than you.

We have so much more we want to tell you and teach you. But you’re not yet even one week old, so perhaps this is enough for now.

Our hearts are filled with joy and gratitude. Brucha habah’ah, welcome to the world, little Emma Margalit.
Love, Ema and Abba