Michael J. Radwin

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

Monthly Archives June 2011

A letter to Sivan Hallel Radwin on the day of her Simchat Bat

Our dear sweet girl,

We are so blessed to have you here today, to introduce you to our community and to share with you the blessings of the covenant of the Jewish people. You are the newest member of the Radwin and Schlesinger families.

We have been waiting for you! Since Pesach we have been counting each day and anticipating your arrival. We’re so excited to finally meet you. And, after getting to know you a little bit this week, studying you, watching you breathe and sleep, we have chosen for you the name Sivan Hallel.

Your first name, Sivan, is chosen to remember two very special women in your family tree, both named Sylvia. Sylvia Weinstein was the dear younger sister of your mother’s grandfather Julius. Sylvia Weinstein was born in 1915 and died just weeks before your parents’ wedding. She had many extraordinary traits, but maybe one of the most special was that, in her eyes — everything and everyone was wonderful. Especially family. She would have thought that you, Sivan, were wonderful, and she would have been so thrilled to meet you and welcome you into the family. We miss her today even as we remember her and name you for her.

You are also named for your father’s grandmother, Sylvia Burns Radwin. Sylvia was a high school biology teacher, a counselor, and an artist. Sylvia was always singing, or humming melodies or songs. Any word you spoke that reminded her of a song lyric would inspire her to sing. She was a bird-watcher, a tennis-player, and a swimmer. She tried unsuccessfully to instill a love of all three of these things in your father. But perhaps these loves skip a generation or two or three, and you will be the one to carry on these passions. Sylvia was a phenomenal story-teller, and we hope to share some of her stories with you. Remind your father some day to tell you the story about the watermelon at summer camp.

Your middle name, Hallel, comes from your great-grandfather, Arthur Radwin. Although his proper American name was Arthur, his Hebrew name and his name in his early years was Haskel, a Yiddish version of the name for “Ezekiel.” Arthur was a lifelong high school educator who taught biology and later became a principal. He had a delightful wry sense of humor, and an unusual culinary aesthetic. Arthur ate leftover cold oatmeal with grated parmesan cheese on more than one occasion. Arthur shared Sylvia’s love of tennis and bird-watching, and taught your father and Uncle David to play soccer.

Your name also comes from the season in which you were born. You made your entrance into this world just 10 days ago on Erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the eve of the new Hebrew month of Sivan.

Sivan is the third month of the Hebrew calendar year, which, according to the Torah, begins in the spring with the month of Nissan. Sivan, you have both the privilege and the challenge of being born as the third child in our family. You enter a family that not only welcomes you, but that already has a sense of itself — rhythms, habits, stories, and personalities. Some very big personalities. You have a brother and sister who have already demonstrated how deeply they love you and welcome you, and who also have years of practice of sibling interaction. You will both insert (and assert) yourself and learn from those who have come before you. We welcome you into our family, and eagerly await how you will change it.

We also want to reflect a little bit on a second meaning of your middle name, Hallel. Hallel, is not only like your great-grandfather Haskel, but also means “praise.” And, at the beginning of any new Hebrew month is a holiday called Rosh Chodesh, literally the “head of the month” when we include additional prayers. One of the extra prayers for Rosh Chodesh is Hallel, in which we sing Psalms 113-118 as praises to God, often with joyous melodies. Hallel is not only an expression of gratitude for all that is good in the world, but an opportunity to recognize the magnitude of our Creator.

When we think of what it means to “praise,” it seems easy to confuse that with thanksgiving or gratitude. Those are important too, and we take for granted that, growing up in our family, you will develop a deep appreciation and disposition of gratitude for all that will be yours in the world. But to praise is actually a step deeper, because it isn’t personal. It is a choice to see what is good in a world that doesn’t always seem praiseworthy. We live in a world which we wish were kinder, more peaceful, and more just. And yet, “Anachnu nevarech Yah me’atah ve’ad olam”– we shall praise God now and forever. Halleluyah!”

To us, this means to never give up on seeing all that is good, mighty, and powerful. To never lose sight of the miracle of creation– the incredible miracle of the sun rising every morning, setting every evening, the stars and planets suspended forever, the earth spinning, the trees and plants growing, and we humans partnered with God to perfect the world. To praise God is to choose to see the beauty… not just to thank God for what is ours to enjoy, but to recognize all that isn’t.

We ask you to take this as a charge for who you may become: your task in this life will be to find your own calling, your own uniqueness, the way that you can add your voice to the chorus of voices in this humongous world, the harmony that you can bring that nobody else can bring. There are praises of God that you can sing that nobody else will be able to sing, particular gifts that are yours alone, and we as your parents ask you to sing them well.

Sivan Hallel, may you lead a life of Torah and ma’asim tovim, and may you someday be blessed to stand under the chuppah.

Welcome to the world, Brucha ha-ba-ah, our little Sivan Hallel.


Ema and Abba