Living Up to Your True Essence by Eve Levy
Hello JWRP friends,
In last week’s parsha, we met the first woman, Eve (or Chava): “The man called his wife Eve, because she had become the mother of all things” (Genesis 3:20).
I have always struggled with my name, Eve. Wasn’t she the one who sinned and thereby became unworthy of remaining in the spiritual paradise of the Garden of Eden? Ever since that fateful day, our lives have changed in virtually every way possible. We now need to struggle and toil, childbirth and childrearing became very difficult and so many more hardships were given to us.
The English name Eve comes from the Greek word eva (from Chava). The root of this name is connected with the word chaya, which means living, and the word chai, which means life. The commentator Rashi states that the name Chava is in causative form, meaning she caused all the people in the future to live. Similarly it is stated in the Talmud, "She was called Chava because she nursed the whole world (Avodah Zara 43a).
Our names are very significant in Judaism and are deeply connected to our essence. The Talmud tells us that when parent name a child, one 60th of prophecy is given to them in order to choose a name that befits the child’s special unique soul and mission in life.
Not many of you know this about me but my Hebrew name is Yehudit. I want to tell you about my namesake for it has definitely played a part in the direction I have taken in life. I was named for my great aunt Yedis, who perished in the Holocaust. I grew up hearing about this Aunt Yedis, my Bubby’s sister. Supposedly she was determined, smart, stubborn and very passionate about Israel. My Bubby always told me how much I resembled her sister. Before the war broke out, Aunt Yedis was working in a makeshift kibbutz in Brest Litovsk, a small town in Lithuania, preparing Jews to live in Israel, learning the language, practicing how to farm the land, etc.
Yedis was the leader of the kibbutz. She was an idealist. She herself had the chance to save her own life and flee Europe to fulfill her dream of living in Israel. However, she turned down the opportunity because she felt she needed to continue her work in the kibbutz and strengthen the next generation and bring them all to Israel. When the Nazi’s stormed in, they asked for the leader of the kibbutz and she stepped forward. They shot her on the spot. I grew up with this story, this image of a woman whom I never knew but felt so connected to. I always kept this message of finding inner strength to live your dream, to stand for something, and to use self-sacrifice when necessary. These messages have always been tucked deep within me.
The first time I stepped foot in Israel was to celebrate my bat mitzvah with my entire family. Having my two Bubbies, both Holocaust survivors, there to celebrate with me made it extra special. To be in Israel… to live our dream as free Jews … to carry on the legacy. It was a very meaningful bat mitzvah. This trip made me realize where my one and only true home is. Israel. The next time I stepped foot in Israel was 6 years later, at the age of 18, when I came to study, further my Jewish education and do some soul searching. Stepping off the airplane, kneeling down and touching the warm soil of the Holy Land. I finally felt like I was home.
A year and a half later, I got engaged and was planning my wedding. Where should the wedding be? It is usually in the town where the bride comes from (in my case Toronto), but my husband was from South Africa and had a large family. It made sense to me and my groom (chatan) that meeting in Israel for this wonderful occasion would be good for everyone. My only hesitation was this: My Bubby Lola, with whom I was very close, was undergoing chemotherapy in Toronto and age 80, was not going to be able to travel. It was a difficult call but I knew Israel was the right place for us to be building the foundation for our life together. We asked my Bubby for her blessing and she said of course. It made her so happy to see me starting my life in Israel, the place where her sister, my namesake, longed to be but never merited.
The first decade of my marriage was spent in Israel. Each and every day was a gift. Was it always easy? No! I got homesick plenty and missed some of the comforts of North America for sure. But was it meaningful and life changing? Oh yes! I can write chapters upon chapters about the way our lives were enriched and transformed while just living a simple Jerusalem life.
Five years ago, our time in Israel was up and, for various reasons, we had to leave. I actually felt like my soul was being yanked out of its socket. It was so difficult to leave. I didn’t understand why G-d would do this to me after all the years of finally “learning the ropes,” the language, the culture … my kids were now fluent in Hebrew and were finally integrating into the Israeli school system. Everything was just perfect in my life, I thought. But Hashem is great and knows what He is doing. Just a few weeks into us being in America, my boss asked me to lead my first JWRP trip to Israel. JWRwhat? I had never heard of the JWRP before, but it didn’t matter. In my mind, all I heard was Israel. I so badly needed to get back there and recharge my spiritual batteries. I agreed to go.
Since then I have found my calling in life, sharing my love of Israel and Judaism with many, many other Jewish women.
As I write this, I am packing for my fifth JWRP trip. I am filled with emotions and excitement. I am taking a group of 26 amazing Jewish women from Portland, Oregon, some of whom will be experiencing Israel and their Judaism for the first time.
I can feel my Great Aunt Yedis smiling down on me from heaven. She paved the way for me to fulfill her dream.
City Leader, Portland Kollel