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Samantha Caitlyn Kennedy's Jewish Baby Naming

On March 6, 1997, after a mere forty-one weeks of pregnancy, twelve hours of active labor, and three hours of pushing, our baby girl was born. We were thrilled beyond words when the doctor announced, "It's a girl!"

Prior to her birth we carefully chose names, both in English and in Hebrew, for we are a Jewish family. Our daughter's Hebrew name is Shira Keren. Her English name is Samantha Caitlyn. Caitlyn? What kind of Jewish name is that? But wait, it gets better. Samantha Caitlyn Kennedy. We like to joke that she will be the only Kennedy in Hebrew school.

So yes, we are indeed a Jewish family, but not all our family members are Jewish. My husband Bill was born Irish Catholic (hence Samantha's middle name with the traditional Gaelic spelling). Fortunately for me, he generously agreed before our marriage that he would not practice his own religion AND would be willing to be an active participant in mine. And that we would have a Jewish wedding and raise our children Jewish. My family loved him and, to our surprise, planning our Jewish wedding was actually much easier than we had expected. Once we were married, we decided to join the Conservative synagogue where I grew up and where my family already belonged.

Now we were ready to embark on our next Jewish adventure--planning Samantha's baby naming. I spoke to the synagogue secretary, scheduled the naming, and was told that the rabbi would get in touch with me a few weeks ahead of time to go over some details. I dutifully sent out invitations (while still writing thank you notes for baby gifts), and Bill and I planned a big luncheon back at our house after the Saturday morning service at the shul, or synagogue.

As promised, a few weeks before the naming our rabbi called to go over those details--and to throw us a curve ball. We were told that, since Bill was not Jewish, we could not have the naming ceremony at the traditional place in the Shabbat service. It seems that one of the "laws" of our congregation states that a non-Jewish person, like Bill, cannot be on the bimah, or podium, when the Torah is open. Since baby namings are always done in our congregation during the Torah service, we would have to figure out an alternative part of the service in which to have it.

WHAT?! Although the message was delivered with great concern for our feelings, I was mortified. What was my rabbi telling me--that we were second-class members simply because my husband was not Jewish? Perhaps he wasn't telling me that, but that is certainly how I felt. I knew that I was being overly protective of Bill's feelings, but the discussion left me feeling angry, disappointed, and very confused, so the rabbi and I agreed that we would mull over our conversation and talk again later that day.

When I pulled myself together, I explained everything to Bill. He, as a concerned parent, focused only on how the congregation would accept the naming on behalf of Samantha. Would they feel that this was not a legitimate naming since it was not done during the traditional time in the service? His immediate solution was that the naming should be done during the Torah service and he would simply not go onto the bimah. Well, since Bill was the most devoted and loving father I could ever imagine, his solution was not acceptable to me. Our congregation would have to welcome Samantha and both her parents, not just the Jewish one. We discussed all of the alternatives that the rabbi presented us with, and consulted with my parents to get their opinion.

In the end, we decided to have the naming at the start of the Torah service, but before the Torah was actually opened. Then, during the Torah service, I would have an aliyah--go up to say the blessing before the Torah reading--in honor of our family's simcha, or joyous event. As fairly new and sleep-deprived parents, we were probably more emotional about this whole ordeal than we needed to be. Our rabbi handled the situation with great finesse and concern for Bill's feelings. However, we still felt somewhat justified in our reaction, for when it comes to our children, is it wrong to expect that everything be perfect?

Ultimately, the day was, in fact, perfect. The weather was beautiful, Samantha stayed awake and did not cry in shul, and we were filled with unprecedented joy and nachas, pride, as our friends and family celebrated our daughter's entry into Judaism. I remember telling the rabbi right before the ceremony began that I was as excited as if it were Samantha's Bat Mitzvah. But I guess we should wait a few more years before we start planning that!

Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah." Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. Hebrew for "going up," it refers to the honor of saying the blessing over the Torah reading. It can also refer to the act of immigrating to Israel. (e.g. "After falling in love with Jerusalem, Rachel and Christopher made aliyah.") A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Hebrew for "gladness" or "joy," it is often used to refer to a festive occasion or celebration, like a wedding, bat mitzvah, or bris. The elevated area or platform in a synagogue, from which Torah is read. Worship service leaders, such as clergy, may lead services from the bimah as well. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation. The first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), or the scroll that contains them. Yiddish for "synagogue."
Staci Kennedy

Staci Kennedy is a clinical social worker living in Ann Arbor, Mich. She is married to Bill and has two children, Samantha and Daniel.

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