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Remedies

II

Finkelstein! But why Finkelstein at all? Or Goldfarb or Turteltaub or Perlmutter or Rosenbluth? What have these German vocables, bad jokes as proper names from the first, to do with us? Need I say here that they were imposed upon us from without primarily by brutal and stupid Austro-Hungarian bureaucrats, fellows unworthy in any moral and spiritual sense to unlatch the shoe-string of the humblest sincere and faithful Chassid? Or, if these names were ever voluntarily assumed, they were assumed by people as yet ignorant of the tests and tastes of the West and hence innocent of the fact that they were condemning their children to be the butt of every coarse or ribald jester.

And these jesters, of whom the world is full, have had their way with us. Their jests have made our people wince and that wincing has reached the marrow and it has reached the soul; the process has begotten self-contempt and self-contempt has led to flight and flight has led to all the devious apostasies and among them to the Communist apostasy which is such a grave danger to us today and which no gentile can comprehend as the final result of his own and his ancestors’ attempt to degrade us and to rob us of that just pride in kith and kin, in ancestry and tradition, in history and in faith without which any man is stripped and defenseless of soul amid the contentions and clamors of the world.

Well, many of the Abie Finkelsteins of the world have obscurely felt and resented the wrong done them. And they have become A Sparklestone, which hardly improved matters and next they have become Arthur Stone, which did not improve matters at all (contrary to a wide-spread belief) but made them a great deal worse. For the Gentiles thought they knew where to place Abie Finkelstein and the relation, though difficult and unjust, was at least clear. But there is something equivocal about Arthur Stone from the beginning and the equivocal always arouses ugly suspicion.

And it is worst and most dangerous when Arthur Stone is theoretically believed to be Arthur Stone and is then seen to be (as the Gentile world thinks) Abie Finkelstein. It is on this principle that the Nazi press never mentions the Arthur Stones (Heine, Reinhardt, Kerr, Salten, etc.) without adding in parenthesis: eigentlich and then giving the half comic and half-contemptuous Ghetto-name which it supposes the personality in question to have originally borne. And there is no fouler lie and grosser slander than that eigentlich, in reality, or in fact. For, to stick to my theoretical example, the man’s true name was Abraham and neither Finkelstein nor Stone. Both of these are veils and subterfuges and disguises and it takes no great knowledge of human psychology to know that when many, many thousands of men are either forced or tempted to hide their people and their faith and their origin by their names or to caricature these instead of freely and proudly expressing them, that then the spiritual substance of that people is diseased and in need of healing.

Superficial scientific rationalism again and again obscures the true inwardness of things. Names are magical and mystical. Man felt from the beginning that his name was part of himself or, at least, a symbol of himself. He feels so still. An ugly or comic name degrades; a false name falsifies the character that bears it. Daily experience teaches us how irritated people are by a mis-spelling or mis-pronunciation of their names. If Abie Finkelstein had a profound tenderness for those generations of his kin and clan who bore that wretched name manfully and not ignobly, he might have called himself Avraham Zur in memory of the blessing after the Haftarah (zur kol ha-olamim) or, by a pardonable solecism: Avraham Benzur, even as a well-known family translated a probable Bluthaupt and Blutkopf into the dignified and euphonious Damrosch.

I venture to say that Avraham Benzur would have led a life wholly different from the life led by Abie Finkelstein, a straighter, more natural, more self-affirmative life, a life of higher human dignity and therefore of higher human freedom and that his relations to the Gentile world would have been in both their happier and in their less happy aspects upon an incomparably higher plane.

Hence deliberately as one of the remedies for the hurts of the exile, I suggest the wide-spread adoption of names in our own magnificent tongue and I would have the patronymic ben become as well-known and unmistakable in the Western world as the Scotch Mac and the Irish o and the English son, and if my own name were not in a humble way a trade-mark today by means of which I earn bread for my family, I would even now call myself Ari ben Levi. Ponder this matter carefully before calling it trivial; examine your own psychological relation to your own name. Language is magical; names have the power to conjure; they can express or betray and he whose name either expresses unworthily what he is or betrays it, will have an unworthy or traitorous attitude to that ethnic substance which his name should proudly symbolize.

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