Choosing Names, Part II

Our oldest child, Ruchama Bat-Zion, was born on January 7, 2001, in Jerusalem’s Hadassah-Scopus hospital. About an hour after her birth, she was taken into surgery to repair a large omphalocoele, remained in the NICU for 3 months, and has had numerous surgeries, hospitalizations, therapies, you name it, ever since.

Fortunately for her, and for us, the condition was diagnosed in utero during the mid-term ultrasound (the halakhic ramifications of which I discussed here), which took place in mid-September 2000. We spend the intervening months preparing for the arrival of our child with a mix of excitement and fear, finding the best doctors, learning all we could about the condition and how to care for it, and praying for the life of this unborn child.

Two weeks after the diagnosis, on Rosh Hashanah 5761, the current situation erupted throughout Israel, with riots, lynching, suicide attacks, rock-throwing, etc. Our personal struggles thus were set against the backdrop of a national struggle, and our baby’s fight for her life was in lockstep with the nation’s fight for its.

It’s difficult, almost six years removed from the events, to remember the emotional roller coaster of those months, and I suppose that I’m thankful that I can’t recall them. I can’t now imagine living under that stress. In truth, the real stress started mostly after she came home. During the pregnancy, our attitude was more of a silent (we told very few people about what was happening) preparation, a calm before the storm.

When thinking about names, Ruchama resonated very strongly. The prophet Hoshe’a (chapters 1 and 2) has a daughter who he is commanded to name “Lo Ruchama” – “she will not be shown compassion” – who personifies the estrangement between God and Israel. Over the course of those chapters, there is a transformation, and this girl, who was originally not the object of compassion, becomes “Ruchama”, she who is shown compassion. We knew that for our baby to survive, she would have to be shown a lot of compassion.

Bat-Zion is a personification of the city of Jerusalem which appears many times in Tanach, particularly Nevi’im Acharonim, and especially Trei Asar, and in Tehillim. It also appears in a particularly stirring line from the poem entitled ‘Be-Motza’ei Yom Menucha’:
Bat-Zion Ha-shchulah asher hi ha-yom ge’ulah meheira tihye be’ulah be-eim ha-banim semeichah.

I won’t translate that line because I feel inadequate to the task, but it describes a transformation within ‘Bat-Zion’ herself, from being repulsive to being loved. This name connects our personal struggles to our national struggles. We didn’t want to get so preoccupied in our own situation that we neglected the broader situation of Klal Yisrael. So we chose that second name – on the night after she was born – to reflect that continuity of struggle and prayer. Thus, the two names fit together as a prayerful statement: The Daughter of Zion will be shown compassion. Ruchama Bat-Zion.

Next: Our second child Rephael Amichai

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