Thursday, March 1, 2012
This speech was given at our son's brit milah on February 29th, 2012
Our son’s name: Harrison Eytan Baum (Hebrew – Naphtali Eytan Ben HaRav David Zalman V’Aliza Bracha)
“Harry Solom, your great grand-father, whom we all affectionately referred to as “Pop-pop” was born in 1922 in Bailey's Harbor, MI to Russian immigrant parents, Rebecca and Arthur. He was the 5 of 7 children and was the youngest boy. Pop-pop grew up on a cattle farm. He did not have a very wealthy upbringing but he learned to be independent, skilled, and had a drive for success that was unrelenting. Because he was the youngest boy and was not able to fight in the war, he remained at home until age 16 and then traveled to Detroit to find work and build a sense of self. He first worked at a fish market but later sought out employment from the owner of a package and liquor store, who would later become his father-in-law. During these first years in Detroit, my grandfather took up the sport of boxing, which as we all know is typically popular with the Jewish boys. By the age of 18, he was undefeated as an amateur middle welter-weight boxer and in his last fight he went up against the #5 ranked boxer in the country. Needless to say, he did not win and told my father that those were some of the hardest hits he ever took. Even if he did not want to give up the sport, Bubbie insisted that this was not a proper career for her soon to be husband. They were married in 1942 and remained married until she passed in 1985. During their lives together, my grandfather owned a supper-club in Detroit, flew a private plane for pleasure, moved to Maryland and liquidated men's clothing stores all along the Eastern Seaboard, and finally ended up in Florida where he practiced commercial real estate. Pop-pop also gave us Grandma Flora, your Gi-gi Flora, and remained devoted to her until he passed in 2007.
My dad, your Sabba, described your great grandfather as “a very loving parent, although he didn't show his emotions very much. He gave us everything we wanted but did not spoil us.” He would always be at my dad's pee-wee football games, and he always encouraged him and his brother to do whatever they wanted to do. When my dad wanted to learn to play the drums, my grandfather got the drummer in the band at hi supper club to give him lessons, even though he knew the headaches that he would have as a result.
As a grandfather, Pop-pop was equally giving and loving. He would bounce us on his knees when we were little and make up funny songs that made absolutely no sense, yet we thought were the best thing in the whole world. He taught me how to fish in Biscayne Bay, across the street from his condo in North Miami Beach. He would take us swimming in the pool and throw us around, off his shoulders, and just be a kid with us. He was also the first person to teach me how to drive...when I was about 5 years old. He would sit us on his lap in the parking garage and let us steer. I always loved going to Pop-pops house because like all good grandparents, he let us do all the things my parents wouldn't let me in their house. As we grew older, he started to tell us more stories about his childhood and all of the “colorful” experiences he had during his years on the farm and as a business man. One thing Pop-pop was always good for was retelling stories we had all heard hundreds of time before...and each time he told it, it was as if he was telling it for the first time. Many times, he wouldn't even be able to finish the story because he would be laughing too hard and we would just smile and laugh along with him.
When your Abba and I found out that we would be having another boy, there was no question in my mind that I wanted to honor my Pop-pops legacy by naming you after him. In researching his Hebrew name, we found out that he was actually named Naphtali, which means “to wrestle”. How perfect it is that Pop-pop was a boxer and up until the day he died, he fought to live.
To my son, Harrison: may you grow to be a strong, independent man with the drive and determination to do anything that you put your mind to, just as your namesake and great-grandfather did in his life. May you inherit his zest for life and passion to take on new experiences that you never knew were possible. You should also be blessed with wit, wisdom, and wealth of family and friends, just as Pop-pop before you was.”
Rabbi David Baum:
“Harrison/Naftali, your middle name is Eytan.
As I sat in the hospital, one week before your due date, the timing of your arrival to this world amazed me. You were born on the cusp on Rosh Hodesh Adar, the new month of Adar. Adar is the happiest month of the year, as the famous saying goes, Mi she’nichnas Adar, Marbim B’Simcha
"When Adar comes, joy is increased.” We are happy because Adar holds one of the most joyous holidays in our calendar, Purim.
The holiday of Purim is only happy because of the terror that was diverted. Haman, King Achashverosh's advisor, devised a plot to kill all the Jews, and the only thing standing between his goal were two people – Mordechai and Esther. Mordechai's Jewish identity was known to all, but Esther's was not. In many ways, Esther hid her identity in order to survive and help her people when the time came.
My grandmother, your great-grandmother, Eta, was like a modern day Esther. As a young woman in Budapest during World War II, she was able to hide her Jewish identity, pretending to be a Christian with doctored papers. But like Esther, she did not hide, but lived life out in the open. As a young, single woman, she became the manager of a hotel and restaurant, learning how to become a Hungarian chef in the process which her future family was grateful for as she made the most delicious, and fatty, foods. But she did much more than cook. In the hotel, she hid Jews in the basement, possibly saving hundreds of lives.
Eta was an incredibly strong woman. At one point during the war, someone accused her of being a Jew for the simple reason that only a Jew could be that young and that successful. When the soldiers came to her, she recited the Lord's Prayer, something she had heard growing up as a child in her small Shtetl.
When the Soviets came and freed Budapest of the Nazis, they looked for people who could speak Russian, Hungarian, and other languages. Luckily, she spoke Russian fluently. They gave her a machine gun, a uniform, and asked her to find hidden Nazis. I do not know exactly what she did, but my grandfather assured me, “Your grandma took care of business.”
She married your great-grandfather Frank after the war, had a son, your grandpa Alex, and was able to leave Europe, but without her husband. She came to America, sleeping on a down blanket on a cold basement floor with her little boy. She served as a maid, and was able to save up money. Her husband came to America and completed their family, and they were able to work hard, build a great life together, and rebuild a family.
Your middle name is after her – Eytan, which means “Strength or strong”. In the midrash, the Rabbis said that Eytan was a nickname for Avraham, your big brother's name. I hope that you are Avi will give each other strength, just as I do with my little brother who is close to me in age, just as you are with your big brother.
Your great grandma had a fire within her that radiated to others. Her strength was not in her body as she was only 4”11, but it was in her intellect, her savy, and her will.
May your namesakes strength in their lives, both physical, mental, and spiritual, come alive in you as you journey throughout life.