Ritual Name, or, The Speech I Didn’t Give

I wrote a whole speech for O’s conversion that was going to announce and explain his ritual name, but when the time came (both at the mikveh and at shul), I just riffed on these things a little more off-the-cuff. But for those of you who weren’t there, now that O and my lappy are both better, here’s some of the reasons for his name.

Avshalom Iyov Avraham ben Avraham Avinu v’Sarah Imanu

A lot of name for a little guy, but I wanted to take advantage of the tradition that first children get three names so I could give him as much as possible. Plus, the alliteration! Triple aleph has got to count for something, right? Let’s start at the end.
Just as O’s middle name is a connection to his birth mother, so too is his third ritual name. Her last name is Abraham, and she is a muslim; O is named in honor of her and of the father of both our faiths.
Iyov is not a very popular name, I admit, but Job is one of my favorite books of the Bible, and Job himself is a character worth admiring and emulating. When confronted by the comforters with the conventional wisdom and explanation for his suffering, “you or your children must have done something to deserve this”, he rejects it in favor of the evidence of his experience. Although he never gets a satisfactory answer, he refuses to stop engaging with the question that defines so much of human existence: why. That stubborn engagement, the questioning of a system that doesn’t work the way it is described, and the belief that lived experience is a valid form of evidence are all things I hope that Overton  finds meaningful in his own journey.
Finally, we come to the beginning: Avshalom. Avshalom’s story in the Bible is also a complicated one, but again we find the themes of questioning and justice. Also beauty: Avshalom is mentioned as being gorgeous, something I’m sure we can all see in O. When there was no justice for his sister Tamar, Avshalom killed her rapist, their brother Amnon. (Whoever said the Bible was boring clearly hasn’t read II Samuel!) He eventually became a popular figure, promising good judgement to the people and making himself their peer as much as possible. Unfortunately, he took this too far, trying to usurp King David, but when he was captured, David told his generals to “be gentle with the young man Avshalom for my sake”. When that order was ignored and Avshalom was killed, David cried out “O my son Avshalom! My son, my son Avshalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Avshalom, my son, my son!” Despite the deadly conflict between them, Avshalom still has immense love coming to him from his father, and that’s something I hope O is blessed with as well. He has so much love coming to him, from his birth family, from me, from my family, from all of you here as well as the many, many who couldn’t make it, and I pray that will continue for the rest of his life, no matter what may come between him and the world.

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