Re-Defined

By Mass, Rochelle | Midstream, July-August 2008 | Go to article overview

Re-Defined


Mass, Rochelle, Midstream


Sometimes the name they give you is all wrong, that's what my inner voice keeps on repeating as I face the immigration clerk. "You are stubborn, very independent-minded," he says.

"I should have a choice," I say.

He stands up from his chair, raises his voice to the level of public humiliation. My husband touches my shoulder; other clerks gather round.

The atmosphere has turned sour. Just moments before we were served orange juice, "freshly squeezed," they said, "to celebrate your arrival in Israel."

It's 1973, mid-August. The clerk stands with my file pressed against his chest. His face reddens: "Nothing more I can do for you."

"Well?" my husband asks me. "Do you still think it's the right thing to do?"

I shake my head, not in response but in despair, then mumble: "Rachel, okay I'll take Rachel."

All I am arguing for is to keep my name 'Rochelle.' No one really understands my passion for it, including my husband. I wasn't sure exactly what changes I believe would occur if I became 'Rachel,' but I am sure that I have grown into 'Rochelle,' feel it really suited me now. I don't want to give it up.

I walk out of the Immigration Office with my family, not the elegant Rochelle I had hoped to be, but a scowling Rachel. The clerk had even turned to the Bible to persuade me that sharing a name with 'Rachel,' one of the four mothers of the Jewish nation, was a great honor for a new immigrant. I walk into the bright sun of Tel Aviv feeling disillusioned.

My husband grips my elbow, my young daughters each twist round a leg as I stomp out. I couldn't have predicted such a start.

I know that names have a life of their own. Here I am beginning a new life with one I'm not ready to accept.

The clerk had stirred things up. I'm not trying to force my feelings into a theory, but I want to offer myself to my new country with a name I want.

I want a name that suggests wonder rather than work. I know how Rachel had endured her husband's life with her sister Leah, how she had demonstrated constant devotion to him over the years, waiting after each of Leah's birthings, waiting for her time. For me, 'Rachel' meant quiet desperation.

I don't want 'Rachel' to replace 'Rochelle,' like 'Leah' replaced 'Rachel.'

When I hear the clerk say 'Rochelle' with his Israeli accent, it sounded like a serenade. I was thirty-three. 'Rochelle' was no longer the big-girl name it had been when I was in grade school. I even told my third grade teacher my name was Rose because I thought 'Rochelle' too worldly, too gracious, for me. After all, I was chubby, with thick hair and eager eyes. And I talked too much. I didn't look like a 'Rochelle,' nor did 'Rose' fit me either, but it was shorter, that's all I aimed for. 'Rochelle' sounds triumphant now, a name for an evolving woman.

Looking at my Identification Card, I felt as though I'd been given another woman's clothes. …

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