“G” is for Galya

by Rabbi Tiferet Berenbaum

“Every life is a unique expression of the great mystery that connects us. We ride upon the surface of the unfathomable deep, each one of us a wave from God.”

“I guess we’ll have to find a name that starts with ‘G’.” This was my first thought as we left the cemetery. We had just finished burying my father, Gary, alav ha’shalom, peace be upon him, and in the Jewish tradition, children are often named after deceased loved ones. I had never considered names that began with “G” before. That was my dad’s letter. He was really into things with his initials on them, “G” keychains and “G” coffee mugs. So, in my mind, “G” belonged to him.

I began to search for names that I liked that started with “G,” but nothing was catching my eye; so I put this on the back burner and turned my attention to my upcoming wedding. Two months later, the day before my wedding, I went to immerse at Mayyim Hayyim with my mother and soon-to-be mother-in-law.

My Mikveh Guide showed me to my preparation room, the one called Gal. I stood by the door reading the dedication on the wall to learn more about the suite I was in. The suite was made to be accessible to people of all kinds of physical abilities in honor of a young woman named Julie, whose Hebrew name is Galia, meaning “wave from God.” Julie and her family have worked to challenge the invisible barriers that people with differing levels of ability face in our world. I am intimately familiar with these challenges because my father was blind. He, too, was passionate about breaking through barriers for people who are visually challenged. He dedicated his life to making technology accessible and educating visually challenged people on how to use it. He was most proud of working on electronic voting machines that would make it possible for visually challenged individuals to vote independently.

When I read Julie’s story, I was so touched and I thought it quite bashert (a synchronicity) that I was in this particular room preparing for my wedding. I knew right then that I would call my daughter Galya in memory of her grandfather’s and Julie’s struggle for accessibility for all. We never picked out a name for a boy because I was so certain that this was no coincidence. I knew I was going to have a daughter, and I announced it to my mothers as soon as I came out of the mikveh!

Four months ago we brought Galya home from the hospital. The first book I read to her was Make Way For Ducklings. It’s the same copy that my dad used to read to me, with braille on a clear label over the print words. I’ll continue to read this book to her, and in time, when she asks what those dots are, I will begin to tell her the story of her name.

Rabbi Tiferet Berenbaum is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shir Hadash in Milwaukee, WI. Her roots are in Brookline, MA, and she is a graduate of the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College. Rabbi Berenbaum, her husband Joel, daughter Galya and beagle Clint are looking forward to moving back to the East Coast this summer!


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