How I Learned to Love My Jewish-Israeli Name

Michal Cohen
August 5, 2020

Ever since I can remember, I hated my name. Some of my earliest memories as a little girl revolved around how I wanted to change it. My distaste for my name started in kindergarten or first grade. All the kids went around saying their Hebrew name, and then when it came my turn, I had nothing to say. My name is my Hebrew name, but I felt left out. That night, I went home and asked my mom what my Hebrew name was. She said, “Michal”. I wanted to fit in, so I pressed again. She said my Hebrew name was “Princess”. So, the next day, I went to school and told the whole class my Hebrew name is princess. Let’s just say, all my friends looked at me funny when I said that. I started crying when my teacher told me that’s not a Hebrew name.

Fast-forward to third and fourth grade. There was another girl in my class named Michelle, her Hebrew name being Michal. I was so jealous of her. She had an “American” name and my name (She had the ability to split her identity. She was American for those who knew her as American, and Jewish for those who knew her as Jewish). For months I asked my mom to change my name to Michelle. I wanted a common name that Americans could recognize, and one that Americans could say. I was so insecure about it that I told people my name was Michelle. Not only that, but I was made fun of by my peers because they couldn’t pronounce my name. They would constantly tease me, or purposely say my name wrong over and over again in front of me, even though I hated when they did it.

My name was always different than peers, or a name my teachers could never say. I felt out of place, insecure, and “othered.” As a young girl who was already insecure about her looks and weight, my name was the cherry on top (It glowed red and loud among the homogeneity. I was obviously different.) I wanted so badly to assimilate into American culture and life. All I wanted to be was a normal American girl.

Then in 2010, my parents decided we should move to Israel.I was excited. My whole family lives there whom we didn’t see often. At first it was hard. I felt out of place, I was still getting used to the language and the culture even though I grew up in an Israeli home. But as soon as I was acclimated, I realized for the first time in my life, my name fit in. My peers and teachers said my name with ease, no one looked at me funny or teased my about it when I said my name. If I wanted to buy a product with my name on it, it was sold out. That is how common my name is in Israel. I was finally Michelle. For the first time ever, I was proud of my name. I slowly began to embrace it, even as I moved back to the United States where the teasing and mispronunciation continued.

I am now a junior in college. I stepped out of my Jewish bubble for the first time in my life and have taken in the different backgrounds, cultures, and faiths this country offers. Unfortunately, I have also realized how there is a lack of education and knowledge about my people. We are put in a monolith. Hated because we want to return to the land of Israel. The land of our forefathers and mothers, the land my ancestors dreamed of.

As I embraced my Jewishness and Israeli identity during my time in college, I embraced the beauty of my name. Reclaiming my name is the ultimate act of decolonization. I do not just wear my name for myself, I wear it for those who came before me and put their lives on the line for me to be able to tell my story and fight for the voiceless, for those who are being shut down and silenced.

I learned to love my name because I could not let my ancestors down. I could not let those who were murdered and are forgotten stay forgotten for nothing. I could not let their death be in vain. So, each and every day, as I dedicate my life to fight antisemitism , I will embrace my Israeli-Jewish name for my family members who were murdered and forgotten. But as I do so, I know that I have an army of Jewish people, who made others uncomfortable with their mere existence, who are giving me the strength to continue this fight.

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