I originally wrote this blog entry in early 2015 to explain to some of my old friends, clients, and students why I made the decision to change my name when I became an observant Jew.
But, before I share this change with you, I want to repeat my general disclaimer, for at least the 100th time now: I know that everyone has their own particular beliefs on faith, and most of us hold very strong beliefs. Me sharing my journey with you is in no way an attempt to change you or your beliefs…its simply me practicing a full disclosure policy and sharing my life with you. Now, back from our commercial break…
Many Westernized Jews have two names…an English name and a Hebrew name. I found that very interesting, so I decided to look into it more. Turns out there is a very deep spiritual significance behind it. Here’s my best attempt at giving you a brief summary, taken from several different sources:
In Judaism, a name is not merely a conglomeration of letters put together as a convenient way to refer to someone. Ideally, it is a definition of the individual – a description of his personality and an interpretation of his traits. A Jewish person’s Hebrew name is their spiritual call sign, embodying their unique character traits and Gd-given gifts.
Most Jewish people are given Hebrew names at birth, even if they also have an English name in Western society. But some pick their own later in life, and formal converts also choose a Jewish name. I had absolutely no idea which name I would choose, and in the end, I didn’t have to. My name was actually chosen for me in a set of nothing-short-of-miraculous circumstances called Divine Providence. I’ll save that story for another time, but I can promise you that it was a name I never, ever would have picked for myself.
So, what is my new name, you ask? Hi, I’m Chaya Mushka Ben-Shabat. And it’s a pleasure to know you! Chaya (pronounced “Hi-ya”) is the Hebrew word for “life”, in feminine form. (Chaim is the masculine form. If you’ve heard the phrase, “La Chaim!”, it means “to life”.) And Mushka is Russian for “aromatic spice”. When you put them together, they mean “the spice of life”, or “the sweet life”. Yes, it’s quite the mouthful, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
In case you’re wondering what my friends call me now…some call me Chaya Mushka, and some just call me Chaya. But if you still want to call me Allison, like my parents do, that’s perfectly fine, too. I’ll answer to all of the above. 🙂
But, why am I sharing all of this with you? I guess to help shed some light on another layer of my metamorphosis. As we all know, our name represents our identity. It becomes a part of our subconscious and our psychological DNA. So, taking on a new name wasn’t something I took lightly. I knew it would be just one more change that my parents and everyone else around me would have to adjust to. But at the end of the day, I had to stop living my life for other people, and make the tough choices that would resonate with my own inner truth. (Although, I did have to laugh when I remembered how much I ridiculed people like Prince and Puff Daddy when they changed their names. Of course, I’m light years away from the life and mind of a pop star, but those were the only two people I’d ever known of who had changed their names before I started looking into it for myself.)
So, all in all, with my new life, a new corresponding name was quite appropriate. I’ve had a chance to get to know Chaya Mushka over the past several of years, and I hope you will get to know her, too! Much of my core is still the same: my beliefs on work ethic, excellence, attitude, integrity, business, family, and many other things haven’t changed. I just run all of those values through a different filter now. And I’ll share a secret with you: it’s been quite terrifying for me to open up and share all of this with you, my “old” friends, from my “old” world. But I guess it’s just one more rung on the ladder of true freedom…the freedom of being me. So, I would love to share this new life with you, if you’re still up for the ride.
I must say, that not many people get a chance in life to create a whole new identity. It’s like Gd has given me that “do-over” that we often wish for. With a new name, a new family, a new faith, and a new country, you can see why I needed two years of hibernation to become comfortable and take ownership of my own new identity. It’s certainly not something I saw coming. And it’s something I would never want to go through again. It’s without question the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. But as with a true cocooning process, the beauty is seen only after the darkness.
While I doubt that most of you will ever have the need for a new name, I do hope that you will invest the time to be purposeful in your own identity. We only get this life once, so let’s give it all we’ve got. La Chaim!