To be honest, my full name is Rachel Beth Stein. Oy. Before my husband and I got married, I was a church-going, Italian meatball-making girl. There was one boy in my school who was Jewish and the extent of my Jewish knowledge was that I got off for the high holidays from school and that macaroons rocked my world.
When my husband and I got married, I didn’t realize what a huge change it would be to take on that name. Everyone asks me what Yeshiva I went to, which temple I grew up attending, and I was granted the Jewish holidays off from work without asking (OK, that last one was great but you get my point). My name seemed to give me a reputation I was totally unprepared for. I finally had to come up with a one-liner to let people down slowly that the girl with the very Jewish name did not know how to read Hebrew and could not understand most of what was going on at services except for the “Amen” part. I would sometimes say jokingly, “Oh, I’m new to the old testament.”
This tends to happen often when we spend time with our married friends who are mostly Jewish. The other wives sometimes have to translate what they are talking about. I used to get annoyed or feel left out but now I interject by saying, “Translation please!” It has actually helped me immensely with learning many Jewish ins and outs. One of the wives, Sara, and I have become very close friends and I value her seemingly unending knowledge of Judaism and her openness to being my guide at times.
Over our three years of marriage I have learned a lot about the Jewish traditions, history, and beliefs. I have embraced them as my own and I am proud to say I can follow services and speak some Hebrew. My non-Jewish friends now come to me regarding questions like, “What should I expect at a baby naming?” or, “What are you celebrating during Yom Kippur?” I am mostly shocked that I actually know the answers. Since when did I become the go-to person for Jewish questions? Oh, right, I am Rachel Beth Stein now.
I think I finally started becoming comfortable in my new name last Passover. My mother- in-law asked me to help make the matzah balls. So I began rolling. After a few minutes she came by to see how I was doing. Her jaw dropped in disbelief. I thought I had broken some matzah ball law and began to panic.
“Those are the most beautiful and perfectly round matzah balls I have ever seen,” she said almost yelling. When she asked me how I learned to do that I said, “It’s just like rolling meatballs.”
Rachel Beth Stein strikes again!