I would have liked to marry a Jewish man, but obviously not enough to make sure it happened. But why, out of all the men I could have picked in this great big world, why did I have to fall in love with a man with a preposterously non-Jewish name? As my mother said, “If you had to marry a non-Jew, couldn’t you at least have found one with a last name like Smith or Harris? Did it have to be Christmas?”
I ask myself the same thing.
I never expected to change my last name when I married Robin Christmas, but it went without saying when I considered his. How could I spend 35 years as Linda Rosenbaum, which when you introduce yourself is tantamount to saying, “Hello, I’m Linda Jewish,” and then overnight switch to “Hello, I’m Linda, Jesus’ birthday”?
And what about our future children? I had always been clear with Robin that I wanted to have children and I wanted to raise them Jewish. Robin, a card-carrying agnostic, wasn’t practicing any religion, so I didn’t think it would be a problem. I didn’t know for sure what I would have done if it were, because something would have had to give and I didn’t think it could be me.
Robin knew that raising the children Jewish was a need for me, not just a hope. Without a moment’s hesitation, he gave this to me with grace. He did, however, have one thing to ask in return.
“I would like the children to have my last name.”
I was startled. Was he kidding? “Christmas?” Little Jewish children running around with the name Christmas? Registering for Sunday school with the name Christmas? The rabbi blessing our Christmases at their bat and bar mitzvahs? My parents taking the kids to shul, kvelling as they introduce their little Christmas grandchildren to friends? Oy. Hard to picture.
I protested for a while, but I had known Robin long enough at the time to understand that he gave much, and asked for little. When he did ask, I needed to take it seriously.
I didn’t give up completely, however. I made sure our children’s birth certificates carried the name Rosenbaum as one of their middle names. Either they, or I, could whip it out when, and if, we desired to do so on any given occasion.
And I’m glad I did, because we so desired.
Several years after we married, we adopted our son, Michael. Two years later, our daughter, Sarah. When it was time to enroll Michael and Sarah Christmas in Sunday school at our local Jewish Community Center here in Toronto, I met with the school’s director to discuss their programming. As we began filling out the forms, I timidly said, “The children will be enrolled as Rosenbaum-Christmases.” I would like to say she barely blinked, but she did. I even detected a mild shudder when she had to enter the word Christ in the heading under Name of Student.
“We have other children from mixed marriages,” she said brightly, “but your children will certainly be the first Christmases.”
We both laughed nervously. My entry as a mother of the little Christmases into Jewish institutions had begun.
Seven years later, our blond, blue-eyed son became a bar mitzvah. As we entered the shul that morning, I pulled the rabbi aside, and asked gently, “Would you mind using Michael’s full last name when you call him to the Torah?” I might have been mistaken, but I thought he referred to Michael in our previous meeting using only one of the two names in the double-barreled moniker. And it wasn’t Christmas.
The rabbi did as he was told. I was very touched. It couldn’t have been easy. I know from personal experience.
These days, many years later, the children are grown and we’ve all survived the Rosenbaum-Christmas business. But there is a part of me, however small, that wishes Sarah might someday change her last name when she marries. I’ve never said this out loud.