Ever since I can remember – possibly when I started watching Friends in high school, I wanted a daughter so I could name her Phoebe, and she’d be Phoebe Farber, except I’d spell it Feebee because it makes more sense and I don’t know why it’s spelled the other way, though it probably has something to do with Greece, which doesn’t even have our alphabet but I have a sneaking suspicion they have something to do with it, that bankrupt bottomless bailout pit.
Anyway, my wife vetoed the Feebee Farber option, even though my college roommate David found a New York Times article about a woman named Phoebe Farber. I have yet to meet her.
The runner up for names for me was always a twin set of girls named Zoe and Cloie, which would be awesome, but I don’t have twins yet, and I think my wife is going to veto that if it ever happens.
Then I got really into Futurama and started developing a crush on Leela, the purple-haired cyclops, and I really liked the character of Phillip J. Frye, who I have a lot in common with actually. So I wanted to name my kids Frye and Leela, which I could actually theoretically pull off with Hebrew equivalents if I ever needed to.
Then I started to realize I really wanted to name my kids after cartoon characters – but never ever Disney. Enter Dafna, a nice Hebrew name meaning bay leaf that I always liked, and I could call her Daffy and she’d be a cool girl.
As for Betty, that served the double purpose of being my Savta’s (grandmother’s) name, and being a cartoon character’s name. Savta’s given name was actually Pessy, which is Yiddish, and the Americans didn’t really know what do with that in the 20’s so they called her Betty.
We were thinking of Pessy possibilities – Pessy Flora Farber being the most prominent, Pessiflora being the Hebrew for passionfruit, but that was just way out there even for me. Then I figured that “Pessy” is a product of Jewish exile as Yiddish is just corrupted Hebrew, so I may as well preserve the Americanization of Savta’s name, Betty, so I did.
As for the person Dafna Betty is named for, Savta had one talent that made her stand out, something I only just realized when I started thinking more and more about it only yesterday.
The mitzvah she did best more than anyone I can think of was Hocheach Tochiach – the art of rebuking, but not in a condescending way or a belittling way, but actually in a way that made her pretty much universally respected in her community. She was the satellite that my entire extended family – consisting of something near 100 people (rough estimate) revolved around until she died in 2005.
One thing my father said at her funeral that everyone there pretty much agreed on was that they all cared more about Savta’s opinion than they did about their own mothers’ opinions.
I can’t explain how, but Savta always knew – seamlessly and effortlessly – exactly when and when not to insert herself in an argument, and if she was going to, exactly how to do it without threatening either side. And when she told you you were doing something wrong, she always did it without making you feel bad about yourself. I don’t know how she did it, but she did. I don’t know anyone else who even comes close to that kind of talent.
One short example, I was never good at calling her even though I knew she was alone much of the time. I had to be pushed and reminded constantly. And one time she told me, in almost a laugh-it-off tone, “Rafi, I love you even if you NEVER call me!” And somehow we both laughed even though I should have felt horrible and guilty.
One thing about the mitzvah of rebuking is that if you know how to do it correctly, it means you’ve got the rest of the stuff right as well. If you know when to rebuke, you know and care about right and wrong. If you know when not to, you know humility and human nature. If you know how to without making people feel bad or defensive, you respect others.
So if you can do that, you’ve got pretty much the whole thing. That’s what I wish for my new daughter, Dafna Betty Farber, who I hope will have Savta Betty Farber’s talents in this area of life, something I still lack.