My Unconventional Hebrew Name

By: Mindy Rubenstein
August 17, 2023

My great-grandparents, Moshe and Kayla (Morris and Katy) Tanenbaum, for whom I am named, came from religious families in Ukraine and tried to preserve their Jewish life even in the U.S.

Katy’s father, Fishel Rubin, was a rabbi and sent his daughter far away from the Jewish pogroms of Europe. My maternal great-grandmother, Leah (Lizzie) Romanofsky Greenstein, also tried to remain Torah observant after fleeing Europe.

Up until my grandmother Sadie, the women in my family were still lighting Shabbat candles and keeping kosher (following the dietary laws mandated by the Bible), connecting the links in our chain for thousands of years, all the way back to Sarah, our original Jewish mother.

Within two generations in America, however, all Torah observance in my family had pretty much stopped. Until I discovered this inheritance as an adult, fell in love with it, and tried to learn as much as possible.

The Hebrew month of Elul is a month that signifies the beauty of coming back home, a time for soulful introspection and reflection. As the month leading up to Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, Elul is like a spiritual spring cleaning. It’s a time to reassess our bonds with God and our fellow humans, correct our missteps, renew our commitment to God’s teachings, and draw closer to the divine.

One of the foundational principles of Judaism is Teshuva, often translated as ‘repentance,’ but more accurately understood as ‘return.’ No matter what we’ve done wrong, Judaism beautifully assures us that there’s always a chance for us to mend our ways and return to God. And God, in turn, will take us back and forgive us. Elul, therefore, is the month of Teshuva.

This ability to return, to have our sins absolved, doesn’t quite follow the standard laws of logic. You might think that if a person does something wrong they should bear the consequences. This notion finds voice in the following saying of the sages:

The prophets asked Wisdom, ‘What is the punishment of the sinner? Wisdom answered, ‘Evil pursues sinners’ (Proverbs 13:21).

They asked Prophecy, ‘What is the punishment of the sinner?’ Prophecy answered, ‘The soul that sins, it shall die’ (Ezekiel 18:4).

They asked the Torah, ‘What is the punishment of the sinner?’ Torah answered, ‘Let him bring a guilt-offering and it shall be forgiven unto him…’ (Leviticus 1:4).

They asked the Holy One, Blessed be He, ‘What is the punishment of the sinner?’ The Holy One Blessed be He answered, ‘Let him do Teshuva and it shall be forgiven onto him.’

Even though pure logic and justice might argue against the effectiveness of Teshuvah, God’s divine mercy and compassion enables it.

In Judaism, there is a term for someone who has taken this path of return to God and committed to following His commandments: Baal Teshuvah, literally ‘a master of return.’ Traditionally, a Baal Teshuvah was someone who had strayed, regretted their choices, turned around, and recommitted to following God’s Torah and His laws. But today, this term has expanded in scope. In the broadest sense, a Baal Teshuvah is anyone striving to connect to their divine essence through Torah learning and commandment observance. Anyone who embarks on the journey towards a more Torah-observant lifestyle can proudly bear the title Baal Teshuvah.

My Hebrew name, chosen in memory of my great-grandparents Moshe and Kayla by the rabbi my parents found when I was born, is Morasha Kehilla.

Every single time I tell someone this Hebrew name, they say, “That’s not a name.” But I love it.

The name comes from a verse at the very end of Deuteronomy (33:4): “Torah tziva lanu Moshe, morasha kehillat Yaakov,” which means, “When Moses charged us with the Teaching as the heritage of the congregation of Jacob.”

Our rabbis teach that as soon as a child begins to speak, his or her father must teach them this very verse (Talmud Sukka 42a).

This verse is the foundation of the passing down of the Torah from one generation to the next, beginning with Moses. Morasha means an inheritance, legacy, heirloom – lovingly passed from generation to generation, throughout time. Kehilla means community.

The Torah is the chain connecting all Jewish generations. The Torah that God gifted us through Moses is the inheritance of the entire community of Israel. It is what binds us together as one, and it is the secret to living a purposeful, Godly life.

When I discovered Torah Judaism at the age of 30, I immediately knew I had found a goldmine.

Over the next 16 years, as I embarked on my journey towards being a Baalat Teshuva (feminine form of Baal Teshuvah), I sought to learn as much as possible about my background and my heritage, the heritage of the congregation of Jacob, and my legacy as a Jewish woman.

And I have tried to instill this in my own children. I’m still learning it myself, but my connection to a loving God and desire to know the secrets of the Torah keeps me striving and searching within myself and beyond. I still sometimes fall into the trap of human complacency, but the essence of my journey towards becoming a Baalat Teshuva is the relentless pursuit of spiritual growth, which helps me dust off and rise again, inspired by my enduring bond with a loving God and the profound wisdom of the Torah.

And after 2,000 years of exile, I’m living in the Holy Land with my husband and children. It went from a dream to reality in just a few months. I still can’t fully believe that I’m actually here. My exiled great-grandparents could only dream of being able to live as Jews in this land.

So, unconventional as it may be, I have decided to use my Hebrew name. This decision represents a continuation of the legacy of my ancestors, a tribute to my great-grandmothers, and a commitment to my God, manifest in my commitment to His Torah, one law at a time. My unique Hebrew name, Morasha Kehilla, is more than just an identifier; it’s a badge of honor, symbolizing my inherited legacy and the community that embraces me.

As we enter the month of Elul, the time for Teshuva, I wear my Hebrew name with pride, holding it up as a beacon for others who might be on similar journeys of rediscovery, return and renewal.

The Israel Bible Team

Mindy Rubenstein

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