My 2017 A to Z themes revealed

Continuing my tradition of themes related to my writing, this year I’m featuring places and things from my WIP, The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, and its sequels (each following a different group of characters), Sweet Miracles and Rebuilding the RemnantsBranches in turn begins with three of the characters from The Natural Splash of a Living Being escaping a death march, while Splash continues without them.

Branches is set in locales including Abony, Budapest, Florence, Paris, Béziers, Montpellier, and NantesSweet Miracles follows the characters who immigrate to Newark in November 1948 (the name taken from the mousery and rabbitry one of the couples starts), and Remnants follows the characters who immigrate to Israel after the British are finally gone.

You’ll learn about topics like:

Dohány Utca Synagogue, the Great Synagogue of Budapest and one of the largest in the world, which Eichmann used as his headquarters during the Nazi occupation.

Jewish Newark, which is now sadly just a fading memory. In the mid-twentieth century, Newark had the sixth-largest Jewish community in the U.S., with countless synagogues, schools, bakeries, cemeteries, and other communal institutions.

Machal, the all-volunteer fighting force from abroad which helped Israel to win its War of Independence.

La Samaritaine, a historic department store in Paris.

Hashomer Hatzair, a Socialist–Zionist youth group which supported a binational state. (Contrary to what many people on the modern-day Left believe, it’s very possible to be both a Socialist and Zionist without any conflicts!)

Vailsburg, a Newark neighborhood which now has a much different character than it did at mid-century. It includes a former movie palace which today serves as a church.

Košice, Slovakia, the hometown of my character Artur Sklar and Slovakia’s next-largest city. It was also the first European settlement to get a coat of arms.

Ospedale di Santa Maria Nuova, Florence’s oldest hospital, founded by the father of Dante’s love Beatrice.

Basilica di Santa Croce, an impressive complex that’s so more than just a church. It contains Dante’s empty tomb, waiting for Ravenna to return his bones already.

Neology, a uniquely Hungarian denomination that’s akin to Liberal Modern Orthodox Judaism.

Tempio Maggiore Israelitico di Firenze, the breathtaking Great Synagogue of Florence, which was saved from Nazi destruction in 1944 by brave members of the Italian Resistance. They managed to diffuse almost all of the explosives left by the retreating occupiers.

University of Montpellier, one of the oldest universities in the world, and home to the world’s oldest med school still in operation.

Pasarét, a Bauhaus neighborhood on the Buda side of Budapest.

Gellért Hill, a beautiful, storied hill on the Buda side, with lovely outlooks of the entire city.

Lower Galilee, a beautiful, peaceful region I hope to someday live in, far from the maddening rush of the big cities, and with wonderful interfaith relations. You’ll learn the story behind the most bizarre grave I’ve ever seen!

Several letters have two or three topics, but I kept everything within my usual average of 400–800 words. All non-public domain photographs are properly credited. Since I’ve been to the Lower Galilee, many of those photographs are my own work.


My names blog will feature (mostly) names from Greek mythology. Since the Greek alphabet doesn’t have certain letters, I found mythological names from other cultures for those days. In the interest of fairness, I always do both a female and male name on each day.

A primer on Hebraizing names

Going along with Wednesday’s post and the onomastic plans of some of the characters in my WIP (to be fully realized in the companion book which follows the characters who immigrate to Israel instead of the U.S.), I thought I’d do a post about the Hebraization of names. Future installments in this series will cover Italian, Breton, Irish, Armenian, Finnish, Yiddish, Greek, Swahili, Japanese, Arabic, Chinese, and Korean names. When I’m fairly sure there won’t be any further installments, I’ll turn this series into a book, with expanded name lists and commentaries.

This is the 29th installment in my “A Primer on ________________ Names” series.

Hebraizing a name obviously entails changing one’s given name into a Hebrew equivalent, or adopting a new name entirely. This practice began during the First Wave of Aliyah (1882–1903), and became widespread during the Second Wave (1904–14). It continued during the Third Wave (1919–23), Fourth Wave (1924–8), and Fifth Wave (1929–39). Many Shoah survivors who came to Israel after 1945 also were eager to change their names.


First Committee of the Hebrew Language, 1912. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, father of the modern Hebrew language, is on the far right in the front row.

Long story short, Hebrew began to be revived during the First Wave, and during the Second Wave, it broke out of the school and home settings to be used in public venues. This is the only language in all of history to be resurrected in this way. Sure there are plenty of folks who know languages like Latin, Sanskrit, and Ancient Greek, but those aren’t national languages, nor did they go from languages without any native speakers to languages with millions of native speakers.

Part of the resurrection of Hebrew included the adoption of empowered new names, and throwing off old names smacking of the shtetl and an oppressed people without their own homeland. Hebrew, not Yiddish, is our lingua franca, as sorry as I am that Yiddish has become an endangered language.

Mendele Mocher Sforim (Mendele the Book Peddler), né Sholem Yakov Abramovich, 1836–1917, one of the founders of modern Hebrew literature

The resurrection of Hebrew went hand-in-hand with the Hebraization of surnames. There were several styles of doing this:

Repurposing a forename. Say, if your belovèd grandpap was named David, you might change your surname to Davidi; if you felt great admiration for the Patriarch Jakob, you could change your surname to Ya’akov; if your mother Mirjam were murdered in the Shoah, you might become Bat Miriam; if you’d lost your belovèd brother Daniel to a pogrom, you could become Daniel.

Translating your birth surname into Hebrew, or giving it a Hebrew twist; e.g., Lebovitz could become Lev; Bergman translates into Harari; Abramowicz becomes Ben Avraham; Rozental is shortened to Rosen; Davidovics is shortened to Davidi; Berg is switched to Barak; Rosen becomes Vardi; Goldberg is Har-Paz.

Taking inspiration from flora and fauna or geography; e.g., Rotem (desert broom), Nitzan (flower bud), Yarden (Jordan), Hermoni, Eilat, Golani, Alon (oak tree), Kineret (the Hebrew name for the Sea of Galilee), Tomer (palm tree).

Words with great personal symbolism; e.g., Shachar (dawn), Amichai (my people are alive), Maor (light), Eyal (strength), Cherut (Freedom), Bat Or (daughter of light), Keshet (rainbow).

It was similar with forenames. Many people adopted names of Biblical and historical figures they admired, took names from their family trees, and chose names with meanings they loved. Other names preserved part of the birth name’s sound; e.g., Adrián becomes Adriel, Aranka becomes Ariella, Csilla becomes Ilana, Móric becomes Mordechai.

First known Hebrew translation of Shakespeare, 1818, Solomon Löwisohn, “Are at this hour asleep!… Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” monologue from Henry IV

Though Hebraization was all but legally mandatory for many decades (so much so many Sephardic and Mizrachic children were given new surnames in school, without their parents’ knowledge), not everyone supported it. Many people were proud of their surnames and the long histories or famous bearers they represented, such as Sasson, Rothschild, Einstein, Abrabanel, LaPaz, Sasportas, and Saadia.

Others retained names denoting membership in the priestly or Levitical castes, like Kahan, Katz, Levine, Levinsohn, Azoulai, and Kaganovits. A number of Sephardic surnames were Hebrew to begin with. Still others couldn’t bear the thought of erasing their birth names as though they’d never been, effectively severing their entire family history and starting over with an alien identity.

Today, the trend towards Hebraization has not only significantly slowed, but also been reversed. Many new immigrants in recent decades have kept their original names, and many people with long roots in Israel have taken back ancestral names to feel closer to their particular ethnic origins.

Would you change your name (in part or full) if you moved to a country with another language? Do you agree or disagree with how many immigrants in the past (to Israel, the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France, Australia, etc.) changed their names to try to better blend in with the host culture? Are there any altered names in your own family tree?

Rosh HaNikra, Israel



Rosh HaNikra is both the name of a kibbutz in Northern Israel and the name of some beautiful grottoes. The kibbutz grows bananas and avocados, raises turkeys, and has a biotechnology company called Rahan Meristem, which does a lot with tissue culture and plant IVF. This is one of the furthest Northern points in Israel, right on the border with Lebanon.

The grottoes, which are near the border with Lebanon, have historically been used as trade routes and secret passageways for the military. Until the modern era, they were only accessible from the sea. During WWII, the occupying British made railway tunnels in the cliffs, to be used for the Cairo-Istanbul route. The Rosh HaNikra railway bridge was temporarily spared by the Haganah in June 1946, as part of Operation Markolet (a.k.a. Night of the Bridges). They were determined to diminish Britain’s military prestige, and to stop the flow of weapons to their Arab enemies in the midst.

However, during the War of Independence in 1948, the railway bridge was destroyed, in order to prevent enemy weapons and military from flowing in from Lebanon.



Rosh HaNikra first appears in Saga VI (the Nineties) of my handwritten magnum opus Cinnimin. On the first night of Rosh Hashanah 1994, Cinni’s 18-year-old granddaughter Agnieszka Laurel is prevailed upon to go for a walk with Ezra Skoloda, the 22-year-old kibbutz director she has a huge crush on. She was planning to transfer to another kibbutz after the holiday to avoid being around her unrequited love, and was deliberately avoiding Ezra that evening, but he insisted she shouldn’t walk home alone.

During their walk around Haifa, when Rosh HaNikra’s white cliffs are visible, Agnieszka gets a huge surprise when Ezra reveals his feelings for her and kisses her for the first time. You know, like a normal couple does at the start of their relationship, not two years and seven months into it, after they’ve already done everything else. I’m pissed at myself for staying so long with someone who refused to kiss me, and then only rarely did after he finally cracked. He wasn’t very good either, after all that wait. Certainly not as good as Ezra. In Sergey World, it’s completely normal to not kiss someone you’re in a relationship with and supposedly love.

Honestly, sometimes I wish I lived in a Magickal world where my giant stuffed frog Simon would turn into a prince as handsome as his namesake when I kiss him. But hey, better to share your bed with a stuffed frog than a walking DSM with poor libido and bad kissing skills.


At the top of the cliffs, there’s a military checkpoint which civilians aren’t allowed to go beyond. You’re not allowed to take pictures of it either, an edict which I obeyed. Military security, no matter what country you’re in, isn’t something to be taken lightly. Even if you just want a picture for yourself, the military doesn’t know that, and you can’t guarantee whose hands that picture might fall into.




The Mediterranean Sea is so beautiful, particularly set off against the pure white of the cliffs.




I think this was one of my Israel pictures which iStock approved for my ex-“fiancé.” I did so much thankless gruntwork of uploading pictures and describing them, hoping they wouldn’t all be rejected.



Israeli men, particularly soldiers and sailors, are notoriously HOT. But they’re just like American men in that they’ve never hit on me or asked me out.


I finally got my picture with an Israeli soldier!

More information:

Jerusalem, Israel

Warning: I have zero tolerance for anyone who bashes Israel’s right to exist and defend itself against terrorism, and for anyone who disproportionately, obsessively criticises Israel in comparison to every other nation in the world.


The Dome of the Rock, by the Mount of Olives.

The Sidna Omar Mosque in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, long sealed and unused but under protection as a holy site.


The Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, where it’s believed Peter denied Jesus thrice before the rooster crowed. Gallicantu is Latin for “cock’s-crow.”

Jerusalem (Yerushalayim) has been inhabited since at least 4500 BCE, and is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. So many peoples have lived there over the millennia, with so much history unfolding. Every single rock feels special and holy, knowing what kinds of stories it could tell if it could talk.

Jerusalem is the holiest city in the world, and feels very friendly and safe for such a large city. Even when I’ve been lost there, I never felt afraid. It reminds me of a big city like Boston in the way it’s designed and how nice the people are, in comparison to how easy it is to get lost and not always find friendly help in Manhattan.

It’s interesting to note that Jerusalem is never mentioned in the Torah. Every time the future spot of the Tabernacle (later Temple) is mentioned, it’s referred to in vague, veiled language, like “the place the Lord will choose.” This teaches us that every city in Eretz Yisrael was potentially holy, all in the running to be a Jerusalem.

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The Dome of the Rock from another angle.

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Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Stone of the Anointing, believed to be where Jesus was prepared for burial.

Today Jerusalem is made up of two major sections, the Old City and the New City. The Old City contains the Jewish, Christian, Armenian, and Muslim Quarters. Eight gates wall off the Old City. Not till 1869 was the first neighbourhood, Mishkenot Sha’ananim (Peaceful Habitation), built outside of the walls, with financing from Sir Moses Montefiore.

The Old City was in Jordanian hands from 1948-67, when it was liberated during the Six-Day War. During the Jordanian occupation, holy sites were desecrated and off-limits. The graves in the vast Mount of Olives Cemetery were used as a staircase. Even the Kotel (Western Wall) wasn’t available for worship. This is real, documented history, yet the obsessive Israel-bashers on the extreme Left refuse to believe it happened, or call you a racist if you mention it.

The start of the Via Dolorosa. 


Panorama by the Mount of Olives, with the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the background.


In front of the Kotel, when my hair was much shorter.

This is a city where history truly comes alive, where the ancient and modern frequently converge in a beautiful blend. Just witness a car driving past the old stone gates, or an electronics store a stone’s throw away from some ruins. The road to Jerusalem is littered with the charred remains of trucks which were ambushed and burnt by Arabs during the siege in 1948, during the War of Independence. Those trucks were trying to bring food, water, and other supplies to the starving, trapped people.

A small section of the Valley of Destroyed Communities in Yad Vashem. Each pillar bears the names of cities and towns whose Jewish population was destroyed or taken down to almost nothing by the Shoah. The biggest cities, like Warsaw, Lodz, and Bialystok, have their names in large font and on their own panel, like:

Nowadays, IDF soldiers are sworn in by the Valley of the Destroyed Communities instead of Masada. It’s meant to impress upon them what they’re fighting for, so that there’ll never be another Shoah. Masada symbolises cowardice, people who chose suicide over self-defence.


Mount of Olives panorama. The church with the dark grey roof, a bit right of centre, is Dominus Flevit (The Lord Wept). It’s believed that Jesus sat and cried over the wickedness of the world at that spot.


Small section of the Mount of Olives Cemetery. During the Jordanian occupation of 1948-67, the cemetery was desecrated and the graves were used as a staircase for the mount.

Jerusalem appears in my writing a number of times, starting in the currently-numbered Part XXIX of my handwritten magnum opus Cinnimin. Much of Part XXIX is set in Jerusalem in Autumn 1981. It’s a frequent setting from Saga VI (the Nineties) onward, as some of the next generation live and study in Israel.


One of the many Israeli squirrels I’ve photographed.


Soldiers entering Zion Gate in the Old City. Those are bulletholes in the ancient stone wall, from the War of Independence.


A typical narrow stone street of the Old City.

Jerusalem also appears in my hiatused WIP Lazarus Lost and Found, as teenage Lazarus von Hinderburg lives in the Old City with his former protector Magdalena Müller and her family in 1947. A conversation with an old man by the Kotel convinces him his place is in America, with the childhood sweetheart he survived for.


Somewhere in this cemetery, Oskar Schindler is buried. The gates were locked, but I got some nice close-up shots, from many angles, through the gates and over the lower walls. A little Arab boy crawled in through the gates to tell us the hours of operation, and then rode away on a donkey.


Children are children, no matter where you go.

Jerusalem will feature in my planned books Rebuilding the Remnants, set during the War of Independence and following my Hungarian characters who made aliyah instead of going to America; and Bittersweet Hope, about the long, challenging journey faced by Etke Berkowitz (spinster aunt of Lazarus’s friends the Roblenskies) and her adopted teen daughter Tekla (Tecia) Czernowicz on their way to making aliyah after the liberation.


This is either King Herod’s tomb or a burial tomb from King Herod’s era.


The Moses Montefiore Windmill by dusk.

I’m sure Jerusalem will also feature in some of my other planned books about my Shoah characters.


A clown entertaining a child in the children’s wing of Hadassah Hospital.

Kitties on film

It’s said that on your Hebrew birthday, you have the special power to bless and receive blessings. My Hebrew birthday continues through sundown on 2 December, the fifth day of Chanukah, so I’d once again like to bless all my readers that they should have a happy, healthy, successful holiday season and new year, and achieve whatever they want in the coming year.

Since I love cats, here are some of the cat pictures I took on my second and third trips to Israel, in February 2008 and February 2010. They’re like squirrels over there, everywhere you look. I’ve been told they’re often not treated very nicely by the locals, in comparison to how I’ve seen stray dogs treated really nicely.




These three were in Akko, a Medieval walled city near Haifa.



This kitty in the ancient ruined city of Beit She’an was one of the friendliest stray cats I’ve encountered in Israel. She repeatedly rolled over when I went to photograph her, trying to get me to pet her. The only reason I didn’t was because you never know what kinds of diseases they might have, esp. if they try to bite you.


This furry friend was in the gift shop for a ruined ancient synagogue in Beit Alfa.


The only head-on shot I got of a cat near my hotel in Yerushalayim while walking around one afternoon before Shabbos. This cat wasn’t too happy to discover s/he was being photographed, unlike some of the other cats I’ve photographed.




Found on the Wishing Bridge in the ancient city of Yafo, February 2010. Yafo was the original port city which Tel-Aviv started growing out of in 1909. These days, mostly Arabs and artists live there.




Found these friends in the Old City of Yerushalayim. I love the tuxedo cat with heterochromia.



This cat from the Old City was probably even friendlier than the cat who rolled over for me in Beit She’an two years earlier. She came right up to some of us who were sitting down, and let us pet her. The girl petting her in the picture had her bat mitzvah during our trip, at the overrated Masada.


Another Yerushalayim cat.


There turned out to be two of them!



More doubles!