Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Name for the Ages

The coincidental timing of current events with the biblical narrative as it plays out in the weekly readings of the Torah can be eerily comforting.

Last week my grandson, Finley Hawthorne Forseter, was born (follow his blog at findingfinley.blogspot.com). As is the custom in Jewish families, Finley’s Hebrew name was given to him at his Bris, his ritual circumcision, which occurred yesterday. He was given the name Yakov (Jacob) in honor of my deceased father and his mother’s paternal grandfather who passed away a year ago. My dad’s Hebrew name was Yakov. James Mixter Sr. was not Jewish, but James usually is translated as Yakov.

Each week in synagogue, Jews read a portion of the Torah (the Five Books of Moses). The full portion, referred to as a parsha, is read on Saturday morning. But on Monday and Thursday mornings the first 12 or so sentences of the longer portion are read. Sort of like a preview of what is to come on Saturday.

During the fall, the readings comes from the Book of Genesis. Last week’s Torah portion was titled Toledot, (Generations, in English). It begins at Chapter 25, verse 19 of Genesis, with the birth of twins to Rebecca and Isaac. Yakov was one of those twins, Esau the other. Finley was born at 7:01 am, right around the time last Monday morning when Yakov’s birth would have been read in synagogue.

This was not the first time the story of the patriarch Yakov impressed itself on the narrative of my family. The week my father died in 1998, the parsha of the week recounted the last days of Yakov’s life in Egypt. I was struck at the time by the commonalities Yakov and my father shared. Yakov died in a land not his own, a land he traveled to when adversity, a famine, struck his homeland, Canaan. My father, too, fled his native land, Poland, right before the outbreak of World War II. Like Yakov, my father and his family prospered in a new world.

Like Yakov, my father was a patriarch. He was a leader not only to his family but also to many of his business associates, the synagogue in Brooklyn he served as president for many years, and to the many refugees from the little village of Ottynier who left to find a better life. For many, many years he was president of the First Ottynier Young Men’s Benevolent Association.

I met James Mixter Sr. just two or three times, but it was obvious he was a man of warmth and uncompromising integrity. He was a leader in his own right. Prior to last year’s New Hampshire presidential primary, John McCain personally called James Sr. to discuss what needed to be done to secure his support. You don’t have to agree with a man’s politics to appreciate the values and standing he brings to a community.

Finley Hawthorne Forseter, Yakov Forseter, sockless for now, has some mighty big shoes to fill.