Most children are given the regular complement of names at birth. For me, however, having been born into a Jewish home, I was given another name along with the regular designations. Not only was I Fred Goldstein” but at my bris my parents added a Yiddish appellation—Feivel. I don’t think my parents realized that all the crying I did at my bris had anything to do with that name, but could you imagine growing up in the Bronx with the name Feivel? Yes, my Yiddish name was a bit awkward. I never knew exactly what to do with it. However, when I started Hebrew school, I was addressed by its Hebrew equivalent, Efraim. I liked “Efraim” better than “Feivel”. But even so, to my friends I was just Fred. This issue of two names never came up in conversation, and I seldom thought about it.
Yet I always felt my Hebrew name was something distinctive; it identified me as a Jew. I never asked for an explanation why I had a Hebrew name, in the same way I never asked why I wore a yarmulkah (skull cap) in synagogue. We were Jews and we just did it—that was reason enough!
It wasn’t until my early twenties that the matter of my Hebrew name became important to me. This was due to two life-changing events. One was accepting Yeshua as the Messiah. The other was living in Israel.
When I first arrived in Israel, I was asked by others, “Ma shimcha?” (what’s your name?). I reflexively answered, “Fred.” They smiled and replied “No, what’s your name in Hebrew?”
It was then that I realized that as a Jew my Hebrew name was my real name. My English name was merely a social accommodation for living in the Diaspora. The name which better expresses who I am as a person, as a Jew, is Efraim.
My Hebrew name also better expresses who I am as a follower of Yeshua. In reading the Holy Scriptures, I came to see that Yeshua and the disciples all had two names: Yeshua—Jesus; Simon—Peter; Yochanan—John; and Saul—Paul. And here I was: Efraim—Fred.
Literally translated, “Efraim” means “double portion.” I tend to think that before I accepted Yeshua as my Messiah, I had a double portion of problems. Now, I have a double portion of blessings: the blessing of being one of God’s chosen people and the blessing of choosing to follow the Messiah of Israel.
Admittedly, at times it is difficult to use a polysyllabic Hebrew name in America. Everywhere from Montgomery, Alabama to Boise, Idaho, people struggle with saying “Efraim.” But then, when I think of it, people also struggle with saying “Yeshua.” But both are good Jewish names. Both say something about their bearer. If Americans can learn to say “Luciano Pavarotti,” they can learn Efraim too. But better still, my prayer is that people will stop struggling with and start inquiring about the name above all names—Yeshua.