In Jewish tradition, boys are not named until they are eight days old. The names are publicly announced for the first time at their brit milah, the ceremony that includes their circumcision. Following that part of the ritual, the father recites the following blessing:
Praised be Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us by Thy commandments, and hast bidden us to make him enter into the covenant of Abraham our father.
The wine is blessed and a little bit of wine put on the baby’s mouth. And then, finally, the world hears the baby’s name for the first time. For obvious reasons, we were unable to have a brit milah after eight days and we won’t be having one any time soon. But today our wonderful rabbi, Lisa Edwards, and our synagogue’s former cantor, Fran Chalin, came with us into the NICU at Cedars and performed a beautiful ceremony over Charlie’s incubator in which we gave Hebrew names to both of our boys.
Charlie opened his tiny blue eyes and gazed at the four of us as he received the name that he will carry with him from this day forward:
Chaim Yehuda Shmuel, son of Moshe David and Yehudit Esther
Chaim comes from the word chai which means “life.” According to Kaballah, giving a person the name Chaim improves their health and helps them remain strong. Hebrew letters also stand for numerals and the letters that spell chai are the number 18 which is considered a lucky number in Jewish culture. Yehuda, which means praise, is for my mother, Judy Miller, whose Hebrew name was Yehudit. Kendall took the name Yehudit to honor my mom when she converted several years ago. Shmuel is for my grandfather, Samuel Karoll. In the Bible Samuel was the first major prophet. In the Book of Samuel, the story is told of his mother naming her son Shmuel in memory of her requesting a child from God and God listening. Shmuel translates to “God has heard.”
Rabbi Lisa also said a prayer for our son Oliver, whose absence from our lives is an excruciating hole that will never be filled. His Hebrew name is:
Yitzchak Gabriel Elad, son of Moshe David and Yehudit Esther.
Yitzchak is for my great-grandfather, Itshe Meyer Korolnek, the patriarch of our family who I’ve written about so many times. Those Korolnek genes are very strong and in our twelve hours with our son, I remember thinking how much he resembled Itshe Meyer, a Ger Hasid who emigrated from Staszow, Poland over a hundred years ago. As I’ve written, my great-grandfather was an amazing, unique, and powerful man and I would like to think that he has taken our son under his wing. Yitzchak also translates as “he will laugh,” a perfect name for any child in our family, especially for Kendall and her dad Oliver whose laughs were so full-bodied and legendary that they were sought out by their troupe of actor friends to stock the audiences of various plays or performances. I loved watching Kendall laugh during an ultrasound and and I used to regale her and the doctors with my pantomime of our boys' in utero response to the sound waves. The name Gabriel appears in the Bible in the Book of Daniel. He is one of the angels closest to God and makes a star appearance in the musical “Anything Goes” which Leah and I love. (“I want to join your happy band, and play all day in the Promised Land. So blow, Gabriel, blow! Come on you scamps, get up you sinners! You're all too full of expensive dinners! Stand up on your lazy feet and sing! Blow Gabriel, blow!”) Elad means eternity or “Eternal God.”
Fran sang a song for Charlie and then one for Oliver. Charlie was transfixed by Fran’s heavenly voice as were the other babies nearby—it was as good as a “comfort hold” and none of the babies started “Bradying down” or “desatting” (NICU humor—when the babies' heart and respiratory rates plummet) as they can do when they hear unfamiliar sounds. Rabbi Lisa also said a prayer for Charlie’s caregivers, the two nurses that were assigned to him today as well as all the doctors and nurses that are caring for him around the clock. Here is Fran singing to Charlie:
I was thinking today about my little teaser a few months ago in which I said that the twins each had a Broadway showtune all their own. People started speculating on what names we had chosen for our boys and the tongue-in-cheek guesses made me scream with laughter. Tevye and Pippin? Peter Pan and Pal Joey?
Oliver was named after Kendall’s dad, Oliver Hailey. It’s obvious what Broadway show I was referring to with him. I spent most of Kendall’s pregnancy singing his title song into her belly:
Never before has a boy wanted more!
He won't ask for more when he knows what's in store
There's a dark, thin winding stairway without any banister
Which we'll throw him down
And feed him the cockroaches served in a canister
What will he do when he's turned black and blue
He will rule the day when somebody named him OL-I-VER!
Not exactly the cheeriest song but one that I’ve always loved from one of my all-time favorite musicals. Oliver’s middle name was Thomas after Kendall’s beloved uncle who died two years ago. Long before we found out Kendall was pregnant, much less with twins, we planned on naming any boy we might have Oliver. During the pregnancy the babies were referred to as Baby A and Baby B. We hadn’t decided who was who and we knew we wouldn’t until we met them. I can’t explain why we knew Oliver was Oliver and Charlie was Charlie on that terrifying and sad day three weeks ago but we just did. And so we had to let Oliver go.
Our son Charles is named for Kendall’s close friend, the late Charles Nelson Reilly. I’m guessing he may be the only baby in the history of the Cedars-Sinai NICU named after that crazy and wonderful man. When Oliver died, we wanted Charles to have a part of his older brother with him so we inserted Oliver Thomas inside Charles’ full name. We haven’t forgotten Charles’ original middle name, Somers, after Kendall’s godmother, the late Brett Somers, who was Charles Nelson Reilly’s “Match Game” sparring partner. My God, how the two of them could make us laugh. May Charlie/Chaim have a life full of such laughter, as good a medicine as anything in the NICU. It’s been too painful to me to even think of any of the songs from “Oliver” since our son died, but starting tomorrow I am going to sing the entire score to Charlie as a tribute to his older brother.
Cheerio but be back soon,
I don't know somehow I'll miss you
I love you that's why I
Say cheerio, not goodbye
Don't be gone long, be back soon
Give me one long last “God bless you!”
Remember our old tune,
Be back soon!