Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg

I am in love with this rabbi.  Her books have blown my mind.

If you’re a feminist; if you’re Jewish; if you struggle with making Jewish tradition your own, modern and relevant…. run to the nearest library or bookstore and enjoy the book for you, Yentl’s Revenge.

In it, I  found the English language text I want to use on my ketubah one day. I found the model of Judaism I want to raise my kids with.  I want to make my own tallit katan for women following her directions.

Woman crush in full-bloom.


Back in July, the summer before I converted, I was pretty sure my Hebrew name would be Neriah Ami bat Avraham v’Sarah.  You see, I was born during Chanukah and I always loved the nerot tamid in the synagogues I visited, in addition to the concept of Holiness as Light.  Add in the fact that I finally felt like I had found my people, and I thought I had the perfect name.

I wasn’t excited about the Abraham and Sarah part–did I really feel like they were my spiritual parents more than any of our other patriarchs and matriarchs? do I feel like announcing my status at each aliyah?–but I did not have a good enough reason in my mind to part ways with tradition.

Then, the February before I converted, my mom asked me some questions about the conversion process and names came up.  Needless to say, she wasn’t happy with the formula for converts.  She felt it erased her and my father from her life.  On the one hand, I could understand her emotional response.  Most mothers take pride in their children and want to be associated with the wonderful adults they helped to nurture.  Mine takes it to a whole new level of possession and self-congratulatory recognition.

But, she is my mother.  And hearing this come from her mouth made me want to talk to my rabbi.  He listened, and then he suggested Nataliah–the name my mother picked out for her future daughter in high school–plus the Hebrew syllable ‘ah’ for G-d.  It was perfect–I like my name in English, I liked the poetry of adding G-d to my life symbolized in adding this symbol.

The issue was over for three months, until my BFF said it wasn’t enough, that it didn’t seem like me due to my strong dislike of the Spanish version of my name that sounds very much like this selected Hebrew one.  And to be honest, I was not too happy about letting go of my light-based idea.

So off to the library I went.  I borrowed two volumes. And I pored through, letter by letter, putting each name going into one of three columns on a t-chart: (1) like the sound, hate the meaning; (2) like the sound, like the meaning; (3) hate the sound, like the meaning.  The chart grew to about 150 names.  I asked BFF and I asked The Boy, and I settled on 10.  But I knew.  I knew from the moment I put the name down in the second column that Nehara would be my second name.  It meant fire/light, and it meant little river.  It captured the fire/water metaphor from my essay perfectly.

I was worried about the alliteration, but now I like it.  I like being n-squared.

I love my Rabbi

Yesterday morning, the rain kept many people home from Shabbat services.  At nine o’clock, as scheduled, services started.  Our leader did not see me wearing a tallit and as a result, did not think to count me in the ten.  I realize this now, after he reached the part where we needed ten adults, and stopped, saying he would go down and find the additional people.  My rabbi said, “Leader’s name, no, it’s okay, let’s go on.”  Leader started counting again, and I started getting self conscious.  Should I out myself? Should I say I’m official now, in front of 7 other adults who do not know me and to whom I don’t really feel like explaining myself or saying “no, I’m not married, nor am I engaged”.

I looked across the way to my rabbi, who was looking straight at me.  And then my rabbi’s mouth opened, and in a stern tone of voice, “Leader’s name, start” came out.

I love that my rabbi is so protective of us gerim, and understands our psychological states as we struggle to own our identities and our community membership.  That he stood up for me, anonymously, sternly, so I didn’t have to out myself… meant a lot.