One of the reasons for changing a Hebrew name in a time of illness is to confuse the Malach Hamavet, the angel of death.

If the angel of death doesn’t know your new name, the Malach Hamavet can’t find you, right? Additionally, as long as nobody knows your “inner” name, they can’t control you. Works for both angels and mere mortals.

For we humans, it’s not too much of a stretch to compare the aftermath of a natural disaster like Harvey to unexpected illness. You’re stunned, petrified and your innate sense of trust in the sanctity of your body/Houston’s drainage system is gone. Brays Bayou is not a friend of the Jewish people. Like a fever, moldering furniture, mildewed dry wall, mounds of ruined books and clothing and (my personal favorite) drenched cars quickly overwhelm your sense of reality.

Which brings me back to changing your name in a time of catastrophe. A vulnerable woman in a Talmud reading (tractate Ta’anit) calls herself Ikku, meaning “if so.” Her name begs the question, what next?  Ikku needs a house with a roof. So do you. If so, then what? What’s next? What are the possibilities of return to a normal life?

When something that I perceive as bad happens to me, I try to view the catastrophe as something positive. If so, what do I open myself up to? Taking this next step involves a willing decision, an acknowledgment of suspension of disbelief. People do this when they watch a play or read a fantasy novel. Why shouldn’t we be open to all possibilities in our personal lives?

When you’re catapulted out of your comfort zone, adjusting to a new life situation is very difficult. We all have this idea that somehow we should get our lives in order, and everything else remains stable. You suspend disbelief an ineffective way – life changes on a dime and what we view as solid ground beneath us really isn’t.

I once counseled a survivor of physical domestic abuse. The woman finally divorced her husband and began a new life. She was a song bird who had been set free. Her new Hebrew name became Ashira. ‘I will sing.'”


Learning to sing after Harvey won’t be easy, whether your name’s Ikku, Harvey or Ashira.

It takes a little chutzpah to use a name to remind the creator that God is in a convenant with the Jewish people. And with that, Houston is blessed in abundance.

See you at Shabbat.