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big shoes to fill

With the exception of our parents and siblings, to whom we had confided Munchkin’s name, none of our relatives knew how we had decided to call our son, and they were jittery with anticipation as they gathered for the bris. D’s aunt drove nine hours from Philadelphia to Portland, S’s uncle came down from Montreal, and we also welcomed relatives and a few close family friends from Boston, New York, and Connecticut to tell them his story. We now share a slightly abridged version with you:

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Our son was born on the 23rd of Adar, which is known as the month of good fortune, and we feel so lucky to have been blessed with such a good-natured boy. We named him after both of his great-grandfathers, neither of whom unfortunately lived to see him.

S’s grandfather Louis, whom she always called Zaida Lou, was a hard-working, loyal, family man. He worked long hours as a middleman to provide for his family, shuttling wholesale goods from his storage locker and car to big-name stores, and twice a week without doubt he could be found at the bowling alley, even when he was well into his 80s. Not only was Lou an example to his three sons, showing them the value of diligence and self-reliance, but also a leader in the community as one of the founding members of the Young Israel of St. Laurent synagogue in Montreal. Zaida Lou’s parents spoke Yiddish and Russian and called their son Label or by his Hebrew name of Aryeh, both of which mean “lion.” It is this Hebrew name that we bestowed upon our son.

Just as S’s grandfather was called to the Torah as Aryeh but known to all by his English name of Lou or his Yiddish name of Label so will our son be given a first name that begins with the letter “L.” It is said that parents are given divine prophecy when they name their children. D must be an insightful dreamer because one morning, late into Munchkin’s third trimester, he awoke and a name came to him that we both instantly liked.

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Boris — D’s dedushka Borya — whose memory we honored by giving our son a middle name that begins with his letter B, grew up in the post-war Soviet Union. Like his grandson, he had studied to be a diplomat, but was unable to fulfill his dream because the authorities shuttered the faculty where he studied and reassigned all the students to other careers. Boris finished university with a degree in economic planning and his first job was as director of an electronics store that sold the Soviet Union’s first TVs and radios. In Soviet times, things were frequently acquired — rather than bought — so it was valuable to cultivate good contacts, and it seemed as if Borya came to know half of Moscow through his job.

Listening to stories about his grandfather, D is pretty sure he would have had no fewer friends even if he had been no more than a lowly janitor in a forgotten shtetl. He was kind almost to a fault — the sort of friend whom you want by your side when you are most in need — and always the life of the party. He loved sports, though he was unable to actively participate in them after sustaining a disabling injury during his military service. Instead, he dedicated himself to intellectual pursuits. He was an accomplished chess played and venerated literature, instilling a love of language in his daughter, who passed that same passion to D — a passion we hope also captivates our son’s imagination.

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Both of Munchkin’s great-grandfathers served their countries, his maternal great-grandfather Lou fighting for five years during WWII in the Canadian Army, while his paternal great-grandfather Borya served five years in the Soviet Navy in the immediate postwar era. We hope that our grandfathers’ legacies will live on through our newborn son — that he will inherit their good qualities and grow up to be a leader who, true to his name, will bring light to the world through public service and knowledge.

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