Excerpt Growing Up in the Shtetl
My uncle, Benjamin (Benyamin, Munio for short) was born in 1899 and then my father, Wilhelm,(William, Zeev , Villi for short)in 1901, in Dolina, the classical East European Shtetl of the turn of the previous century
In light of the custom of Jews to give names after the deceased ancestors, perhaps my uncle was named after his great- grandfather at the request of Binah. I can’t determine who my father is to have been named after; William, the anglicized form of Wilhelm, is a common Jewish counterpart to the German/Yiddish “Wulf”( wolf), in Hebrew, Zeev.
When Jacob blesses his sons, he describes the youngest, “ Benyamin Zeev Toref”, Benjamin is a ferocious wolf. Perhaps my grandfather had that verse in mind when he picked “Zeev” as my father’s Hebrew name. It was a blessing in disguise, as symbolically, the two brothers, as a team, were able to over come great danger. Little could my grandfather imagine.
There is the idealized world of the Shtetl, all of humor and the levity of a Sholom Aleichem and a Fiddler on the Roof, and then there is the fantasists Shtetl, of an IB Singer. And then again, there is the shtetl.