Excerpt from What’s in a Name by Ricky Rapoport Friesem


This essay was the 2018 Tiferet Writing Contest Winner for Nonfiction. Read the rest of Ricky’s essay & more in our Spring/Summer 2019 issue available in print or digital format.

My name came about, quite literally, by accident. No wonder that for years I fantasized about changing it.

I’m named for Rivka, one of my mother’s three sisters. I don’t know much about Rivka. My mother may have told me about her, but the details didn’t register. They were wiped out, obliterated by the impact of The Photograph. I haven’t seen it now for 50 years, but I will never be able to forget it.

In The Photograph, an aristocratic looking young woman, in her twenties, is sitting on a low railing, her body slightly turned, her face in three-quarter profile. She is gazing into space. The young woman, my aunt Rivka, is fashionably dressed in the style of the 1930’s. A long pleated skirt, a top with a sailor collar and a deep V in neckline. Trim ankles and elegant pointed shoes poke out from under her hem. Her face is not quite beautiful. A little too chiseled. Like Joan Fontaine rather than her sister, Olivia de Havilland. Fine, even features and light hair.

The whole composition is veiled in the soft tints of faded sepia. A softness that was almost tactile, beckoning me to touch. One feature stood out sharply. Her eyes. Like mine. Deep set, narrow, a slight fold in the eyelids that hints at some Mongol ancestor who also willed us the high cheekbones, which, together with the slightly oriental eyes, are the hallmark of my mother’s family. Her eyes are fixed on something. Something we can’t see. And an instant after The Photograph was taken, Rivka was dead.

RICKY RAPOPORT FRIESEM’S stories and poems have appeared in publications such as Popshot, Moment, Jewish Daily Forward and the Anthology of Israeli Short Stories. She has published four collections in English: Parentheses, Laissez-Passer, Reality Check and Mumbai Luck which won the Dallas Poets Community 2015 Chapbook Competition. A collection of her poetry, translated into Hebrew, Mekurka’at, was published by Eked in 2013.  Ricky was born in Canada, and moved to Israel in 1972.

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