By Harriet P. Gross
As outdoor summer Shakespeare rolls out in our local parks, I’m asking the Shakespearean-inspired question: What’s in a name? My answer is, your first confirmation Bible, if the name is Debra Beth Shostak.
I have that Bible, and here’s the story behind it.
Debra Beth Shostak was confirmed in the spring of 1969 at Congregation Beth Sholom in Park Forest, Ill. I served there that year as an interim executive director, and one of my (admittedly minor) duties was to check the names on the confirmands’ Bibles when they arrived.
Debra Beth’s was spelled incorrectly, so back it went for re-embossing. When it was returned, it was too obviously a corrected job, so I rush-ordered a new one and kept the bad one in a desk drawer, just in case. I figured if the replacement was late, I could tell the recipient that on the bima she’d be getting a temporary substitute, soon to be swapped for the real thing. But the arrival was on time, so confirmation went off without any biblical hitch.
However, the unthinkable happened that very week: Someone took my own confirmation Bible, which I’d always kept as a reference on my desk. I assumed it had been borrowed, but after days went by with no return, I started using the Debra Beth Shostak reject myself. Out of the drawer it came; up on the desktop it went with my other necessary volumes, and there it remained for the duration of my congregational stay. When my stint ended and I packed up and moved out, it moved with me.
I had been confirmed years before, one student in a very small synagogue whose tiny class combined with several other little shuls’ equally small ones for a single big ceremony. Everything bare bones, and all the same: We all wore identical dark robes and received identical black Bibles, none of them inscribed with any name.
But by the time Debra Beth Shostak was confirmed, some things had changed: Boys wore the dark robes and got standard-size black Bibles; girls wore white robes and got much smaller Bibles, the white ones they were expected to carry, at some time in the future, along with their bridal bouquets. And all were inscribed with names, in bright gold letters.
Today, I have a bookcase with one shelf dedicated to Bibles I often use for reference and for comparison: Several different Protestant ones, the Catholic scriptures, even a Book of Mormon.
Among my Jewish variety is a plain, bare-bones black one, just like the Bible I received at my own confirmation, the one that was — OK, I’ll tell it like it is — stolen from me. Also like it, this is a book without any inscribed name. And it’s the version that was given to many confirmands, year after year, for many long years: the Jewish Publication Society’s “Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text.”
The little white Bible first intended for Debra Beth Shostak doesn’t live on that shelf, or any other. It sits within easy reach on my bedside table, so I can read a bit from it every night. And because it features that basic Masoretic text, it travels often to my nearby in-home office, so the old black standby is truly that: just a backup for when I need to contrast English translations from any other religious version to a recognizably standard Jewish one. It now does the job that Debra Beth’s badly embossed one did while I waited for her new one to arrive: it’s in reserve for a use that never comes.
That was truly a strange year: Parents who had left the congregation years before, after their daughter’s bat mitzvah, threw a major “confirmation” party for her at the same time as her friends in Debra Beth’s class were having theirs — except their girl wasn’t even being confirmed! Like something written much after Shakespeare, “Anything Goes” when you’re Jewish, I guess.
I don’t know why I’m thinking of all this 43 years past the fact, but I trust our Bible, which says there’s a right time for everything. Debra Beth probably has a different name than Shostak now, probably children, maybe even grandkids. But she knows nothing about the existence of this much-worn little book, whose gold embossing that reads “The Holy Scriptures” is just as miserable-looking today from much handling as her name was from attempted correction at the start.
But if you happen to know her, please tell her I have something to give her …