We are a nation of many names: Israel, Jacob, Ephraim, to name a few. Why does it seem that the name "Jew" sticks the most? What does the name mean?
The words Jew (Yehudi in Hebrew) and Judaism (Yahadut) come from the name Judah, or Yehuda as it is pronounced in Hebrew. Yehuda was one the 12 tribes that descended from our forefather Yaakov. Understanding who Yehuda was and what he represented provides us with the key to comprehending the name Jew and understanding who we really are.
The word Yehuda comes from the Hebrew word lehodot, which means to thank. Indeed, upon his birth, Leah, Yehuda's mother, exclaimed "hapaam odeh et Hashem," this time I thank God. Feelings of gratitude characterized Yehuda's birth. The commonly used word todah, meaning "thank you," stems from the same root.
My middle sister ( Family Historian ) had my DNA tested, although our family history records that I'm a Levite, I do have the Y chromosome markers of the Cohanim. Our family history is also recorded in the book Sefer yuḥasin written by Abraham Ben Samuel Zacuto in 1498.
My great Grand Father Samuel Wolfson Zacuto Came to the United States through Elis Island from Belarus to escape the Russian Pogroms in 1896 and a year later he sent for his fiancée Rebecca Samuelson and they were married in Chicago Illinois, and settled down in New Orleans Louisiana where my grandfather and father were born.
It was in El Paso Texas when I was five years old that I was burned the second time, I remember this like it happened yesterday. I was playing in the kitchen while my mother and little sister were watching Soap Operas on TV. That was during the fall, October or November of 1955; I have pictures of me in the hospital dated November 1955.
I was playing with some small plastic cowboy figurines, I remember I was going to hang one of the cowboys and so I wrapped the electric cord around his neck and pulled on it without realizing that it was the cord to the electric cooker. The cooker was on a shelf unit that resembled a small book shelf, the cooker was on the top shelf and a radio was on the bottom shelf, so when I pulled on the cord the cooker full of boiling hot water and pinto beans came down on me burning my back, left arm, a small spot on my right arm and parts of my scalp. I screamed and my little sister came running to the kitchen and when she got to the door she saw me sitting on the floor with steam coming off my body she also screamed.
My mother come running and picked me up off the floor and took me to the bathroom, she set me down on the sink and rubbed something on my body then she took me to her bedroom and put me on the bed and wrapped me up in the bedspread, she took the car keys out of her purse tossed them to my little sister and told her “Go to Tony’s house give him these keys, tell him what happened to Dewey and ask him to start the car, I’m going to call your daddy and bring Dewey out to the car. You stay at Tony’s house.” It was strange the pain only lasted a second, maybe I went into shock and my brain shut down the pain center, but now I was scared, I didn’t know what was going to happen to me. Tony came running over to the house and stood on the front porch at the bedroom door and my mother said “Julius had an accident in the Kitchen, we need to get him to the hospital right away, I’m calling Beryl now, go start the car.” After calling my father my mother picked me up out of the bed and ran outside with me, Tony had the car started and was waiting for my mother and I. When we got into the car my mother said “Beryl said to take him to the William Beaumont Army Hospital emergency room, GO!” Tony floored the accelerator throwing us into the seat and I screamed in pain, my arm hit the cold metal of the door handle of the car door causing extreme pain. Every time Tony would take a sharp turn my arm would hit the door handle causing pain, I would scream “Tony slow down, Tony slow down!”
I remember seeing the sign “William Beaumont Army Hospital” as we passed by it. When we got to the hospital my mother rushed me into the emergency room and set me down onto the emergency room operating table, the last thing I remember was the doctor talking on the phone; it was a wall phone next to the door. I don’t know if I passed out or if they put me to sleep. The emergency room was in a wooden building somewhat like an old wooden army barracks. The rest of my memories are fragmented but clear, if that makes sense. Treating third degree burns was always evolving and constantly changing, my case was very serious because of my age and the area of my body that was burned, so they put me in a private room and the Army assigned my father to the hospital so as to help the hospital staff with my care, one of my parents was always with me until after the second skin graft surgery.
I remember that the first time I went in for skin graft surgery I was very excited, they came for me with a hospital transfer bed and they stopped just before the operating theater and checked my temperature, blood pressure, and reflexes. I was very confused and I remember that I asked, “Is this it” and they laughed and said “We haven’t started yet”.
Then they wheeled me into the operating room and placed a mask over my face and dropped something on it with an eye dropper, they then asked me to count backwards from ten, I said “I don’t know how to count and they said do your best. The next thing I knew I was waking up sick, very sick in the recovery room, and vomiting, a nurse ran to my side with a suction tube and started to suction the vomit out of my mouth to prevent me from drowning in the vomit. I discovered it wasn’t fun, no fun at all. Because treating third degree burns was evolving and changing not all staff members were trained with the latest techniques. My bandages were kept moist and changed on a regular basis so as to remove dead skin and scar tissue. One night one of my parents observed a nurse changing my bandages putting the dead skin and scar tissue back on my arm wrapping it with a fresh bandage, they intervened and informed the nurse that the dead skin could promote infection, luckily for me infection never set in which is very common for burn cases in the 1950’s. Visitors from outside the hospital except my parents were not allowed, and everyone who entered my room had to wear a surgical mask.
My youngest sister Deborah was so worried and missed me that she couldn’t sleep, so my parents arranged for her to see me, but we were only allowed to see each other in the hallway several yards apart. I did have a friend from an adjoining room who was confined to a wheelchair we were very close and I enjoyed his company, he was the only one who was allowed to visit me, I cannot remember his name. I later learned that he was suffering from a kidney disease.
Because of getting sick after my first surgery I didn’t want to go through it again, I remember it like it happened yesterday; I nearly died from Anesthetic Shock; anesthesia in those days was very risky. I was scared, very scared and crying as they brought me into the operating room, they put the mask over my face and told me to count backwards from ten, I just cried. The next thing I knew I was still crying and floating near the ceiling looking down onto myself and the doctors, one of the doctors pulled off his mask and said he’s gone, I shouted out “No I’m here, can’t you see me. I’m here.” And then the next thing I knew I was floating in space and still crying, I saw galaxies and stars, and I heard voices that sounded like a choir. The voices were saying “Dewey, we’re coming for you.” Over and over, (My nick name is Dewey) I was scared so very scared. Then I saw a light far in the distance, and there was a man in the light, the strange thing is I couldn’t see the bottom half of the man, it was like seeing a news caster on TV. The voices were getting louder and louder and the light got closer, but I still couldn’t see the bottom half of the man. Just as I started to step into the light I woke up in the recovery room vomiting and again a nurse came running to my side with a suction tube and started to suction the vomit out of my mouth to prevent me from drowning in the vomit. I never spoke of this until I was 14 years old, my Mother told me that I nearly died during surgery, and then I told my mother this story. I think that God has a mission for me.
I was raised in a secular home; my father was raised in a broken Orthodox Jewish home. My father lived with his mother, his sister and older brother lived with their father. His mother was a very strict and stern Jewish mother, my father told me that she drove him away and he joined the Army before the outbreak of WWII.
In 1956 or 1957 my father got orders for Ft. Sill Oklahoma, When I was eight years old while on the school playground during recess a gang of boys surrounded me and started pushing me and hitting me, they called me a Jew boy and that the Jews killed G-d and that Jews didn’t believe in G-d. I didn’t know what they were talking about, I never knew that I was Jewish, and I was confused, how could anyone kill G-d? G-d created life; he’s all knowing and powerful. They tied me to a tree and beat me; I remember seeing a girl standing by the class rooms watching the boys as they beat me. Then the bell rang and the boys ran off to their class leaving me tied to the tree, then I saw the girl again with the teacher and she was pointing at me, the teacher untied me and took me to the principal’s office and the principal called my father. I had no idea that I had Jewish roots and so I was very confused and couldn’t understand what the boys were saying, I asked my parents why the boys were calling me “Jew boy” and why they were beating me, and why they hated me.
My parents tried to explain and answer my questions; they gave me Bible stories for children that had a lot of pictures in it. I was raised in a Christian home; my father rebelled against his Jewish roots because his mother was very strict using Jewish law and mitzvahs from the Torah as guidelines to raise her son. I read the Bible stories, and studied the Bible as I got older, I read the Bible three times, the last time I not only read the Bible I studied it, using other books to answer questions about the Bible.
It was when I was 16 years old when I decided to adopt Judaism as my personal religion, and make Israel my home.
I started writing to Jewish relatives on my father’s side of the family telling them that I wanted to be a Jew and asking them questions. They sent me books on Judaism and Hebrew, my uncle Sam, my father’s older brother told me about a program where Jewish children can go to a Kibbutz in Israel for a summer vacation. I talked to my parents and they thought it would be a good idea, I wrote to the Kibbutz and they sent me a pamphlet and an application form. I studied the pamphlet and it said that Jewish children could go for free, I was so excited. My mother helped me get my passport and to complete the application form. After a few weeks the Kibbutz accepted my application, but I had to pay about $300.00 for airline tickets, something I didn’t know is that the Synagogue or Temple the children attends pays for the airline tickets, I didn’t attend either a Synagogue or Temple because I lived in the country and the nearest Synagogue or Temple was 110 miles away, I was heartbroken, I wanted to go so bad.