It is common for people to have a variety of names which they like to be referred by - legal names, nicknames, titles, and more. What are some of your names?
As I travel through life's journey, I have acquired many names, some were given, and some personally chosen. Each one refers to a different part of my life journey, identity, and relationships. I was given the name Park Yoon-Hee (last name is first in Korean) by the orphanage staff when I became an orphan. I was given the name Caitlin Yoon-Hee Hill by my parents when I was legally adopted. I was given the nickname Caty when I became my parents' child. I chose the name Hannah to be written on my Reform Jewish conversion certificate. Then I chose to acquire the name Chana when I underwent my halachic conversion to Judaism.
Miraculously, I have discovered the birth name that was given to me by my birth family just this past year! I was given the name Hwa-sun when I was a Korean newborn so many, many years ago. Another name I am now learning to respond to and integrate into my identity.
Most everyone will ask themselves at some point (consciously or unconsciously): Who do I want to be? Who do I want to become?
It was during my year studying in Neve after college that I thought about those questions with heightened consciousness. I realized within the first month that I wanted to refer to myself primarily as Chana. I wanted to give myself a name that represents who I wanted to be and become. In Tanach, Chana was one of the many women to whom G‑d gave the power of prophecy. I realize there’s NO WAY I will become a prophetess, though that would be helpful in my parenting! But I strove to be more like Prophetess Chana, seeking to meet Hashem in prayer with true and complete trust and faith, and to honor how Prophetess Chana kept Hashem, Torah, and Tefillah as her core point of reference and spiritual connection.
And yet, while I am married to a Rabbi, I don’t usually refer to myself as Rebbetzin. (Usually, around the home, it’s MOMMY!) Before I got married, part of my life plan was to make sure not to marry a Rabbi. I had planned on NOT acquiring the name/title Rebbetzin. And indeed I did not marry a Rabbi, but Hashem had other plans – shortly after we married, I supported my husband’s desire to go to rabbinical school and agreed to live in Jerusalem longer than I had planned, thereby acquiring Rebbetzin as one of my names. My husband Rabbi Raffi Bilek even wrote an amazing and deep sefer (about the letters of the alef bais and his fantastic insights into them) - but it still surprises me when my husband’s friends call me Rebbetzin. As they say, man plans, G-d laughs!
The reason for my hesitation is that when I think of the name Rebbitzin, yes, I think of Jewish women who are indeed married to a Rabbi (and even some who are not), but more so, I think about how these Jewish women have also learned the depth and breadth of Jewish teachings to impart to others. Despite my studies and deep commitment, I wavered on whether I should take that title, and in the past, have shied away from it.
But the other day, I was given a special opportunity to be introduced as Rebbetzin Chana Bilek when Vera Kessler invited me to be interviewed about the topic of managing relationships on her America's Top Rebbetzins Podcast. I feel grateful to Vera for giving me this opportunity, one which helped me become more receptive to humbly stepping into the title of Rebbetzin. Not only in honor of my amazing husband, but as a credit to everything I have learned and am learning from many, many wise Rebbetzins and Rabbis and from navigating the depth and complexity of many rich, challenging, and vital relationships in my life. I have worked very hard to integrate the Torah’s perspective and teachings in order to better cultivate and keep the connection to each other and to G-d which is at the heart of these relationships, and who I want to be.
So when I had the chance to connect with other Jewish women to be in discussion about navigating the many important and special relationships in our lives, I could only say yes.
Here’s my first podcast interview as Rebbetzin Chana Bilek!
I hope you find some insights and helpful tools in creating more light and joy in your relationships. It is now the darkest time of the year, the Jewish month of Tevet, which makes even one small light of personal development and spiritual growth shine brighter than the usual.
The physical and spiritual exile that we as a Jewish nation experience ourselves in today started in Tevet in the year 3336 from Creation (425 BCE) when the Babylonian empire and their leader Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem.1 I feel sadness when I see that this spiritual exile is resulting in nations and the individuals citizens becoming more disconnected from personal growth, interpersonal relationship development, and genuine moral and spiritual searching.
The 10th of Tevet is a Jewish public fast day (a minor one) that has just ended. It is a day commemorating the time when the Jewish nation, meaning a majority of the Jewish people, first started to suppress and ignore the feeling of disconnection from The Torah, Hashem, and the Jewish prophet’s teachings. Failing to notice the feelings of spiritual emptiness, sadness, and anguish. A failure which misled them in answering the questions, “Who do I want to be? Who do I want to become?” They turned away from the messages that the Prophetess Chana taught the Jewish nation, and ignored the messages of many other prophets. Many last attempts were made by the prophet Jeremiah2 who tried everything to motivate and inspire the Jewish people to bring Hashem, Torah, and Tefillah back as their core point of reference and spiritual connection, but the nation only turned further away.
This minor 12-hour fast is not to help us lose the Chanukah pounds we might have gained after all the donuts and latkes. The fast was instituted by our Jewish sages to help us to notice the feelings of emptiness (spiritual, not stomach). To notice, accept, and respect that there is a spiritual emptiness. To help us feel that sadness. And even though the fast day is over, I pray that everyone, including myself, is able to genuinely notice where, when, why, and what that spiritual disconnection is, then take that insight into our feelings and turning it into a light that will guide the search for how to spiritual reconnect back to all relationships.
If you were someone who did or did not fast, or whatever “type” of Jew you are, or whether you are a Jew or non Jew - ask yourself now today (or any day sooner than later) - Who do I want to be? Who do I want to become? Do my names and titles refer and bring forth who that is, and how do I continue to grow in the potential for connection that each name or title holds?
Let’s all continue to walk in the journey of life, holding the depth and complexity of the various parts of our identity, and critically, our relationships with respect, trust, and love. Through this, we bring Moshiach a bit closer through each conversation and interaction with ourselves, our family, our friends, co-workers, and in spiritual meetings with Hashem. We connect and reconnect.
~Your fellow traveler, Chana Bilek
1. Ezekiel 24:2.
2. Jeremiah 39:2.