Synopsis of short story:
Target Age: 8–13-years-old
Have you ever wondered why your parents named you the way they did?
Do you think your name is important to your identity?
Have you ever wondered what your name means?
What would you do if someone would purposefully call you by a name you really didn’t like?
This is a story about Judea, a girl who faces bullying in school by a group of kids who purposefully call her not by her given name. The more that Judea tries to show to the students that her name is Judea, the more proof she brings, the bullying increases. In time, even the school administrators, teachers, and students forget her real name and Judea herself wonders whether her name is really Judea. She begins to doubt her reality, her sense of self and identity.
It is her extended family, however, who plays a critical role in reminding Judea of her familial roots, and that her great-grandfather, Judah, is whom she is named after. And in the process of reminding Judea to reclaim her identity, the young girl is empowered. She decides that she will not be a victim and instead, proclaim her name aloud!
By now you’ve figured out that Judea’s story is the story of the Jewish people and their homeland, Israel. For thousands of years, in the hands of several empires, the original name of Israel—Judea—was renamed. The Romans wanted the world to forget about Judea and the holy city of Jerusalem, so they named it Palestina. But the Jewish family is strong. And just like in the case of Judea’s family, who played a central role in reminding and inspiring Judea to reclaim her identity, the Jewish people’s hearts moved as they longed for a return to their homeland. These Jewish family members were known as Zionists.
On the first day of school, the teacher laid out the name tags. Mrs. Uma Nathans was excited to greet the fifth-grade class. She took great care to make sure that each name tag was a different color. As she was waiting for the children to enter the classroom, Mrs. Nathans smiled, recalling her school days.
The bell rang and the kids bounced into the classroom. To Mrs. Nathans, they were still nameless: cheerful smiles and bouncy bodies. “My name is Mrs. Uma Nathans. I want to get to know you,” she said as the kids settled into their seats. “I want you to come up to the name tags that I have placed on this table,” she showed them, “and write your name. After you have done this, I would like you to share with us what your name means, why your parents named you this way. For example, I am named after my great-aunt Ursa, who lived during the time of the suffrage. She was a leader for women and their right to vote!” Mrs. Nathans demonstrated to the students.
Some of the kids already knew one another from previous years. “Hannah,” Miriam turned to her friend, “I never knew why you are called Hannah. This is going to be fun!” Student after student, each took a name tag and proudly wrote their names.
“But what if we don’t know why we are named the way we are?” a boy shot up.
“That’s ok,” Mrs. Nathans observed. “This will be your homework and you can report back to the class tomorrow.” The boy took the nametag as if it was a treasure, his eyes lighting up with curiosity.
Judea was new to the school. Her family had just moved from New York. California was beaming with sunshine she was not so accustomed to. Back home, she had many friends and though she was nervous, she looked forward to meeting new people. She took the purple-colored name tag, as purple was her favorite color. With great care she wrote her name, letter by letter, and stuck the tag on her shirt. When it was her turn to share, she said, “My name is Judea. My mother and my father named me Judea in honor of my great-grandfather, Judah.” She paused and looked around, as if looking for him. “But I never met him.”
Being new to school comes with many challenges, of course, and when she shared about her name, she noticed kids chuckling in their seats, whispering to one another, most likely about her name, she thought.
“Thank you for sharing with us, Judea,” Mrs. Nathans tried to quiet the room. In no time, all the kids shared their names, and the bell rang. “That’s recess!” Mrs. Nathans proclaimed. “Make sure to eat a snack and drink your water, it’s a hot day today.”
The kids ran out of the classroom as if they were participating in the Olympiads. They burst onto the playground and began to group themselves with their friends. Judea, on the other hand, did not have any friends yet. She stood aside, observing the kids, and hoped that one of the kids would come up and play with her.
“Hey Paula!” one of the girls shouted toward Judea. She didn’t respond and looked back. Perhaps there was another girl behind her name Paula. But during the sharing they did in class, Judea did not remember any Paula.
“Yeah, you! Paula!” Molly teased.
“Oh, I’m not Paula, I’m Judea,” she corrected Molly. The girls circling Molly began to laugh. Like parrots, they flocked around one another, and repeated the name “Paula” over and over again. Judea felt a knot in her throat and her eyes began to water. She turned red and ran back to the classroom.
The bell rang and the kids gathered slowly around the class door.
That evening, Judea came home and hardly ate her dinner. “How was school?” her mother inquired, noticing that Judea did not touch her favorite grilled potatoes and cucumber and tomato salad.
“Not so good mom,” Judea remarked. “The kids weren’t very nice,” Judea went on, describing how they teased her and didn’t address her by her name.
Judea’s mom furrowed her brows, came to give her daughter a hug and said, “Sometimes kids can be mean… especially to new kids. I’m sure it will be fine. Let’s take it day by day.”
That evening, Judea lay in her bed and couldn’t fall asleep. For the first time in her life, she wondered why she had this name. It was also the first time that she realized that she does not know any other Judeas. Maybe her name was too old-fashioned? She thought. Maybe it sounded weird? Or maybe they just didn’t like the way it looked written out on her name tag. Doubt began to fill her mind as dawn greeted her bedroom window.
Apprehensive about the second day of school, Judea walked into the classroom, this time with her head hanging a little low. She didn’t want to call attention to herself and tried her hardest to be silent. But during recess, the flock of kids grew, as if they had planned this round of mockery. They gathered in the yard, but unlike yesterday, they did not split into groups of friends. “Paula! Paula!” They pointed at her while mocking her.
She turned around and ran to the classroom. Judea turned just to check if they followed her; they did not. She sat low to the ground, her face buried in her hands. She could hear laughs and giggles from her classmates, and she cried harder. She cried because she was embarrassed. She cried because she was humiliated. The rest of recess, if someone asked where Judea was, they would find her hiding away from her tormentors, far far from the playground.
Mrs. Nathans was not on yard duty that day but noticed Judea’s red puffy face as the kids trailed back into the classroom. The class settled and she pulled out the map of the world, concentrating on the fertile crescent and the ancient map of Mesopotamia. When the bell rang for lunch, Mrs. Nathans noticed that Judea did not stand up. “Are you not going to eat your lunch?” she asked.
“Is it okay if I eat my lunch inside today?” Judea asked.
Mrs. Nathans was no stranger to the many cases of bullying she had witnessed throughout the years. “Judea,” she said, “is everything alright?”
Judea did not answer with words, just with her body. From aside she looked like the number 2, her head sinking down. “It will get better,” Mrs. Nathans comforted Judea, “it’s just the beginning of the year. Give it some time.”
Some time did, indeed, pass, but nothing changed. In fact, it only got worse. The more that Judea tried to prove to her peers that her name really was Judea, the more they laughed and taunted her. “You could have forged those papers, Paula!” Molly, the ringleader, folded her arms across her chest as Judea showed them her identification card, with the letters of her name in bold writing. It was impossible. Nothing she did could have convinced them otherwise.
Every time they didn’t call her by her given name, it was as if her family’s history did not exist. Worse: It was as if she did not exist. She began to doubt everything, to doubt whether there really was a great-grandfather named Judah. At home, she retreated further into herself, spending most of her time in her room, looking at the blank California streets. She didn’t even respond to “Judea” when her parents called her name.
Toward the end of the school year, Judea heard that her family from New York was coming to visit. For the first time in many months, her heart was lifted with joy. She would see her cousins, uncles, and aunts again. For once, in a very long time, she had been hopeful. She went to school and didn’t mind the taunting; she even ignored her bullies. “Paula!” Molly shouted, trying to get Judea’s attention. But she was lost in the sweet thought of seeing her family soon.
That evening, the door swung open, and the many familiar faces appeared before her eyes. She ran to Esther, her cousin with whom she had grown up. They had not seen one another for almost an entire year. “My, how our Judea has grown!” Esther’s mother remarked as she ran her fingers through Judea’s copper coils.
As the family members trickled in, one by one, Judea noticed a man she did not recognize. He was tall and stately and wore a gray-striped suit. He was old and seemed to be fragile like a vase that could break at any moment. “Come, come, Jacob,” Judea’s mom took his stuff as she ushered him in. “Please, please feel at home.”
He took a big breath and searched for the nearest place to sit, his legs tired from the journey. “Thank you, dear Ruth,” he found the armchair in the living room and sunk into it.
Judea watched from behind the wall. “Why are you hiding?” Esther asked.
Judea turned to her cousin and said, “Who is that? I’ve never seen him before.”
“That’s Jacob, Judah’s son,” Esther explained.
“Who?” Judea said aloud.
“You know, Judah, our great grandfather…?” Esther looked at her cousin a bit surprised.
Judea remained silent.
“You’re different,” Esther observed.
“I am different,” Judea snapped back.
The evening was still early, and Ruth invited everyone to the table. She helped Jacob get seated at the head of the table and said, “We are all so happy to be together again. And so excited that our dear Jacob could be with us here.”
Everyone smiled and shared their latest news. Everyone, except Judea. It was as if she was not there, but rather observing everyone else. Jacob was a funny man, funny because he spoke with a slight accent. Though she tried to avoid him, deep down inside Judea was curious who he was.
All this was too much for Judea. It was as if she were living two lives. The one at school where she was Paula and the one here, at home, where she was still called Judea. Who was she?
The school year was coming to an end, and Mrs. Nathans had a surprise for the class. She had kept all the name tags from the first day and wanted to give them to the students so that they would have something to remember their fifth-grade year. She put the tags into a ziplocked bag and carefully placed it in her purse. As they bounced into the class, Mrs. Nathans recalled her excitement from the first day of school.
“I have a surprise for you all!” she announced as they hurried into their seats. And she pulled the ziplocked bag out and waved it triumphantly. Judea felt the familiar feeling of the knot in her throat.
“Our name tags!” the students shouted. And they jumped out of the seats like rockets into outer space.
“I found mine!”
“Wow I used to write like a chicken!”
Judea did not get up from her seat. She sat frozen.
“Aren’t you going to get your name tag?” Molly returned to her seat and looked at Judea. “Oh wait, there isn’t one for you! I didn’t see a Paula in the pile!”
Mrs. Nathans quietly approached Judea’s desk and placed the name tag on the desk. “This is yours,” she said. Judea stared at the letters J-U-D-E-A but did not recognize her name. Out of habit, when the school day was coming to an end, she gathered all the papers from her desk, and stuffed them in her backpack. She did not mean to take the nametag with “Judea” on it, but it must have attached itself to one of the piles and thus found its way into Judea’s backpack.
At home, Judea stood in the kitchen, cleaning out her backpack. She removed old papers, worn-down erasers, and pencils that had stopped working. The papers flew out of her backpack and the nametag fell on the tip of her shoe. She bent down, grabbed it, and headed straight to the trash.
“That’s my favorite color, too,” Jacob, who had been sitting in the armchair turned to Judea and pointed to his lavender polo shirt. Ceremoniously, Judea smiled. “What are you throwing out?” he asked.
Judea had been trying to avoid Jacob all week. But for some reason, the tenderness in his voice and his warm eyes beckoned to her. She turned and walked toward him. “This…” she showed him the purple nametag.
“Why do you have a nametag?” he asked. She explained and asked him to have it back. His hands shook and the nametag trembled in them like a leaf on a windy day. “Do you know why you are called Judea?” he asked. The familiar knot formed in her throat again.
She shook her head.
“Of course, she knows!” Judea’s mother shouted from the kitchen.
“I don’t,” Judea said and hesitated before saying, “I don’t even know why I am called the way I am called, who this great-grandfather Judah was or if he ever truly existed!” It all came out of her like a waterfall. Jacob looked confused and her mother came out of the kitchen. All her emotions, her anger and sadness poured forth, and she cried.
“But of course, there was a man named Judah, and he was my father,” Jacob explained. He proceeded to tell Judea all about his father, where he was born and where he grew up. And that during the war he lost all of his family members, and that he met his wife, Jacob’s mother, after the war. Judea listened and looked at her mother, who nodded all along the way.
“Your great-grandfather was a very special man. He survived great horrors and lived to tell us his story. You must know his story!” Jacob became animated. It was the first time during that visit that Judea observed Jacob so passionate. As she wiped her tears, Jacob continued to speak about his father. “So you see,” Jacob still held onto the nametag. “Your name carries the memory and life of a great man!”
On the last day of school, Judea chose to wear her name tag proudly on the front of her shirt. And every time the kids attempted to tease or make fun of her, she raised her head that much higher. From that day on, she decided not to be defined by her bullies. When she realized that it was up to her and her alone to proclaim with great pride that her name was Judea, she was not easily swayed.
So that everywhere she went she would declare: “My name is Judea! My great-grandfather was called Judah. He was a great man.”
By now you’ve figured out that Judea’s story is the story of the Jewish people and their homeland, Israel. For thousands of years, in the hands of several empires, the name of the Jewish kingdom—Judea—was renamed. The Romans wanted the world to forget about Judea and the holy city of Jerusalem, so they named it Palestina. But the Jewish family is strong. And just like in the case of Judea’s family who played a central role in reminding and inspiring Judea to reclaim her identity, the Jewish people’s hearts moved as they longed for a return to their homeland.
These Jewish family members were known as Zionists.
In 70 A.D. the Jewish Kingdom of Judea fell under the ruthless hands of the Romans. For long, the Romans had despised the Judeans. And when they finally destroyed the holy city of Jerusalem, and exiled the Jews from it, they decided to rename Judea to Palestina. They did this because it was not enough for the Romans to destroy the Jewish kingdom; no, they wanted to obliterate its name from memory. So that no one would ever remember that there was a Judea. To show their pride of conquering Judea, the Romans minted a coin they called “Judea Capta.”
But the Jewish heart does not wane; the two-thousand exile, known as the diaspora, culminated with the Holocaust, a most evil case of anti-Semitism. And still, the Jewish heart did not waver. The Jews have longed for Zion and the return to their Promised Homeland. The Jewish family members who fought for a return to Eretz Yisrael were known as Zionists. These were men and women who left Eastern Europe to rebuild their homeland. These were also men and women who worked very hard to convince the world that the Jewish people are like any other people who have a rich national past. The Zionists did not just believe that the Jewish people deserved their own land, but must return to their ancestral homeland, the Land of Israel. To celebrate their liberation, Israel minted a coin in 1953, called “Israel Liberata.” This special coin is evidence that though the world may have wanted to forget about Judea, the Jewish people never did.