It turns out that it wasn’t the immigration officials at Ellis Island that allegedly changed the last names of Jews because of “antisemitism” — rather, it was the Jews themselves who did it voluntarily in order to “shape shift” — blending into the background until they became so successful that they could reassert their Jewish identities without repercussions, according to this Jewish writer in the Times Of Israel:
The dilemmas of Jewish name-changing form a powerful chapter in novelist Dara Horn’s new collection of essays. “People Love Dead Jews” is an examination – deeply reported, at times brilliant and often bitter – on the persistent hatred aimed at Jews, even in their absence. A recurring theme of the book is the way antisemites, philosemites and Jews themselves rewrite and distort the past, and how Jewish identity is “defined and determined by the opinions and projections of others.”
Our last names are a case in point. Horn explodes the old myth that Jews’ names were changed at Ellis Island by clerks too lazy or malevolent to spell them right. In public lectures and a 2014 essay, Horn would explain that “nobody at Ellis Island ever wrote down immigrants’ names.” Instead, she’d cite works like Kirsten Fermaglich’s “A Rosenberg by Any Other Name,” a deep dive into the data showing the “heartbreaking reality” of Jewish immigrants changing their own names “because they cannot find a job, or because their children are being humiliated or discriminated against at school, or because with their real names, no one will hire them for any white-collar position.” Genealogists like Jennifer Mendelsohn and Philip Sutton and Ellis Island officials like Peter Urban have confirmed this over the years.
What Horn didn’t count on was the anger of her audiences, who insisted that their grandparents and great-grandparents were passive victims of a clerk’s pen. Horn explains this denial as a “deep pattern in Jewish history,” which is “all about living in places where you are utterly vulnerable and cannot admit it.” Instead of fessing up to that vulnerability and their culpability in bowing to it, many Jews prefer to invent more benign “origin stories,” either to exonerate their non-Jewish neighbors or spare themselves and their children the “humiliation” that the new country is no more friendly to Jews than the one they left. If Jews were to tell the truth about why Karolchouk became Carroll, or (in my mother’s case) Greenberg became Green, they’d be “confirming two enormous fears: first, that this country doesn’t really accept you, and second, that the best way to survive and thrive is to dump any outward sign of your Jewish identity, and symbolically cut that cord that goes back to Mount Sinai.”
Horn ends up saluting the “enormous emotional resources” displayed by the Jews who cling to the Ellis Island myth, but I felt hers is an overly harsh assessment of the survival strategies employed out of necessity by a previous generation of Jews. I can’t prove that my great-uncle and his brothers weren’t humiliated by the name change, but I am guessing that it went down easier than Horn imagines. A new country, a new language, a new alphabet. So much was lost in translation. I think given the choice between the misery they left behind in the Old Country and the opportunities available to them even in an intolerant America, their generation felt losing the last name was a palatable tradeoff.
History bears out their choice. Within a generation or two, the name-changers’ children were able to assert their Jewishness in countless ways. The prosperity that came with “passing” allowed them to build public Jewish lives, worship as they chose and climb the ladder of success unthwarted by the twisted imaginations of antisemites. Having achieved success, these Jews would build forward-facing Jewish institutions, proudly attach their names to dormitories and concert halls, and send their children to Jewish day schools without fear that they would be denied admission to the top universities….
Jewish survival and adaptation have often depended on shape shifting, from first-century Yavneh to 20th-century Tel Aviv, when Jews like David Grün and Goldie Myerson traded one kind of Jewish name for another. Besides, what we consider “Jewish” last names are often themselves “un-Jewish” place names and occupations, adopted after state legislation in Yiddish-speaking lands required hereditary names instead of the patronymics the Jews had been using. They certainly didn’t go back to Sinai.
Name changing wasn’t a humiliation but a strategy, and one that, in the American context, has paid off handsomely.
Like my dad, I sometimes wish our last name sounded more Jewish. I fret that Carroll undercuts what little authority I have as a “public” Jew, or reinforces my own occasional feelings of inauthenticity (which I define as “not having gone to Jewish summer camp”). But of course, to even think of reclaiming a “Jewish” name is a privilege that would have been unimaginable to so many Jews living in truly hostile lands. And the notion of what is and isn’t a “Jewish” name is itself being complicated – and enriched — by conversion, interfaith marriage and all the other factors that have diversified the Jewish community in recent years.
Still, as Horn wrote in her original article about the Ellis Island myth, the internet has become a “toxic sea” of antisemitic misinformation, and “that makes it all the more important to get Jewish history right.” We should all recognize the Ellis Island story for the myth that it is, and embrace the real stories of courage and adaptation that brought us to this place and time.
Yes, now that the Jews “are mighty,” they no longer feel a need to dissemble — or “shape shift” as it were — they can be as Jewish as they want to be with complete impunity — literally rub our collective noses in it.
Jewish identity is based on numerous myths — not just the Ellis Island “name theft” ruse they like to tell — going all the way back to the fact that they are not even real Hebrews.
On top of that, a huge part of their identity is based on the Holocaust™ — another myth — according to the Jews themselves — that needs to be done away with if Jews have any hope of no longer feeling “inauthentic.”
Take away the fake Israelite identity and the Holocaust™, and what are today’s “Jews”?
To quote American poet, Emily Dickinson, they are “nobody” — economic gypsies masquerading as God’s Chosen People™ who have the temerity — or chutzpah — to claim they are “healing the world” with their antichrist scheme of graft and murder called “communism.”
In appropriating the role of Israelites — all Israel, not just Judah — and making claim to a land in the Middle East that was never theirs in the first place — these antichrists have sought to bring America to its knees, to literally worship them in a new temple where an ersatz priesthood will initiate animal sacrifices.
And notice how the writer of this article admits that America is not a “truly hostile land” — meaning it’s not truly “antisemitic” despite all their continuous whining to the contrary — otherwise there is no way Jews could have ever risen so rapidly to such power that they now can opening brag — without repercussions — that they “own the whole freaking country.”
In fact, by 1920 Jews had already amassed to much political power that they were able to put pressure on the U.S. Census Bureau to count Jews as “white” instead of a separate category of “Jewish” — and they did this for very cynical reasons — they knew that white Americans like Henry Ford would be alarmed to say the least.
To distract America from the Jewish problem powerful Jews cynically again used their enormous political influence to pressure Congress to “reform” U.S. immigration laws in 1965 so that America would be flooded with Third World immigrants — taking the spotlight off the Jews.
Jews claim that it’s a Jewish moral imperative to “welcome strangers” — but that applies only to white Christian nations they are trying to “repair” through “tikkun olam” — never to their own Jewish ethno-State of Israel.