This essay grew from a story I shared at The Story Space on January 24, 2017.
There is a Hebrew phrase, “L’dor v’dor,” meaning “from generation to generation.” In my life, this manifests as a legacy of responsibility for how we act, and take our place as activists, in this world we have inherited. This legacy is deep within us, passed on through example, through experience, and even through name.
My story spans about 25 years. It is a generational story.
When the US entered the first Iraq war in August 1990, I was pregnant with my younger child. Like many pregnant women, I had frightening dreams in which I was powerless to protect my children from harm. My dreams began to center around bringing a child into a world at war, and those thoughts plagued me during the day as well as in my sleep.
My baby was due on April Fool’s Day, 1991, about a month after the war officially ended. The spirit of that due date apparently took hold in vitro; the fetus turned breach, and then turned back, during those final weeks, and I awoke at about 5 am on April 1 in what proved after two hours to be false labor. But at 5 the next morning, the gig was up and real labor set in. Life quickly became about rousing my aunt to come over and watch our 3 ½-year old daughter, and getting to the hospital. The most I noticed about the world around me was that spring weather had finally set in.
Our son arrived that morning, and at that moment we saw only brightness. We named him Isaac James. Isaac, for my grandfather Isador, means laughter. An apt name for a boy who was playing April Fool’s pranks before he even slid into the world. James carries on a naming tradition in my husband’s family and derives from the Hebrew Ya’acov, or Jacob—the son of Isaac, and the progenitor of the tribes of Israel… the future of the people. Not too much of a name to be saddled with: keeping the future going, with good humor!
But I remained frightened about policies that could steer the course of our country in what I believed to be a harmful direction. We might not have been waging war in the Gulf any longer, but we were fighting other battles. The twelve years of the Reagan and Bush White Houses had, among other things, weakened the voice of abortion rights. The US Supreme Court was about to consider the constitutionality of a Pennsylvania law that limited abortion access, and we feared that we’d see Roe v. Wade overturned. This was about my children’s future.
I already was involved as a volunteer in local and state politics—part of the legacy I’d inherited from my mother, who had served as our district’s Democratic committee woman. And on April 5, 1992, the week of my son’s first birthday, I traveled from our suburban Philadelphia home to join the crowd of 750,000 in Washington, DC for the March for Women’s Lives.
What an exhilarating experience, side-by-side with friends and strangers, on the mall of our capital, a place that by its very design tells us we are welcomed—even encouraged—to gather in peaceful protest as a fundamental aspect of our democracy.
And the 8 or so hours it took to drive the usually 3 hour ride each way, because so many were making the trek.
And the storming of the men’s rooms at the rest stops, bringing the wait for bathrooms down to about an hour be women were out in such force.
Exhilarating in every way.
Soon after the march, the conservative-majority court left Roe v. Wade intact.
My name, by the way, is Dina. It signifies Judgement or Justice.
On January 20, 2015, our daughter gave birth to our first grandchild and named him Atlas for the combination of strength and humility encompassed in the Greek myth of the God who was condemned to holding up the heavens in perpetuity, as punishment for his role in the War of the Titans. Strength and humility. Possibly the most critical combination of traits for one who might take on a family legacy of acting on conviction. He also has a Hebrew name, Bahir Nistar, or “illuminated” and “hidden”—for its similar duality of knowledge and the unknowable—as well as the Iroquois name “Neesah,” or new moon. We took some delight in knowing that, every four years, his birthday would be marked by cyclical renewal with our democracy’s peaceful transition of power.
But what we couldn’t know then was that, on Atlas’s 2nd birthday, Donald Trump would become president of the United States. All the bright promise I see in my grandson helped to overwhelm what was, for me, the darkness of the transition our nation made that day.
Our daughter didn’t make a party for Atlas last weekend, because on his birthday she was doing much more for him; she was en route from their home to join the Women’s March in Washington. Just as I had marched during the week of our son’s birthday. Our daughter’s name is Audrey Zelda. Audrey signifies strength and nobility, and it is associated with gold (think “Au” in the periodic table), just as her Hebrew name Zehava means “golden.” Zelda carries on my mother’s name, and it means woman warrior. And so, with noble strength our daughter engaged in peaceful battle on the national mall and shone a light on the values she holds precious as gold.
Here is what she posted to Facebook that day:
Happy 2nd birthday to my loving, goofy, friendly, observant, thoughtful, sly little dinosaur monster who is now speaking in sentences, telling me stories about your day, and always pushing my imagination (and patience...). It's such a privilege and joy to be your mama. I'll be thinking of you while I'm marching with our friends and family this weekend - it's for you!
And this was my response:
I'm so proud of both of you. I remember marching for your future back in 1992. From generation to generation.