She was named for my great grandmother - Chaya Shayndle.
I had the privilege of knowing my great grandmother. She died when I was about 13. She was one of the great American Jewish heroes. She came to this country from from Poland in the early 1920s. Her husband, my great grandfather, died when my grandfather was only 13. My great grandmother raised my grandfather and his two sisters as a single mother. She worked as a seamstress in the sweat shops in New York City.
As hard as life was, her commitment to keeping the Torah was unshakable. In those days there were no laws to protect Jews who wanted to observe Shabbat. When Friday came she would inform her supervisors that she could not work on Saturday and they would tell her that if she did not come in, she should not bother coming in on Sunday either. Despite the risk of losing employment, she never broke Shabbat, and she always provided a beautiful Shabbat at home for her children. This obviously made an impression on them. At a time in American history when most Jews were abandoning Shabbat, my grandfather and his sisters continued to embrace and cherish the Shabbat and successfully passed that love on to their children as well.
My great grandmother prided herself on this. At the end of her life she would often say, "when I walk into a room, the biggest Rosh Yeshivas [Rabbis] should stand up [out of respect[ for me for how many of them can say that every one of their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren are shomer Shabbat?"
If she were alive today she would be as proud as ever. Today there are well over a hundred people alive who are descended from her and every single one of them observes the Shabbat that she fought to maintain. Raya Liba and Zoey Shayna are her great great grandchildren and my hope is that they continue to love and cherish the Shabbat and all of the mitzvot of the Torah and to have a love for Hashem and the Jewish people just as their great great grandmother did.
So how did we arrive at Zoey Shayna?
The middle name is obvious. Shayndle is really a diminutive of Shayna which means beautiful.
Chaya was the problem. We already had a daughter named Raya and we felt that Raya and Chaya would be cute - until they were about 3 and 4 years old. After that, not so cute.
Chaya is the feminine form of the Hebrew word Chay - life. So we looked for Hebrew synonyms for life but were surprised that we could not find any (or any that would make a good name).
So if we could not find a word in Hebrew, my wife had the idea of looking for a name in Greek that means life. The Gemara says that Greek, the language of Noach's son Yefet, is such a beautiful language that it is even permissible to write the Torah in Greek. There are even a number of Rabbis in the Mishnah who have Greek names like Horkenous, Antignos, and Alexander.
It turns out that the Greek equivalent of Chaya is Zoey.
But we were still a bit uncomfortable. We really wanted our daughter to have a Hebrew name.
So where did we finally find our comfort? Obviously, in my favorite city in the entire world - the Holy City of Akko.
Miriam and I were visiting Akko during our last trip to Israel. We stayed with our good friend Eliad and met his beautiful new daughter Shilat. I had never heard the name Shilat before. i asked him what it meant. he told me that it was an acronym for the verse in Tehilim, "Shviti Hashem Linegdi Tamid" which means, "I place Hashem before me always." I loved it!!!
So maybe Zoey could be an acronym for something. This took work. We scoured the Tanach for anything that would fit. Then, on Rosh Chodesh my wife found it. Right before our eyes in Hallel.
Zeh HayOm Esah YHashem
Which is the first half of the verse, "this is the day that Hashem made - rejoice and be happy in it."
Perfect! What better way to capture the essence of her great great grandmother who held firm for the day of Shabbat and rejoiced in its observance?
My wish to Zoey is that she grow to love Shabbat, and the Torah, and Hashem, and the Jewish people. May she always rejoice in the mitzvot and bring love and happiness to the world.
May she grow up and enter into Torah, Chupa, and Massim Tovim.