While she was pregnant, Beti and I went back to Israel and became members of the kibbutz where we’d been volunteers. On a November afternoon, in a modern hospital in Jerusalem, I squeezed Beti’s shoulders and, miraculously, a baby emerged. A boy! Hours later that newborn was in Beti’s arms, breast-feeding, while we talked about what name to give him.
Beti’s late father bore the Hungarian name Bela, as in Bartok or Lugosi. Beti lobbied for her father’s Hebrew name Benjamin.
“That’s a good middle name,” I said, “but what about the first name?”
“What do you think?”
What did I think? One thing was sure: my years of drifting and working on ships were over. And Beti, surely, would no longer be a revolutionary trying to proleterianize herself. As parents, whether we chose to remain in Israel or go back to Argentina or the US to live, both of us would surely become more and more bourgeois.
Was there a name we could give our son that would remind us that we were once not bourgeois?
“Rafael,” I said, “what if we name him… Rafael?”
Had the cocaine wholesaler made that much of an impression on me? Did I have a stronger connection to Rafael than I’d acknowledged?
“Rafael,” Beti said. “Good name. Hebrew name. It mean, what, God is my healer?”
“Something like that.”
“And it’s a name you find in Spanish-speaking or English-speaking places.”
“True,” I said. “Who knows where the fates will take him?”
“If he grows up here in Israel, he’ll be called Rafi, right?”
“Right,” I said. “Right. In Argentina, he’d be Rafaelito, in Spain, Rafa. In the Arab world, Rafik. In a Litvak shtetl, Rafooshnik. In Japan, Rafikuchi. In the Caucases, Rafushvilli.”
Beti laughed. “Enough, enough! Rafael Benjamin.” She squeezed my hand, as if to say, We did it! We’ve given birth to a child, and he has everything a human being should have.
Including a good name.