Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What are You?

That's a question I used to hear several times a day when I drove a cab as I worked my way through college and law school for seven years. The question-er, usually a slightly inebriated Marina-type young hottie (we called them "Jennifers" as they were frequently named Jennifer or just had Jennifer Anniston haircuts), would pile into the back of my Ford, peer at the big yellow ID card I kept on the dash and sneer with a Valley Girl accent, "like, what are you?" as if I were some kind of bizarre specimen at the zoo.

I guess that's because I'm kind of dark-skinned, hirsute and a cute little guy, but my dress, accent and mannerisms tell you I'm a native-born 'Merican. And then there's that bizarre-looking last name: Ets-Hokin. WTF is that all about? Is it an amalgamated name from a Feminist-dominated '60s marriage, where Ms. Ets met Mr. Hokin? Did Ellis Island mangle the name in the 19th Century? Just tell me where you're from, so I can judge you properly, man. We don't want any trouble.

The problem is to explain it I have to get a little vulnerable. I'm a Jew, and although I hardly live in Nazi Germany, sometimes it's not a good idea to tell drunken Sunset thugs you're one of those. But that's what my name is: Ashkenazik Jewish origin.

Here's what I know:

"Ets-Hokin" is the Anglicized spelling of "Yitzchaki" or "Yitzchakin," which just means "Son of Isaac" or maybe even just "Of Isaac." The great and learned 12th-Century Rabbi Schlomo Yitzchaki--better known as "Rashi"--is the oldest possible documented ancestor. I read somewhere that a huge percentage of Ashkenazi Jews--the Jews of Eastern Europe who eat salty food and speak Yiddish--descended from him. So the irony is that my last name, as exotic as it looks, is actually akin to "Johnson" among European Jews.