I mentioned in an earlier post (Who Will Believe the Unbelievable? 11/1/14) that I was raised a Christian. In fact, I come from a very religious family: My father was a Baptist minister, as was one of his brothers; another brother was his church’s choir director and another played the organ in his church. One of his sisters would have been a minister, if women had been allowed to do such things back then, so she married a minister and became a Christian educator. Their three sons all became ministers. Of the two remaining sisters, one married a farmer and they were devout church goers; the other married a (gasp!) divorced man, but they also attended church services regularly. My mother’s side, though fewer in number, were no less devout.
That’s a lot of Christians. The thing is, every other person I have ever met who was named “Blatt” was Jewish. I’ve met dozens of Blatts over the years, and I always ask about their religious (or, in the case of the non-observant, ethnic) background. They always reply that their families were Jewish. Ancestry.com reports that the surname “Blatt” is German and Jewish (Ashkenazic). My father’s family was certainly German, but was there a Jewish connection somewhere in our family’s past?
When I was still in college I visited my Uncle Ralph, the other Baptist preacher, and asked him outright if our family had ever been Jewish. His response was to turn red in the face, puff out his cheeks, and stomp out of the room without saying a word. One interpretation of this behavior is that the idea was so preposterous that it didn’t deserve an answer. Another interpretation is that the over-Christianization of our family was some kind of reaction formation against a covert Jewish history. I tend to favor the latter.
I vaguely recall that one of my cousins, while in Germany a few years ago, tried to trace the family tree but couldn’t get past the guy that got on the boat to America. That suggests to me that “Blatt” may not have been the real name of the immigrant, and, just possibly, he was running away from some one or some thing in his past to start a new life in America. What better way to lose your history than to immerse yourself in an entirely different culture and new religion? This is, of course, almost entirely conjecture, but it has made for some interesting discussions at family reunions.
Is “Blatt” a Jewish name? It was probably no coincidence that my first college roommate (assigned by the University) was Jewish. Several Jewish organizations apparently think “Blatt” is Jewish, because they send me appeals for funds from time to time. And a long time ago one of the women I was dating mentioned my name to her mother, who responded that she was so happy that her daughter was finally dating “a nice Jewish boy.”
What’s in a name? A whole lot of mystery. A whole lot of assumptions. A whole lot of nonsense.