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    The Apple was a rabbi

    The following article by Rabbi Raymond Apple originally appeared in The Jerusalem Report on 5 April 2021.

    It was no fun to have a name like mine when I was a boy at school.

    Some children called me Pippin. Some said, “Apple, you give me the pip!” Those who liked me said, “Apple, you’re just peachy!” When I got to university and met a student called Cherry, people said we made a right pear. None of this was antisemitic: I just had a funny name.

    Our shule in Sydney had a member called Bridge who dropped his Hungarian name in deference to the Harbour Bridge. Another man became Hillman because of his car.

    Many “Jewish” names were toned down: Cohen became Cullen, Levy became Lewis, Robbinowitz became Robb. Endings like “ski” and “witz” were dropped: critics of Rabbi Jacob Danglow of Melbourne (originally Danglowitz) said he had lost his wits.

    Some names were translated. Schneider became Taylor (even Hyatt, via the Hebrew Hayyat); Lehrer was Teacher, Becker was Baker, Buchbinder was Bookman.

    In the USA, Jews in the film industry picked names with a nice sound.

    Some Israelis like Rivlin and Netanyahu inherited Hebrew names; others Hebraized themselves so that Gruen became Ben Gurion, Shertok was Sharett, Myerson was Meir, Shimshelevitz was Ben Zvi, Persky was Peres.

    How did I become an Apple?

    An uncle – whose surname of Joachim later became James – was sure my father was formerly Appelinski, though I countered with the claim that I was an apple from the Garden of Eden. The rabbinic sages thought that the fruit in Gan Eden was an etrog. The “apple” theory derived from Christian misunderstanding of the story. In any case, “apple” was the ancient name for any kind of fruit.

    Sometimes I pretend to be from one of the four noble Roman families, De Pomis/Min HaTappuchim, Adumim, Zekenim and Anavim, but this is wishful thinking. The truth is that my father’s family, who came to Jerusalem from Russia in the early 1900s, were called Yablotchnik.

    Yableke is Apple, and when my father moved to Australia in the 1920s (possibly to escape from a shidduch) he translated the name to Appleton and then Apple. He changed it again to Appleby when he married his second wife, Cora; she was afraid that people would laugh at a person called Cora Apple. My brothers and I left the name Apple as it was.

    Some Israeli Yablotchniks became Yalon or Tappuhi. The Russian Jewish immigrants to Australia included other Yablotchniks but we agreed after much discussion that we were unlikely to be related.

    The ancient rabbis (Shab. 88a) compared the Jewish people to an apple tree (Shir HaShirim 2:3). Jumping across the centuries, maybe some of my father’s family in Russia grew or sold apples or had round, rosy cheeks. Our daughters’ children have other surnames but through our sons we have Apple grand- and great-grandchildren. As a result, there will be apples on our tree for some time to come.

    There is a Rabbi Apple who is a reform rabbi in the USA – no relation. I have also heard of Jews called Apple in East Yorkshire, again not related to me. Maybe there was a German village with a name something like Apple. I doubt whether I was related to RW (“Johnny”) Apple Jr. – Raymond Walter Apple – who wrote for The New York Times.

    My mother (one of the first woman graduates of Melbourne University) was Ada Joachim. The story behind this surname is that when European Jews needed surnames many built them out of their first names, so a Joachim made this his family name.

    My maternal grandfather was Joseph Joachim, the same name as the great violinist, though no one can prove a connection. Grandfather Joseph died before I was born, so I couldn’t ask him. His wife died when I was very little and I was more interested in being a child than a descendant. Her father was Mendel Glegowsky; when he came to Australia about 1861 no one (including himself) could spell the name in English, so he became Mr Cohen.

    This is all part of Jewish history. I guess that one day my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will look into their antecedents. The Torah says, “Ask your father and he will tell you; your grandparents and they will explain to you” (Deut. 32:7). Unfortunately, however, when my own interest in our family story developed, it was too late to ask my forebears.

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