MY NAME IS JONAH

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September 3, 2012
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MY NAME IS JONAH
It was such a cliché moment. In my interview for entry into the rabbinic program of HUC-JIR I was asked who was my favorite biblical figure and why? Without missing a beat, I said: “Jonah! He ran away from God and I am running back!” In truth, the burden of being named for a reluctant prophet with a very, very steep learning curve taught me to be ever humble in my own desire to serve God.

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner is senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

MY NAME IS JONAH
Jonah isn’t a hero — except in the 1993 film “Sleepless in Seattle.” Did the writer Nora Ephron consider little Jonah, the boy who calls a radio show on behalf of his widowed father, a sort of prophet?

Jonah Lowenfeld, The Jewish Journal, Los Angeles

MY NAME IS JONAH
I took the name “Yona” as an adult. Water is integral to my homeland, the Netherlands. Half of the country is under sea level and it is surrounded by water north and west. Yonah’s maritime provenance made this name an obvious choice. And his containment in the belly of the whale resonated with me. Containment is a theme that surfaces in my art work. My current installation addresses the eruv, a ritual enclosure that allows observant Jews to carry items outside of their homes on Shabbat.

Yona Verwer is an artist living in New York (yonaverwer.com).

MY NAME IS JONAH
I see so much of my work and myself in the story of Yonah. In him, I recognize the very human limitation that exists within each of us: the tendency to narrow our vision, sometimes stubbornly, and our sense of empathy. It’s easy to judge and look down upon Yonah for his constriction. And yet, isn’t he all of us? I draw inspiration from the fact that the God we encounter in the book of Yonah teaches the prophet and us that to find compassion for and expand our empathy toward others, is in fact divine.

Yona Shem-Tov is the executive director of Encounter (encounterprograms.org).

MY NAME IS JONAH
People with the name “Yonah” have a message to offer: Mine is “Love the Jewish people, rejoice in Judaism, and protect the earth that God gave us.”

Rabbi Yonah Bookstein is the executive director of Jewlicious (Jewliciousfestival.com) and author of the forthcoming book Prayers for Israel.

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