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he one who brought his offering on the first day was Nachshon ben Aminadav of Shevet Yehudah… On the second day, Nesanel ben Tzu’ar, the nasi of Yissachar brought….” (Bamidbar 7:12) 

The Torah details in great length each korban of each nasi to teach us the importance of honoring every Jew. A person’s obligated to honor his friend even to the point of mesirus nefesh! (Rav Yechezkel Levenstein, Ohr Yechezkel)

“So what’s your name?” My husband passed the challah and tried to make our guest feel comfortable.

“Moshe Reichman.”

“Any relation to—”

“No!” He cut my husband off, then blushed. “Sorry for being rude. I’m just so used to that question. Our family’s last name was originally Reitman. Some immigrant ancestor with high hopes changed it to Reichman.” He reached for the hummus. “I get so tired of watching people’s interest hearing my name, and then the minute I say I’m not related to Toronto, I become chopped liver.”

I laughed, but I definitely related to this bochur’s woes.

Growing up, my family shared the same last name as the Rosh Yeshivah of Ner Yisrael. It had its moments, believe me. Like the phone calls we’d get — people calling for the Rosh Yeshivah — sometimes pouring out their life’s story before we could tell them they’d gotten the wrong number. I’d spend the first few hours in camp trying to explain who I wasn’t related to, and the first two months of seminary telling each teacher that, no, I’m sorry, I was just a regular girl. While I didn’t quite feel like chopped liver, it certainly played a significant role in my life.

There’s a famous story about Rav Issur Zalman Meltzer. One of his talmidim looked out the window and announced that the Brisker Rav was coming. Immediately, Rav Meltzer dressed in his Shabbos clothes and went to greet his illustrious guest. When he got closer, he realized that this man was only a simple meshulach who looked similar to the Brisker Rav.

Yet Rav Meltzer escorted the man to his house and honored him with as much care as if he were actually an eminent scholar.

You’d think when I got married, with a name like Peritzman, I’d finally get to be an original. But no. There are two extended Peritzman families on the frum map and everyone seemed to know the “other” one.

It worked both ways, though. Right after we moved to Eretz Yisrael, there was a knock on our door. My husband opened it to a stranger. “Hi. I’m Peritzman. I’ve heard about you my whole life, and I wanted to finally meet the other Peritzman!”

His wife and I actually ended up teaching in the same seminary. Two Mrs. Peritzmans. No relation.

When the meshulach left, his students asked, “Rebbi, why did you go out of your way to honor this simple Jew?”

The Rav answered, “The mitzvos of hachnassas orchim and honoring each Jew are extremely important. In actuality, one should honor every Jew as if he were a talmid chacham, like Avraham honored the angels when he thought they were simple Arabs. However, due to our great sins, mitzvos have become trivial to us. Therefore, we consider one Jew like the next. But here, due to Hashgachah pratis, I was prepared to honor the Brisker Rav. And when it turned out that my guest was a simple Jew, he still deserved all this from me — and more!”

In the frum world, with its emphasis on yichus and Jewish geography, last names are a major deal. I wonder if there are support groups out there for all the Teitelbaums, Pams, and Kaminetzkys who have to deal with explaining, “No, we’re not that family, we’re the other one.”

Just once, I want to answer when asked if I’m related to the Ner Yisrael family, “No, they’re the other ones!”

My daughter, though, summed it up quite well. At a seminary interview, the rav questioned her about her background and yichus. “So your mother’s related to Ner Yisrael? No? Aish Hatorah? Slonim? No?”

The more questions he asked, the straighter she sat in her chair. “We’re not related to any of them. But we’re very special people in our own right.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

So to all the “other” famous yichus last names, you’re all welcome at my Shabbos table. I, for one, will never interrogate you about your yichus.

Care for some chopped liver?

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 593)