"Are you Jewish?" I hear this as I'm exiting the JEM Community Center in Beverly Hills last Friday, after playing a few hours worth of pickup basketball games.
It both catches me off guard, and alerts me at the same time. In my head I am wondering, "Does he know? Uh oh." Nervous thoughts form so quickly.
"No, I'm not." I say with a smile matching the gentleman inquiring.
He quickly responds, "Is your Mom Jewish?"
I'm confused. I instantly think back to a play I did early in my career where I played a Jewish character. It was justified at the time and explained to me that I could pass. Is this why I'm being asked now?
Still cautious, I reply and chuckle, "No, she is not. Why do you ask?"
With an even bigger smiley he says, "Oh, ok. I was going to offer to say a Jewish prayer for you!"
Whew! I sigh inside. Safe. "Oh! I'm sorry! But thank you so much--"
He cuts me off, "Don't apologize, there is nothing to be sorry for. Well, have a sandwich, you look like you need to replenish!" he says as he gestures to the old man behind the concessions stand.
I definitely was hungry, but I was so caught off guard by the whole interaction, I had to just get to my car. I for sure felt like I was in the hot seat of an interrogation. I had very mixed emotions as I sat in my hot car. I was honored that he asked and considered praying for me. I would have definitely accepted, but I don't know if he would have after knowing I wasn't Jewish. I felt a bit let down. To be fair though, I don't know if it was or wasn't possible for him and perhaps I didn't let him know I was totally ok with accepting his offer.
I kept thinking about it throughout the weekend and felt bummed that I didn't get a chance to share in that experience. I wanted to call two friends to ask, but realized they would not be able to answer the phone until Saturday sunset.
I don't personally care what anyone's particular involvement is, or where their beliefs stem from, but I like to think we could all share in a moment of connection in a spiritual sense. That something so simple, yet amazing as the the offer the gentleman made, could in fact be accepted by someone outside of his own Jewish faith. I have some homework to do.
Beyond that, the interaction kept running through my head because the initial nervous moment I experienced. That silly tense moment created because of one word given to me at birth...All because of my name.
I am Adolph Marrero II. My father was Adolfo Marrero as was my great grandfather. It's a name I've always been proud of, and one I have always wanted to pass on to a son of my own.
When I started college, I began introducing myself as Ace, a name that I admired long before Jim Carrey made it famous. In fact, it was my dad who first called me it.
Growing up with the name Adolph provided an interesting life. As you can imagine, grade school was fun. "Adolph HITLER!" "Rudolph!" "Are you German?" "Why did your parents name you ADOLPH?!" Sadly, the last question was asked by adults, more than immature kids.
At the time I couldn't tell people to google the origin of the name, so I had to have my own explanation and inform them that my name goes beyond their knowledge of one man who shared a pronunciation of a few letters that were similar to my own.
A lot of people would just shorten it to, "A" or "Ad (pronounced aid)" but most people used my full name. However, I was always proud of my name because I knew it came with some history. My family history. Like I said, I was named after my hero, my Dad.
Today, I have very few people in my every day life that call me Adolph. I have a family nickname that most of my relatives use and a lot of my closest friends know me as Ace, even long time friends now weird me out by calling me Ace. I thank facebook for that, since they can't tag ADOLPH. However, when someone calls me Adolph, it's a very special feeling for me. It always makes me smile inside.
It's why I take so much care to understand a unique name. I've gotten the, "Oh my name is difficult to say, just call me...", but I quickly say, "No. I want to learn it. I know what it's like and I want to respect your name."
I don't have a legal middle name like most people so I think as I was going through high school, I wanted a "cool" name. Perhaps it was part of growing up. Either way, when I had the chance in college, I presented my own nickname, Ace." I remember some of my friends looking at me weird as they would tease, "You're ACE now?" It was at this time I was starting theatre, so I milked the idea of a "stage name" and used that as an excuse.
I then got a cast in a few parts so Marrero went into the program and soon after, my first set of headshots. "I guess I'm going with this then." was my thought.
One day my dad came into my room and we talked about the importance of making sure I included the Roman numeral 2 after my name so as not to confuse mail and tax info (Not Adolph Marrero JR! But Adolph Marrero II. It is actually a pet peeve of mine when people disregard that difference). He also asked if I would want to change my name legally since I was going by "Ace" now. Without hesitation, and before he could finish his thought, I interjected and said, "No way! My name is Adolph. I don't want to change that." He didn't push, and I have to think part of him was proud. I know I was. I would never consider changing my name on a real level.
Before I went away for college, I worked for a company that was owned by several Jewish business men. I remember being nervous to fill out my paperwork, because I had to put down my legal information. Would they care?? One of the owners came over to me one day when handing paychecks. He knew I was going to school for theatre, and he said with a wink, "You know, with the business you are pursuing, it's probably best you go by Ace!" We laughed and went back to our business.
Over the years, I have also met a few people who were traveling from Germany, and I asked them about the name. They scoff and roll their eyes always. I've learned that it's probably an ignorant and tired inquiry, but the tone always changes when I say that my real name comes from Adolfo, and my parents gave me the English version, Adolph. I asked one person if I would be allowed in the country, and they laughed. I'm still not clear on this though, haha.
I have several Jewish friends, and many know my real name. In fact, it's often hard to avoid it because Ace by itself is unique I suppose. Everyone always wants to hear if that's my real name, and I always reply, "It's not, but you'd never guess what it IS." It's always a fun game, and only once in my life has someone guessed, but I'm pretty sure they already knew, haha! Regardless, it's never been an issue.
I think back to the moment I pulled up to the gym in Beverly Hills, and when I realized it was a Jewish Center I did get nervous briefly. I quickly shrugged it off as nonsense. It wasn't like I was going to be kicked out if someone found out my name. Right?
I honestly can't sit here though and say I'm fully confident of that. I certainly have experienced apprehensions before, but it eventually calmed. I like to think we as a society have matured and gained understanding and knowledge, but there are still many issues we face today where this isn't the case. Ignorance is out there. I'm guilty of it, like I said I myself was nervous walking into the Jewish Center.
Still, I am proud.
I have felt a very strong connection to my family history over the last year and a half and I have been talking about wanting to travel to Puerto Rico to learn about it. I want to learn where my relatives come from...what type of blood mix we are formed by. Maybe I can get the story about the name Adolfo.
All I know is that for years I've been drawn to using my birth name again. It's only a matter of time. Like I said, I love when people refer to me as Adolph. That's my name! It also has so much more importance to me now, since my dad passed away. Not only am I the last Marrero male in my family, but the only living Adolph I know of in the Marrero line.
I'm thankful for what I experienced last Friday and for what it reminded me of.
The next time I walk in there I won't be nervous, and I hope that when I walk out, I will have had a prayer said for me. For Adolph Marrero II.