A Talk With a Common Yosef, Tamar and Mohammed on the Street

Ofra Edelman
Ofra Edelman
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(L) Yossi Abergil, Tamar Asraf, Mohammed Abd-el Kader and Yousef Jabareen.Credit: David Bachar, Olivier Fitoussi, Ofer Vaknin, Gil Eliahu
Ofra Edelman
Ofra Edelman

On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Population and Immigration Authority published a list of the most common names for Israeli newborns last year. Heading the roster for girls was Tamar, for boys Yosef. Haaretz later revealed that the name Mohammed had been dropped, and not for the first time.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are now behind us, but Sukkot is right around the corner. And Muslims just celebrated Id al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice.

In honor of the holidays, Haaretz has asked people named Tamar, Yosef and Mohammed to describe themselves, how they got their name and how much they like it. We also asked about the leaving out of Mohammed.

Tamar Asraf, 42, from the settlement of Eli, a spokeswoman for the Mate Binyamin Regional Council and a blogger, potter and program presenter on radio station Galei Yisrael

“I was raised in Ra’anana and attended the left-wing Hashomer Hatzair and Meretz youth movements. I did a year of national service, where I was an instructor at a school for the Society for the Protection of Nature.

"After that I planned to go to Japan to study pottery at a Zen monastery. At the last moment I decided to do Jewish studies. I went to Jerusalem and attended a college in the Jewish Quarter, where I realized I wouldn’t be going to Japan. I became religious and went to the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, studying ceramic design.

“I got married at 23 to a religious military man. We moved to Eli in 1996. For years my grandfather wouldn’t cross the Green Line, but he gave in when my five children were born.

“Six years ago I decided to study communications and public relations, realizing the gap between life in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] and the way it’s perceived in the society I came from.”

How she got her name: “My parents wanted to call me Noa but then decided on Tamar. People always wanted to shorten it to Tammy but I insisted it was Tamar. I used to be the only Tamar, but now there seem to be more of us. Their mothers say they are determined girls who know what they want, like me.”

On covering up the popularity of the name Mohammed: “It’s wrong to hide information – it always comes out in the end. I don’t understand the reasoning behind it – they’re citizens like us.”

Yossi Abergil, 38, from Kiryat Ono, a hairdresser who owns the business

“I became religious in the fourth or fifth grade, along with my older brother. The teacher said something about the end of days, and he took it very seriously – so I followed him.

“By ninth grade I started coming out of that, seeing others my age having fun and I couldn’t join in — like going to the beach on Saturdays. I gradually became less religious. I changed schools four times, stayed at home for a while, and finally learned how to be a hairdresser. My grandfather also had a barbershop — back in the day in Morocco.”

How he got his name: “I was named after my mother’s grandfather, who was no longer alive when I was born. He appeared in a dream of my mother’s when she was pregnant with me and told her she would have a son. Some friends affectionately call me Joseph, so I called my shop Joseph’s Hairdressing.

“People say that anyone called Yosef is good-natured and eager to help and give. I see myself that way.”

On covering up the popularity of the name Mohammed: “That’s of no interest to me. I don’t care what happens in that community. If they had left the name in I wouldn’t have cared.”

Yousef Jabareen, 42, from Umm al-Fahm, a human rights scholar, lawyer and community activist

“In grades 7 and 8 I already knew I wanted to study law, even though my family wanted me to study medicine. My father started calling me doctor, since that’s what he wanted me to be. When I got into law school I promised him he could continue calling me doctor, and he accepted the compromise.

“I’ve specialized in human-rights issues and the protection of minorities. I did my graduate degree at Georgetown University in the United States and my post-doctoral studies in Heidelberg. I feel a bit like a man of the world, and I can link this to my name, since Joseph is an international name.”

How he got his name: “I was named after my grandfather. It’s customary in Arab society to name a firstborn boy after his grandfather – he was alive when I was born.

“Joseph is a key figure in a poem by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Joseph is abandoned by his brothers; this is criticism of the Arab world for abandoning the Palestinians. He makes the story very interesting, giving the name a place of honor in Arab society.”

On covering up the popularity of the name Mohammed: “I didn’t expect such behavior from a state authority. They send the message that Arab citizens don’t count and are not part of the general public. That’s a difficult message. Nothing can justify such behavior.”

Mohammed Abd-el Kader, 23, from Tel Aviv. He recently earned a degree in political science and business administration at Tel Aviv University.

“I grew up in [the now abandoned Galilee village] Kaukab and I’ve just finished my studies. I’m a social activist on campus and a member of the Hadash party.

“I was named after my grandfather, who fled Kaukab to Lebanon as a refugee in 1948. My mother was born in Lebanon. In 1982 she came to Israel and said that while [Yasir] Arafat couldn’t bring one refugee back, my grandfather managed to bring his daughter back, and she would bring his name back, through me, her son. The idea is political, not religious.

“I’m an atheist, a real nonbeliever. Even the first Mohammed, the prophet, had the name before Islam was established. It’s the most common name in the world, not just in Israel. Many people relate to the name, not the person. Often when I’ve sent a résumé I’ve gotten no reply despite meeting all the criteria for the job.”

On covering up the popularity of the name Mohammed: “It’s not a matter of leaving out the name, it’s expunging the identity, the existence. Honestly, I was more surprised than upset. The principle was that in Israel, as a Jewish state, it’s unacceptable that the most common name is Mohammed. Then people would start talking about an Arab nation that deserves equal rights. It’s all political; they didn’t  hide it by chance.”

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