I was ten years old and on a field trip with the St. Alice’s Church kids. My parents didn’t want me to go because of rampant anti-Semitism in our suburban Philly
neighborhood. But they also didn’t want me getting too comfortable in the St. Alice’s world. A man in front of the bus was calling roll. “Harvey Schwartz,” he said. Laughter rolled back toward me like a slow motion tidal wave that felt like it would drown me.
The Teutonic name Harvey means warrior:
Franny Fitzpatrick, Johnny Abatangelo, Alan Rubinson, and myself were an inseparable foursome. We played ball out-front in the street or in the back alley almost daily after school and most days in summer.
The Jewish and Catholic parents politely said hello to each other on the street but wouldn’t go to a movie or ball game together in a million years.
One day Franny and Johnny couldn’t play, which was unusual. After two weeks of this, it was off the charts weird. Then Franny called and told me the priest said to stop playing with me because I was Jewish. After his call, we all picked things up as if nothing had happened and never discussed it.
In Celtic Harvey means eager for battle:
Franny was probably embarrassed when his dad got drunk and ranted about the Jews, on his front porch. We never talked about that either. Our language was sports. The parents spoke in a weird foreign tongue.
Christmas was taboo in my house. My parents thought that if we adopted it in any form we would lose our identity and merge into the culture that despised us. Once I went to Johnny’s house on Christmas. Watching his new large-gauge toy train going around his tree felt liked Fantasyland on the Disneyland TV show.
Jewish kids knew the minor holiday of Hanukah was hyped as compensation for Christmas, and it always felt like the boobie prize.
The English meaning of Harvey is bitter, eager for battle:
The Jewish root of the name Harvey comes from the biblical patriarch Abraham, who was the founder of the Hebrews through his son Isaac.
I was named for my maternal grandfather, Harry Bernstein. Ancestral Jewish names are supposed to be similar but different. He was a dignified developer who always had a flower in his lapel. People came to him for advice. I like to think I’ve magically taken on some of his characteristics.
“Haavvy,” my maternal grandmother yelled from our front porch to call me to dinner, her accent as thick as her gravy. The kids I was playing ball with held back laughs. I wanted to melt into the hot street.
I looked up my name in an encyclopedia in junior high and remember it meaning hatred. I closed the book and never looked again. (Perhaps I saw bitter and remember it wrong.) Just another indignity on top of my name defining me as Jewish.
My name and my Jewishness were hopelessly intertwined and I didn’t like either of them. I remember thinking why can’t I be like everyone else? Why do I have to be different?
In German Harvey means soldier:
I figured out that Jews weren’t supposed to be good athletes, which really pissed me off. Supercharged with anger, I loved to crash the boards or hit home runs.
I was nine years old and playing right field, which was like Siberia because the ball never came there. The first basemen was sick and coach called my name to play first base. The other kids groaned. Coach then had doubt in his eyes. He said, “Schwartzie are you up for this?” The truthful answer would have been, “No.” But from some place I didn’t know existed inside of me, I half squeaked and half said, “Yes!”
The first play of the game was a grounder to third. The third basemen threw it hopelessly over my head. I thought I might as well try. It’ll look good. I jumped as high as I could and to my amazement came down with the ball. I was a first baseman for the rest of my baseball career.
After that, coaches always seemed to call me Schwartzie and I liked it a lot better than Harvey. Having major league pitcher Harvey Haddix pitch two no-hitters helped with my given name, but now there’s Harvey Weinstein.
When I was the high scorer on my junior high intramural basketball team, the school paper called me Harvey Hurricane Schwartz. But now we have Hurricane Harvey.
In French Harvey means battle, strong, worthy, and ardent:
I was irate when I couldn’t play on the school basketball team in junior high because practice conflicted with Hebrew School. Once I got up and walked home after I didn’t hear Mrs. Galprin calling my name during roll and subsequently telling me I’d be ruled absent.
This all gave me an odd dilemma. I resented that being Jewish made me different. But whenever I sensed prejudice staring down at me I felt compelled to defend my Jewishness, usually in sports.
Spanish speakers named Javier often choose the name Harvey to Americanize themselves. Sr. Gonzalez, my junior high Spanish teacher, asked us to pick any Spanish name for ourselves. He was from Cuba. I chose Fidel and his face turned red. We compromised on Javier.
Javier has always resonated with me. I often use it when asked for my name for a restaurant wait-list. Other than a tinge of cultural appropriation, I love using it – no baggage.
Now, as an adult, I feel proud of my heritage and realize how misguided the childhood prejudices were. I also appreciate that my parents faced the real threat of hitler storming our shores and handing them the same fate as European Jews. They felt the need to be proud and separate.
But I have to admit, there’s tinge of a newness that feels far from my childhood memories, when my wife Colleen calls me Javier or Javiero rather than Harvey.
Harvey Schwartz wrote this as a later day student at Western Washington University. He learned Americana growing up on the east coast. He unlearned it at Woodstock, a hippie commune, and during extensive hitchhiking. A long chiropractic career offered another perspective. He’s been published in The Sun, Jeopardy, Cirque, Clover, Tulip Tree Review, Pidgeonholes, Inkspeak, and Whatcom Writes among others. Bellingham Repertory Dance, Snowdance Film Festival, and the Direct Short Online Film Festival have featured his work.