While most Americans were glued to the TV watching the Apollo 11’s first landing on the moon on July 20, 1969, my parents had their own reason for celebration: the birth of their first child — myself — the previous day.
I was born three weeks past my mom’s due date (someone had trouble with the math) but one day before the historic landing of three American astronauts on the moon. I don’t remember that event, of course, but many friends and relatives have relayed to me how they gathered around the television to witness this momentous occasion.
Ever since, my birth seems to have occupied a special place in my family’s history, with pictures of me in an infant seat at five weeks (and a hideous slicked-up mane); a pennant propped above me that reads “First Man on the Moon”; and their possession of an envelope addressed to “Miss Lori Ilene Silberman” at 448 Lincoln Ave. in Orange, N.J. Apparently sent by a relative visiting the nation’s capital, the envelope displays an image of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins and contains postmarks from Washington, D.C., and “Moon Landing USA.” One of my late grandparents’ friends even penned the nickname “Moon Baby,” a moniker that has endured.
But perhaps the most significant connection between me and the Apollo 11 is my Hebrew name, “Levana,” which means “moon” or “white” and dates back to biblical times (in modern Hebrew, “yare-ach” is more commonly used). It was selected by my parents’ rabbi, the late Arnold Lasker, head of the former Congregation Beth Torah in Orange (the Conservative shul later merged with Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange). I loved the uniqueness of the name, rare for Jewish girls born in the United States; the only other Levana I have met is the Moroccan-born kosher chef and former restaurateur Lévana Kirschenbaum.
In Judaism, the moon holds great significance, as the Jewish holidays are based on a lunar, not solar, calendar, and Jewish holidays start in the evening. Rosh Chodesh is a monthly celebration of the New Moon, with special prayers recited and the greeting of “chodesh tov,” a good month. Rosh Chodesh is also a holiday traditionally celebrated by women, who were considered exempt from work as a reward for, as one explanation puts it, the Israelite women in the Book of Exodus having refused to give up their jewelry to create the idolatrous Golden Calf. Today many Jewish women from across the denominational spectrum form study and worship groups to mark the holiday in sisterhood. There is even a blessing, Kiddush Levana, traditionally recited outdoors at night over the new moon. Finally, the Jewish people are sometimes compared to the moon, which — while waxing and waning throughout the month — ultimately endures.
The extensive media coverage recently for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing makes it difficult for me to forget (gulp!) my own age. Despite now being eligible for such perks as membership in AARP, I prefer to associate with the slogan of “50 is the new 30” — and have no intention of slowing down.
Not only do I feel I’m hitting my stride, I’m taking the time to pursue one of my longtime passions, world travel, with a specific focus on Jewish heritage experiences. Over the last couple of years, I’ve had the good fortune of embarking on trips to destinations such as Israel, Morocco, Curacao and Portugal, and learning firsthand (and writing about) the Jewish experience in each of those countries.
So, while I felt far from qualified when asked by a coworker if, now that I’m 50, I could offer any sage advice, I came up with two principles I had already internalized. For one, reaching 50 clearly beats the alternative … more importantly, there is no reason to put off goals — such as traveling, especially as my children grow older and are more independent — to the future, when good health is anything but guaranteed. With that in mind, I also hope to pursue long-term writing projects, grow in my knowledge of Jewish texts and even dabble in a language or two.
After all, isn’t that the message that America’s space explorers have taught us? That we should follow our dreams and that no frontier — including the moon and outer space — is insurmountable? I may have been too young to witness the milestone at the time, but, 50 years later, am most grateful that Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins chose to take those first baby steps.
Lori Silberman Brauner is deputy managing editor of the New Jersey Jewish News.