By Malkie Gordon Hirsch Magence

Long ago, before I became the person I am today, I was an individual who always belonged to someone else.

Wherever I went, I would introduce myself with my name, whatever it was at the time.

What I first got married and my name was Hirsch, I was a virtual unknown because the name Hirsch is generic-sounding with untraceable origins.

We would exchange pleasantries and sometimes I wouldn’t let on who I really was because I wanted to be known for myself without being associated as someone’s daughter, sister, wife, or granddaughter.

I just wanted to be Malkie, and I wondered if that would ever be enough.

More often than not, I’m introduced as the daughter of Larry and Esta Gordon, or more recently, as Nachi Gordon’s older sister.

Sometimes people refer to me as the sister of writer-songwriter Yochanan Gordon, or Dini and Eliezer Franklin’s (of Pelleh Poultry) sister or sister-in-law.

Mostly, my family connections come as a frame of reference, but not without a funny combination of pride mixed with a smattering of annoyance.

After all, what do their accomplishments have to do with me and the person I have become?

Certainly, I don’t have songs written about me, or free advertising on the Meaningful People podcast, or any of that yummy Greek maple yogurt unless I’m lucky enough to buy it before it sells out at the grocery store.

We’re related, and we do like each other, but I still can’t churn butter, write music, or interview guests on a podcast.

It begs the question of what we’re trying to teach our children when they think that coming from a certain family means anything substantive.

For instance, when you look at a shidduch résumé and see the “right” last name, neighborhood, shuls, schools, and references, does it mean the person automatically possesses all the qualities we deem important? Is it possible they might not be the person they’re presenting to the world?

That perhaps they might be riding on the coattails of the family members that came before them?

Why do we care so much about a person’s last name or family connections if they don’t prove to be a person of their own merit?

Are we doing our younger generation any favors by showing them that being a person from a powerful or influential family gives them personal power and influence?

To me, as someone who grew up in the shadow of some truly esteemed individuals, both in the Lubavitch movement and in Jewish media, I feel that being born into a family like mine is a double-edged sword.

When you tell people who you are and where you’re from, they naturally have expectations.

I can’t tell you how often people who are familiar with my grandfather’s work would tell me how essential his writings were during his time as a journalist, and even today.

To me, he was my Zaidy who would wake up at an ungodly hour when I slept over on Shabbos. I remember his ribbed, sleeveless undershirts, the brown leather suspenders, and his freckled arms that held me. The serrated spoon with which he fed me tart grapefruit (which I’d spit out) and the cold feet that I’d snuggle against as I nodded off to sleep in my grandparents’ bed.

To others, he would write in a way that truly spoke to them, impacting their lives and representing a voice for his Orthodox brothers.

I have no grasp of the Yiddish language, so I was never able to see what others lauded when they spoke of his ability to articulate himself the way he did on paper.

But I did grow up with a father who would eventually do the same thing, although this wasn’t his initial career. It arrived as these things tend to: organically, and in the proper time. In a fledgling frum community during the 90s when we arrived in the Five Towns.

If I could think of one thing I appreciate above all else, it’s that my parents never forced our hands in one way or the other as we were growing up.
We were free to feel our way towards whatever professional career we chose for ourselves regardless of the family member who came before us.

Upon reflection, it seems as no accident that many of us are currently doing what we do. We live our lives out loud, reflecting on the various facets of the human experience and sharing it with our readers, for whom we are very grateful.

I wonder if the stories my father told us about his family and their journey played a subliminal role inside our heads, causing us to go in the direction we did.

Whether it’s in our DNA or simply by observing the opportunities and colorful existence this occupation provided for my parents, it has somehow guided us to work in varied ways but all in the same industry.

It’s something we all grew into and did in our own timeframe, which is a barometer of the success we’ve achieved.

I still swell with pride when someone finds out that I’m a descendant of the pioneers of the American Lubavitch movement, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone anywhere past that conversation.

In a way, we are the sum of those parts: the family lore we grew up with, and the stories that shaped us in ways we never realized.

So, when I’m introduced to someone new, and the person making the introduction remarks that my younger brother is the one that runs a successful media brand, I smile and think of the ways I could make those experiences my own.

Like writing about them the way my father and grandfather did before me. n

 

Malkie Gordon Hirsch Magence is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, and a social media influencer.

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