Call Me by Your (Jewish) Name

My love of the Oscar-nominated “Call Me by Your Name” may be a bit biased. The movie is set in a wonderful villa in the northern part of my home country, Italy, and the Director, Luca Guadagnino, is from my home town of Palermo. What was most exciting about the movie, though, went far beyond the bucolic setting, and the level of Italian nostalgia.

The story is about – don’t worry, no spoilers – two men who fall desperately in love during a summer in the ‘80s. Elio Perlman, a precocious half-Italian, half-American, Jew of only 17 years old, falls in love with Oliver, a 31-year-old Jewish graduate student from the States who travels to Italy to help his professor (Elio’s father) for the summer. I’ll keep silent about the rest – apart from highly recommending you see it.

Something about the movie has stayed with me for the few weeks since I watched it. In one of the main scenes, Oliver, looking intensely at Elio, tells him: “Call me by your name, and I’ll call you by mine.” Oliver’s request may certainly sound weird: why would someone call somebody else by their own name?

After watching, I found myself thinking about the importance of names and nouns in general, and about the role that our names play in our lives. We all have at least one given name. Sometimes, our names are random, chosen because our parents love how they sound. Other times, we are named after specific people. In Italy, like in Judaism, it’s quite common to name a baby after a grandparent. Whether we like it or not, we are stuck with our given name for our entire life, and there is not a lot we can do about it…or maybe there is!

Every name has a meaning, a power within itself. If we truly grasp onto the name and make it our own, then our behavior may shift a little bit to better fit into our name. Even a nickname is something we are given, and accompanies us for parts of our life. Nicknames often depict some of our characteristics, and grow into us, or – sometimes – we may change a bit under the influence of our nicknames.

So, what is the meaning of calling someone else by your own name? To do that seems almost like giving that other person your personality, your story, yourself. That, in essence, is what the two protagonists of “Call Me By Your Name” were doing during the essential scene referenced earlier: they were giving themselves to one another without restriction, exchanging their own given names. Through this exchange, Oliver and Elio nullify the differences between themselves, give each other their entire selves, and transform two separate selves into one. As lovers, the most intimate thing that they can give one another that goes beyond their bodies is, in fact, their names.

The Hebrew word “davar” illuminates the relationship between names and objects. “Davar” means both thing and word, as if to underline the idea that there is no difference between a thing, and the word that defines it. The noun gives meaning to the thing, and the most direct way we relate to a thing is through its name – to the point where the two become indistinguishable. Think, for example, about how and why God named the first man. God named the first man Adam, because he was made from the earth, “adama.” This makes a connection between the creature and what it was made from – it’s essence. We quickly discover more about the power of calling something by a name when God gives Adam the responsibility of naming all of the animals which He had created.

As Genesis 2:20 relays, “And the Lord God formed out of the earth all the wild beasts and all the birds of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that would be its name.”

What happens, though, when we have to choose a name for ourselves? How do we choose it among thousands?

Converting to another religion is never an easy choice, and was something I thought about for several years before making the big step to convert to Judaism. When I started my conversion path in 2012, I never thought that one of the most challenging aspects of it would have been calling myself by a new name.

When my conversion Rabbi told me that I had to pick a Jewish name for myself, at first, I found that odd: my name was already a Jewish name. I was named Daniela after my Jewish paternal grandfather, (nonno Daniele – whom I had never met because he passed away when my father was a child) but my name has a very beautiful Jewish meaning: Dan-i-El, “God is my judge”. I’ve tried to make this name my own throughout my entire life. I interpreted it as a pearl of wisdom to follow every single day, to inspire me to not care so much about the judgements of others, because only “God is my judge”.

When I explained this to my Rabbi, he stated that I had to pick a new Jewish name because I was going to start a new life as a Jew. Yes, people would continue to call me by my given name, but I needed a new Jewish name to remind me of my path. Having expected such an answer, I went to our next meeting prepared and told the Rabbi that I had picked “Laila” as my Jewish name. I liked “Laila” because it means night in Hebrew and Arabic, and I love the sound of it. Smiling, the Rabbi told me: “You should pick a name that has a meaning for you, not just a word whose sound you like.”

By that point, I was frustrated. It isn’t easy to pick a name. We are so used to being “given” names that, when we have the opportunity to pick one, we feel the big responsibility of the choice. After spending several days thinking about what my new name should be, I finally understood that the way to go was to follow my parents’ example and to name myself after someone who had meaningful importance in my life. That’s how I decided on the name Orly.

During a formative year studying in Israel, I met two important women named Orly. The first “Orly” was my Hebrew teacher at the Hebrew University, whose teaching helped me fall in love with that wonderful language. The second was an Orthodox Italian student from the University dorm. We connected immediately, and, despite our different ways of being Jewish, I considered her an example of how to be a “good Jew.” And then, of course, the name Orly literally translated to “light for me.” I loved the idea of a light to “light up” my new path in life. And hey: the Rabbi was satisfied too!

I know why “Call My By Your Name”, and that specific scene, struck such a chord in my heart. It made me wonder about who, among the people in my life, I would call by my own name. To whom would I give my name’s power and strength?

And what about you? Who would you call by your name?






About the Author: Daniela is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you! She is a “retired philosopher” who works as an executive assistant and loves to write about Italian and Jewish events happening in DC. She was born and raised in Sicily (Italy) in an interfaith family and moved to D.C. with her husband after studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where they met. They have a wonderful Siberian cat named Rambam! Daniela loves going to work while listening to Leonard Cohen’s songs and sometimes performs in a West African Dance group



The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

5 Can’t-Miss Movies at the 25th Washington Jewish Film Festival

You-Must-Be-Joking-Movie-Header-ImageRumor has it that the new Star Wars movie will not be released until December, but luckily, the Washington DC Jewish Community Center anticipated this cinematic lull. Thanks to the Washington Jewish Film Festival (WJFF), February 19 – March 1, 2015, date nights are no longer restricted to the perfunctory dinner out – WJFF will celebrate its 25th anniversary with you in mind.

The festival features 11 days of dynamic film programming, showcasing the best of international cinema through a distinctly Jewish lens. Throughout the festival, audiences will be treated to more than 100 screenings and related events across the Washington area, including cultural and educational events to complement viewings.

Hosted by the Washington DCJCC, this year’s milestone festival features: world, East Coast, and mid-Atlantic premieres; an exciting roster of filmmaker and cast appearances; and an exquisitely curated line-up of screenings, festivities, and more.

This year’s WJFF will feature over 100 events and draw more than 12,000 attendees, maintaining WJFF’s reputation as one of the largest and most respected Jewish film festivals in North America.

But, with so much to do and so little time, we are here to help ensure you don’t miss the festival’s highlights. Get out your calendars; here are the 5 movies you don’t want to miss this year:

1) You Must Be Joking, an American film also premiering at WJFF, follows an aimless 27-year-old paralegal trying to break into the New York comedy scene. “Broad City” standout Hannibal Buress completes this quirky feel-good comedy that asks the question: What makes you so happy you giggle? You can check this movie out on Thursday, February 26 at 6:30pm at the DCJCC, or on Saturday, February 28 at 6:30pm at the Goethe Institut.

Gather the Jews is going to see the February 26th showing of You Must Be Joking! We have 20 discounted tickets for $10, sign up here!

2) 24 Days, which will host its mid-Atlantic premiere at the festival, narrates the kidnapping of Ilan Halimi, a 23-year-old Parisian Jew of Moroccan descent, based on a book co-written by the victim’s mother. The film captures the reality of anti-Semitic crime through the experience of Ilan’s family. In light of the recent tragedy in France, 24 Days underscores

3) Casting Out features a series of films that examine outcasts of every variety, whether by birth, circumstance, or choice. Breaking both societies’ expectations and yours, this film has earned its praise. This series of short films will be screening at the Goethe Institut near Gallery Place on Saturday, February 21 at 8:30pm.

One of the short films 7 – Day Gig:

4) Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem shares the story of an Israeli woman trapped in a loveless marriage appealing to the rabbinical court for a divorce in spite of her husband’s refusals.  This film brilliantly uncovers the peculiar nature of marriage in Israel, where neither civil marriage nor civil divorce exists. Nominated by Israel for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Aware, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem will leave you baffled and intrigued. You can see Gett at the Avalon Theatre on Wednesday, February 25 at 8:45pm.

5) Next To Her, another Israeli film hitting this year’s festival, features the story of a woman raising her mentally disabled sister by herself until a romantic interest enters the picture and challenges the sisters’ once-symbiotic relationship. With mesmerizing performances from two female leads, Next To Her will also be hosting its Mid-Atlantic Premiere at this year’s festival, screening at the AFI Silver Theater on Monday, February 23 at 7:15pm, at the Abramsom Family Recital Hall at American University on Thursday, February 26 at 8:10pm and at the JCC of Greater Washington (Rockville) on Saturday, February 28 at 6:45pm.

These 5 movies are must-sees for this festival season, but they are certainly not all that WJFF has to offer. Whether you want to bring a date or come with friends – there is a movie for every occasion. There’s no need to wait for the next big blockbuster when WJFF brings the best in international film right to your backyard! Tickets are on sale now at

Lots of Jewish and Israeli Films This Week

Film buffs have several opportunities to enjoy Israeli and Jewish film screenings in the DC area this week and next.

First, come enjoy the latest installment of ReelIsraelDC, which offers the best contemporary Israeli cinema the last Wednesday of every month. This month’s feature is Naomi.This award winning thriller depicts the story of Ilan Ben Natan, a 58-year-old Astrophysics professor in Haifa, who discovers his young wife, Naomi, has taken a lover.

WHEN: November 30, 8:00 p.m.

WHERE: Avalon Theatre, 5612 Connecticut Avenue, NW

Click here for more information.

A day later, the 22nd Annual Washington Jewish Film Festival will kick off.

WHEN: December 1 – December 11

WHERE: DC JCC, 1529 16th St. NW

This event, co-sponsored by the Israeli Embassy and the Washington Jewish Week, features 47 new and award-winning Jewish films from around the world.  It will showcase special guests from around the world. including filmmakers, composers, writers, journalists and producers.

For the full schedule and to buy tickets, click here.


Film Screening: Seven Minutes in Heaven

Come enjoy the latest installment of ReelIsraelDC, which offers the best contemporary Israeli cinema one evening at the end of every month. This month’s feature will take place on a Tuesday instead of the regular Wednesday.  This month’s feature is Seven Minutes in Heaven.

The film tells the story of  a couple, Galia and Oren.  When the bus they are on explodes in a terror attack, Oren is left in a coma and Galia is left with severe burns and memory lost of the attack and the days leading up to it. The film begins one year after the attack, upon Oren’s death. As Galia undergoes physical and mental therapy, she attempts to stitch together the shattered fragments of her life. A necklace sent to her from an unidentified source sets her off on a journey to find the missing pieces of the puzzle from that horrific day.

WHEN: September 27, 8:00 p.m.

WHERE: Avalon Theatre, 5612 Connecticut Avenue, NW