In less than a week, a bunch of my family the Jarmelofsky-Jarin's will gather at a cousin's home in Freehold, NJ where we will read stories and relate fond memories about our parents and grandparents and we are sure to have a good time. Although these stories will be certainly heartfelt, they will be rather recent in the grand scheme of things. With this in mind, I have taken some liberties and with some sleight of hand and imagination have taken our family back to our ancient homeland more than 2,000 years ago. It goes as follows:
THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE STORY ABOUT THE JARON FAMILY NAME
“If you know where you came from, then you know where you are going”,
13th century Catalonian proverb sometimes ascribed to the Sage,
Miguelito Horge Gerondi.
“The past is the key to the present”, from James Hutton, 18th century Father of Modern Geology.
I have always been more than slightly envious of those persons who are able to recite a lengthy and highborn family history. There is an Aunt on my Mother’s side whose family settled in Virginia during colonial times, qualifying her to be a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. And it did not stop there: she is able to trace her family name “Weymouth” back to 1066 and the Battle of Hastings in medieval England. Then there are the times when I pay a visit to someone who has displayed across his living room wall a 20 foot long family tree burgeoned with scholars, famous Rabbis and other notables going back to the time of King David.
I don’t have anything remotely like that. All I know is a little something about my grandparents’ origins, and nothing more. Often times in Israel, which is a land populated by recent immigrants and in some ways is one big family, it is not uncommon in striking up a conversation to inquire where does your family come from. It goes something like this:
“Oh, you’re from Czernovitz. We’re from Kishinev, not too far away”.
In the United States, when questioned by a Gentile, often of Scotch-Irish ancestry, who suspected I was Jewish, but did not want to appear bigoted, the question took a slightly different form:
“Jaron, that’s an unusual name. Where does it come from”?
Not wanting to play Twenty Questions, I would sometimes answer: “It’s from Romania. We’re Romanian”.
That usually satisfied my inquisitor, who probably did not have a clue as to where Romania was, but somehow put together that there was an agreeable link between the Church of Rome and people who hailed from Romania or at least claimed to have that connection. Other times instead of being a Romanian, I chose to be Spanish, and said that we Jaron’s are originally from Gerona, Spain, the similarity between the two names being obvious.
So how did the name Jaron come about? It goes like this: My Father, the eldest of twelve surviving brothers and sisters, was born Samuel Jarmelofsky. And just before my parents married in the early 1930’s, my Dad changed his name to “Jaron”. How my folks came to pick that particular name I do not know, but when one wants to blend in or to assimilate or as my Dad would say to be like Yankee Doodle Dandy, that’s one way to do it. Not all the Jarmelofsky uncles and aunts switched to Jaron. At about this time several “Jarmel’s” and “Yarmel’s” came to be.
The irony of the name change is that “Jaron” or “Yaron” is a popular Hebrew name, which goes to the proposition “You can run, but you cannot hide”. I took a look at “Jaron” in terms of its root component parts, and got “Ja” and “ron”. Translated this means “God sings out” or “God sings joyfully”.
Then the answer to my family origin jumped out with brilliant clarity: At one time, we Jaron’s were must have been Leviim, part of the holy choir, performing Hashem’s liturgical service in the Holy Temple in support of the Temple priests. To buttress this theory I turned to a memory of my Dad who actually had could carry a tune and in fact had a pleasant singing voice. So Wow, way back when more than 2000 years ago, I was a Levite and not your ordinary Yid.
But in sad reality I’m not now a Levite. When I’m called up to the Torah for an Aliyah, it is as a Yisrael, one of the run mill Members of the Tribe. So what happened? I think I know the answer. Again turning to my Dad, he had this favorite tune from the 20’s: “Take 'Em To The Door, That's All There Is, There Ain't No More Blues”. So I’m guessing that we Jaron’s got drummed out of the corps for singing bawdy songs; it figures.
Well, the Jaron mishpacha or “family” must have left Jerusalem somewhat in disgrace and somehow after not many years wended their way through kingdom after kingdom where they finally found up in the pleasant Catalonian city of Girona in northeastern Spain. I think it no small coincidence of the city of Girona being founded in 87 BCE and the arrival of our Jaron forbearers. The names sound too much alike.
I don’t have a clue as to what followed until the late 9th century with the investiture of Wilfred the Hairy, Count of Girona. There must have been a close relationship between our family and Wilfred because at this time we obtained by royal fiat an exclusive franchise to own and operate a prestigious “inn” at the heart of the city. I won’t mince words or beat around the bush, but operating an inn at that time and at that place is nothing more than running a brothel that also serves food and drinks. To our credit, I have it on good authority that none of the Jaron women worked in the bordello.
I think that some of us were favored with red hair. I based this on a finding of a medieval business record fragment signed by one “Pepe el Vermell” or Pepe the Red in the Catalan language. In Spanish the word for red would be “Rojo”, but in Catalan it is “Vermell”. You don’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar to see the similarity of Vermell with Yarmel or Jarmel. I for one do not believe in coincidences.
The 12th century saw a flourishing of the Jewish community of Girona, with one of the most important Kabbalistic schools in Europe. The Rabbi of Girona, Moshe ben Nahman Gerondi (better known as Nahmanides or Ramban) was appointed Great Rabbi of Catalonia. Under his influence, somehow or other the Jaron family became steeped in mysticism. Even today, one of our cousins, Gary Jaron, is noted for his several publications on Jewish mysticism. Something like that sticks with you over the many centuries and becomes part of our family DNA.
The history of the Jewish community of Girona and our family’s Girona history sadly ended in 1492, when the Catholic Monarchs expelled all the Jews from Catalonia. We set about wandering once more, ending up in Podolia, a Slavic region near Romania, but now part of the Ukraine.
We took on the name Jarmelofsky, and settled in until around 1905 when Morris George Jarmelofsky and his wife Bertha emigrated to the U.S.A.
In 2009, I, Michael George Jaron emigrated back to the Land of Israel. It has taken quite a while, but we Jarmelofsky-Jaron’s have come full circle. We have come home, back to our origins. I hope too that other Jarmelofsky-Jaron's will soon join me in the Land of our birth.