I was named after my uncle who was shot and killed. His Hebrew name is a privilege I dont bear lightly – Forward

Posted By on July 14, 2022

Law enforcement escorts a family away from the scene of a shooting at a Fourth of July parade on July 4, 2022 in Highland Park, Illinois. Photo by Mark Borenstein/Getty Images

By Mark ZimmermanJuly 07, 2022

I am who I am because of a gun.

In my familys Ashkenazi Jewish tradition, my siblings and I were named after deceased relatives. Ive known since I was very young that I inherited my Hebrew name, Mordechai, from my Dads older brother. But as a child, I did not understand that something was very wrong with the fact that my father who was 32 years old when I was born already had a brother who was deceased.

Uncle Milton was born in 1919 in Louisville, Kentucky. He served in World War II, where he earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. After the war, Milton returned to Louisville, where he married Jean. The two welcomed a daughter, Dana, in June 1947.

Milton eventually took a job at a local liquor store, where his story took a horrible turn.

On Dec. 23, 1948, two young men entered the liquor store, pulled a gun and demanded money. Uncle Milton complied, but he was shot dead on the spot. At the age of 29, Uncle Milton, Mordechai ben David, was buried in Louisvilles Keneseth Israel Cemetery.

All of my Louisville relatives at the time lived through that horrible moment, and his daughter Dana did not really know her father.

Ive since learned more about Uncle Milton, partly thanks to the genealogy project my cousin Allan undertook, and partly because of the internet, where Ive been able to read all of the articles from the Louisville Courier about Uncle Miltons murder from the shooting, to the arrest of the suspects, to their trials which resulted in death penalties, to their appeals overturning the verdicts, to eventual retrials. Ultimately, the accomplice got life in prison, and the murderer was sent to the electric chair in 1951.

As I read about the killings in Buffalo and Uvalde, and now in Highland Park and so many other places, I was reminded of the preciousness of life and the horror of how many times these precious lives are ended by a gun.

Of course, it is not only mass shootings: Its a spouse murdering his partner. Its a child accidentally pulling a trigger and losing a sibling. Its a drug deal gone bad. Its a terrorist with an evil agenda. And its a robber like the one who killed Uncle Milton.

Im glad that Congress recently passed new bipartisan gun legislation, but Im certainly not celebrating. These new regulations are such a small drop in the bucket and will have no effect on the vast majority of shootings and killings that take place every day.

Everyone knows yes, everyone, including gun owners, gun manufacturers, NRA members, hunters that we can do better than this. And we must do better than this, to ensure that no more parents, no more siblings, no more children, no more relatives, no more friends, must grieve over the death of loved ones because of a gun.

I have no doubt that there will be babies named in the coming months and years after the Jewish victims in Highland Park, names that will be assigned way too soon.

I should have been named after a great-grandfather, or another relative much older than me. Someone else should have been named Mordechai. Maybe my grandchild. Or Uncle Miltons great-grandchild. But because of a gun, a 29-year-old man named Mordechai ben David, Milton Zimmerman, was honored when my parents passed on his name to me.

To contact the author, email editorial@forward.com.

Mark Zimmerman is a social worker and writer in Melville, New York. He is the author of several Jewish trivia books and a weekly column under the title RASHI, RAMBAM, and RAMALAMADINGDONG.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward. Discover more perspective in Opinion.

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I was named after my uncle who was shot and killed. His Hebrew name is a privilege I dont bear lightly - Forward

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