When I was a young girl of about eight years old, my family had just moved to a new neighborhood in Leningrad. I would venture outside to see if I could befriend some of the children in the neighborhood. My strategy was that I would stand and watch kids playing and wait until I was invited to join in the game. Inevitably, while playing I would be asked what my name is, to which I would respond "Riva." I would then be called a "Judovka," and have rocks thrown at me, from which I immediately ran away.

I figured that if I changed my name just slightly to say "Rita" or "Rima" I would not be recognized as a Jew and I would be accepted by other kids. However, I knew that my father would never compromise on any aspect of Judaism and certainly not something as fundamental to a Jewish identity as a Jewish name.

It is only a one letter change from "Riva" to "Rita" or "Rima"

My sister Sara, who was a little over a year older than I, was responsible to watch over me and my younger sister while we were outside. I tried to confide in her to convince her not to tell my parents if I were to use another name when playing with the non-Jewish kids. My reasoning was that it is only a one letter change from "Riva" to "Rita" or "Rima." My sister, however, would not go along with my scheme.

I approached my mother and I asked her about changing my name. She responded, "You know your father would never allow that." I then asked her if she did not have her own opinion, to which she answered, "I fully agree with your father on this matter."

I was very stubborn and insistent of pursuing this issue to the end. I decided to approach my father and ask him directly even though I was sure that he would never allow me to use another name.

It was the rule in the house that my father was never to be disturbed when davening, learning or eating. This meant that it was very difficult to get to speak to him as he was usually doing one of the three. I sat for literally hours waiting for him to finish davening so that I could ask him my question. When he finished davening I asked him if I could use a less Jewish-sounding name like "Rita" or "Rima." He immediately answered "You are the first of my children to be named after a member of the Rebbe's family. You are named after the wife of the Rebbe, Rebbetzin Rivka. If the name Rivka was good enough for her, it is definitely good enough for you!” He then turned away.

A few short years later when Leningrad was besieged by the Nazis, both my parents and my older brother and sister died of starvation and only I and my younger sister Musia had survived. We were brought to an orphanage where we were able to survive on the meager rations that were distributed to the children there.

Only I and my younger sister Musia had survived

Upon arriving at the orphanage we were required to register our names. There was a line of children leading to the registration desk and while I was standing in line, I was debating if I should use the name "Riva" or maybe a less Jewish-sounding name and avoid the constant harassment of being a "Judovka." I then saw in my mind the image of my father saying "If the name Rivka was good enough for her, it is definitely good enough for you." Just then I had reached the registration desk and was asked my name. I blurted out "Riva Shapiro."

Years later when I would look back at the events that transpired, I would attribute the fact that I never assimilated away from Judaism to my father's emphasis on the importance of my Jewish name and identity.