THE ORIGIN OF THE NAME ‘BENVENISTE’

From the Jerusalem Post , December 7, 1988, a Ladino translation of this also appeared in the summer 2002 issue of Aki Yerushalaym. It is from an interview with Miron Benveniste the former vice Mayor of Jerusalem
When our forbearers dwelt in Spain, one of the kings - Alfonso or Pedro - had a Jewish finance minister who also served as royal physician. He was also known as an expert in flora, particularly medicinal plants.
     Once, the king, accompanied by his Jewish minister, went for a stroll in the fields near the palace. The minister told the king about every plant. The king was especially fascinated by the malva and its pink and violet blossoms. When the king asked what the flower was called and what it was used for, the Jewish minister replied that its petals were cooked and eaten, and it was called "bienva."
     At this time one of the ministers, a sworn enemy of the Jewish minister, burst into laughter, and said to the king: "Your Majesty, that Jew-minister expert in our country's flora was making fun of you. He deliberately gave you a wrong name for that flower in order to embarrass you before your ministers and viziers. That is not a ‘bienva,’ but a ‘malva’."
The king angrily asked the Jewish minister to explain, threatening him with dire punishment. The minister said:
     "Your Majesty, I am ready to accept your judgment. But first, I beg you, hear me out carefully. Your Majesty, when we were out in the field, you asked me to tell you the name of that plant. There you were, standing before me, Royal Highness, and I thought: By no means am I going to offend Your Majesty by telling you the plant's true name, ‘malva’ – ‘ill-going’! So I told you that the plant is called ‘bienva’ ‘well-going’:”
     The king was mollified, and he said to the Jewish minister: “You have vanquished those of my ministers who wish you ill. I am pleased with your explanation. And to commemorate this occasion, I hereby; dub you ‘Benveniste’ or 'welcome.'”


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