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Butterfly of pain

| Tuesday, October 15, 2019

There is a butterfly of pain that rests atop every synagogue, an inexplicable beauty borne of weightlessness and the breeziness of flight. Upon wings as delicate as origami paper folded, there is a fiery orange to show the struggle and pain of attaining flight, and you can see that it is there if you look hard enough. You can see it when you wish Shabbat Shalom to the three guards in body armor at the front of the synagogue. In the faces of aged Jewish men and women, in the greetings that we utter to each other in Hebrew with a smile, you can see it. You can feel it as well; the disruption in the air from origami paper-folded wings that drift upon the wind until they rest on your shoulders like the heaviest burden you have ever carried, the winds that breathe and explore your house as the sun is setting and the windows are left open. You can feel its weightlessness, its light-as-origami paper, horrible weightlessness, and you will know.

On Oct. 9, the day of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, an attacker who was suspected of having “extreme far-right and anti-Semitic views” opened fire near a synagogue in Halle, Germany and killed two people. I honestly find it hard to put into words the way the pure emptiness and brokenness that I feel, not only as a Jew, when time after time the headlines are filled with shootings and violence motivated by pure hatred.

I want to make it clear that this column details my process, as a Jew, of trying to understand the perpetual violence committed against Jewish people around the world. It is absolutely not intended to trivialize the matter in the way that it is written. In fact, this column has been one of the hardest that I have ever written. I also want to make it clear that the butterfly of pain is something that every group of people can feel and sense. In society, in lecture halls and behind the masks that we wear every day, there are countless butterflies who are alienated and without a voice. They say that beauty can be found from pain, and unless you are one of these people, you can’t understand the burden of this search.

Butterfly Egg

A butterfly egg is a crystal of biology, a promise of potentiality and an indicator of the limitless boundaries of the horizon. It represents everything that can be, a journey that has not yet started.

Everyone is born into different circumstances, with different joys and struggles that define who they are. As a Jew, I sometimes feel as if I have the wilderness running through my veins. Vagabond, sojourner, voyager – these are adenine, thymine, guanine, the building blocks of who I am.

On Oct. 9, an armed gunman tried to force his way into a synagogue in Halle, but the doors wouldn’t open. It is almost too awful to write about what the people inside must have been thinking as this occurred. Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, finding the afikomen for the very first time at Passover, exchanging chocolate shekels with one another at Hanukkah. The little things, the butterfly eggs that are meant to mark innocence. But that innocence has drifted away like monarchs in the fall.


As you grow older and more mature, you inevitably interact with people who are different from you. You begin to see the threads of the various social fabrics that you are a part of as you recognize the beauty afforded by diversity. I am not just a Jew; I live in a political society. It is a joy to be interwoven into multiple social fabrics. There is an almost childlike innocence at this point as you see the world for how immense it is. You cannot yet name the pain from rejection for who you are, but you know it is there without saying a word; the promise that you will one day become a butterfly and have the joys of flight occupy your mind as you taste and explore and feel the world around you. This stage is all about growth and comprehending the sheer beauty of the world around you, finding your place in it and engaging with others on what you find.


But this innocence cannot continue forever. To make wine, grapes must be crushed, and this stage of rebirth is the most painful. And yet, the pain is worth it, right? If we tell ourselves that there is wine after grapes are crushed, that there is milk and honey after Sinai, that there is a butterfly after every chrysalis, then the pain will be worth it. Struggle is an inevitable part of the human experience, after all. And yet, to say that there is a sunrise for every sunset is to sound incredibly insensitive and blind to the survivors of Halle, Tree of Life, Chabad of Poway and the countless other shootings that have occurred. This is not to say that there is no hope that things can’t be changed. But there comes a time when one is tired of the winepress.


I am the phoenix, I tell myself. I will go to synagogue and wish the three guards in body armor Shabbat Shalom and pray that I cannot feel the butterfly of pain kiss my neck as I sing prayers in Hebrew. I want to tell you that I am strong, that I have been through enough in my life to give me the tools to overcome. I am lying. Chabad of Poway, Tree of Life, Halle. I cannot shake these words from my head. I am afraid to go to synagogue because I do not want to see the butterfly of pain drifting slowly to Earth like the pages of books on the breeze. I say that I will pray for the victims of the shootings and you utter the same, but prayers are not enough. They are meaningless. To make wine, grapes must be crushed. And yet, Jesus made water turn into wine as the grapes looked on this miracle unscathed. I wonder why he cannot do this now, why the butterfly that emerges from the chrysalis is one of pain.

The butterfly is meant to be beautiful, but I admit to you that I am struggling to see beauty here.


Gabriel Niforatos is a junior majoring in political science with a minor in the Hesburgh Program in Public Service. He is passionate about giving a voice to the disenfranchised and writing is the muse he is persistently chasing. He can be found at [email protected] or @g_niforatos on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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