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L’shana haba’ah B’Yerushalayim

| Thursday, April 16, 2020

As Pesach begins in this strange and uncertain time, I cannot help but reflect on the past. Those childhood days spent in rural Placitas, in that house on the hill where my family was first able to buy a Seder dinner, our candles lighting the dark and draughty house we were allowed to stay in for free in exchange for taking care of it. Pesach is a holiday constructed around the memory and shared history that unites the Jewish people. This history is wrought with the shared pain of oppression and diasporas, the pain that inevitably results from existing as a people without a home. On that first night of Passover so long ago, it didn’t matter that I had lived in 10 different places before then, it didn’t matter that we knew the house on the hill was not permanent, was not home, because, like our ancestors, we were united in our shared wanderings. We didn’t have to speak. We silently knew the collective feelings swirling around our heads. The echoing stillness of that empty house after we’d left, heads turned back to breathe in the memories we were afraid of losing, this house that had approximated home much closer than any other house, motel or hotel before it. Now we carry this impermanence inside of us, even if you can’t see it. Every Jew knows what it means to wander, and I am no exception.

I am a wanderer, and sometimes my own depths frighten me. If you searched, really searched, what would you find? How could you ever understand my history or the unspoken memories that can’t be spoken but felt? You could never feel the pain of an empty stomach or the cold of a house without heat and sometimes water and electricity, the heaviness of our broken-down minivan we nicknamed the White War Pony as we pushed it down the block. The unspeakable gratitude when a woman gave me a garbage bag of clothes I wouldn’t have had otherwise. The pit in my stomach when we left another temporary home, watching the people and beautiful memories and cultivated childhood disappear with each new iteration, the sadness that the Jews must have felt fleeing their home in Egypt with nothing but matzah and their hope. How could you possibly know? Unless you are like me. I am a vagabond. I am a wanderer, and sometimes my own depths frighten me. To be honest, sometimes I wish I was more shallow of a receptacle, that these deep, deep caves didn’t exist in me in which I retain my childhood, my impermanence, all of this history I couldn’t possibly begin to know how to share with you.  

I wish this divide didn’t exist between me and you, fellow Notre Dame student. I wish that you not just knew but understood my history because I wouldn’t feel isolated at times in experiences that you have never had. And yet, I need these experiences so much more than I regret the divide that they cause between you and me. I need my exoduses that form my roots and my soul. I am proud of my history.

This Pesach, I pray for a more peaceful time. I hope for the diasporas to end. Most of all, even though you and I do not have the shared history that I wish we did, I need you to try to understand anyway. The celebration of Pesach is about transitions, hope, goodbyes, compassion and willpower. In the current circumstances, these are all things we need to collaborate on. We need to empathize. We need to try to understand what we have not seen or felt or experienced. We need to reconcile ourselves with our history. We need to see each other’s depths, those parts of ourselves filled with shared experiences that are not apparent on the surface. We need to see each other.

There is a Pesach saying that tells of the Jews’ exoduses and their simultaneous vision of a permanent home. As I stay home this Pesach, reflecting on all of my homes before this one, I wait breathlessly for Elijah and whisper the words that have gotten me through so many Passovers before this one.

L’shana Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim.

Next year in Jerusalem.

Bella Niforatos


Apr. 9

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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