Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter



Legacy of Secrets

Devorah Esther Ivel

The Abarbanel predicted that the Anusim will would return to Hashem in two phases: first, in their hearts, and then entirely. My story began 500 years later

Thursday, October 13, 2016

 Mishpacha image

“One dark night, I had an honest conversation with Hashem. “I love You, and I’m ready to return to You. But if there’s a way to save me, save me”

H ow long does it take for circles to close?

A year? A decade? Maybe 100 years.
Maybe 500 years.

Five hundred years of secrets and shame, confusion and questions. So many questions. Who are we? Why are we like this? How do we live with decisions made by generations before?

I hadn’t seen or spoken to my grandmother for ten years when she came for a visit. Her town in Puerto Rico always seemed far, far away from Brooklyn. And not just geographically — — while my grandmother was Catholic, my mother had raised me as an evangelical Christian. But the reunion was a success and before she left, my grandmother invited my family to visit her. I reached out for the possibility, cupped it in my hands, and held it up to the light.

Family had always been complicated. After a deeply unhappy childhood, I’d left home at 15, following a final rift with my mother. I didn’t realize I was following in her footsteps: My mother had also left home at a young age. I later learned that our family wasn’t known for its close mother-daughter relationships, but the ties between grandmothers and granddaughters had always been strong.

Now, I had children of my own, and my husband encouraged me to revisit my roots and connect with the family I’d never known.

I had never been to Puerto Rico, though it was where all my extended family lived: my grandmother and her three siblings and their families, and a web of relatives, each related to me in a tangled skein of blood and history, due to their strong tradition of only marrying within the family.

The only relative I did know was my great-uncle in Brooklyn. He came to us each year in the late spring, bringing along a succulent cheesecake, which, as a child, I gorged upon until I felt sick. To meet my grandmother, my great-uncles, aunts, cousins… excitement tickled my chest. And then there was the location: the Caribbean Islands, oasis of white sands and turquoise sea.

Though I had an extreme phobia of flying, I agreed. In 2005, my husband, two children, and I boarded a flight to San Juan. I was white-knuckled the entire ride, but as the landscape of Puerto Rico appeared, my fear receded, replaced by excitement.

I kept my nose pressed against the window of the airplane like a little child. Below, the island loomed, surrounded by green ocean. My sons — — aged fifteen and ten at the time — — bombarded us with questions.

My grandmother picked us up from the airport, and I was immediately struck by how different she looked from the average dark-eyed, olive-skinned Puerto Rican. My grandmother has green eyes and pale skin. But it wasn’t just her appearance that singled her out from the crush of people in the airport. All around, friends and family greeted each other ebulliently, arms flung out as loved ones were reunited. I knew that my grandmother was happy to see me, but she maintained a dignified reserve.

Related Stories

My Space, My Place

Mishpacha Contributors

We step into the succah, enter a new space, a higher reality. Eleven personal accounts of the way sp...

Opening the Drawers

Batya Burd

I recently asked a friend whether she knew the gender of her unborn baby. “No,” she said. “There are...

House of Mirrors: Chapter 1

Rachael Lavon

“Succos is canceled. Done. Apparently my family’s been WhatsApping about this for two hours already....

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.
CAPTCHA
Message


MM217
 
The Fortunes of War
Rabbi Moshe Grylak We’re still feeling the fallout of the First World War
Some Lessons, But Few Portents
Yonoson Rosenblum What the midterms tell us about 2020
Vote of Confidence
Eyan Kobre Why I tuned in to the liberal radio station
5 out of 10
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Top 5 Moments of the Kinus
Day in the Life
Rachel Bachrach Chaim White of KC Kosher Co-op
When Less is More
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman How a good edit enhances a manuscript
It’s My Job
Jacob L. Freedman “Will you force me to take meds?”
They’re Still Playing My Song?
Riki Goldstein Yitzy Bald’s Yerav Na
Yisroel Werdyger Can’t Stop Singing
Riki Goldstein Ahrele Samet’s Loi Luni
Double Chords of Hope
Riki Goldstein You never know how far your music can go
Will Dedi Have the Last Laugh?
Dovid N. Golding Dedi and Ding go way back
Battle of the Budge
Faigy Peritzman Using stubbornness to grow in ruchniyus
The Challenging Child
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Strategies for raising the difficult child
Bucking the Trend
Sara Eisemann If I skip sem, will I get a good shidduch?
The Musician: Part 1
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer "If she can't read she'll be handicapped for life!"