By Jodi Rosenfeld (Phoenixville, PA.)
I met Elijah once on Brattle Street in Harvard Square.
When we read about Elijah the Prophet each year in the Passover Haggadah, we learn that he visits once a generation, or perhaps once a year, appearing in our very doorways to drink his wine.
His job? To check us out—to see if humanity is ready for the coming of the Mashiach.
He is a wily spy that scopes out this earthly home of ours to see if we are deserving of the great Messiah’s arrival. No such arrival? We can assume that Elijah stamped our report card with a big red “Not Ready.”
Now I don’t believe in any of this. But I do believe this story is one that is meant to challenge us in profoundly personal ways. And I do believe I met Elijah.
It was an unusually warm Sunday afternoon in April of 1996, and I was doing some shopping alone in Harvard Square. The Square was jam packed with locals and tourists, college kids and elderly pedestrians.
On Brattle Street, I came upon a white woman, perhaps in her thirties, standing on the sidewalk in front of a line of shops. She looked haggard and a little sunburned, and she held a sign, handwritten with a marker on cardboard, that said, “Homeless with AIDS.”
Her belongings were around her. There may have been a small grocery cart with some clothes and, of course, a jar with a few dollars and change. I put in a dollar. I was not prepared for what happened next.
“Excuse me,” she said, looking right at me. “Would you mind doing me a favor? Could you watch my things for just a minute while I run into this store and buy a soda?” She gestured to the small grocery behind her.
“Um, sure,” I answered. She handed me her sign, pulled two dollars out of her jar, and went into the store. I think she was gone a total of four minutes. It felt like an hour.
As I stood there, among the throngs of people, holding the sign that said, “Homeless with AIDS,” I learned about shame.
Passersby sneered and scowled. One woman rolled her eyes and made a sound of disgust. A man put some coins in the jar but looked me up and down as he did. When the woman came back to relieve me, I was dripping with sweat.
I walked casually away, but I wanted to run. I wanted to run from the judgement and derision of strangers, from my shock and disappointment in the people I’d encountered, and from myself for feeling embarrassment and shame.
And then I forgot all about it until one Pesach two decades later when I thought about this idea of Elijah coming to see if humanity was ready and deserving of an ultimate miracle.
That’s when I looked back and realized I’d met Elijah once.
Our wily prophet was a homeless woman with AIDS.
Jodi Rosenfeld is a clinical psychologist specializing in anxiety and acceptance-based therapies. She holds a degree in English and Women’s Studies from Tufts University and a doctorate from the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (now William James College). She lives with her husband and two teenaged children in the western suburbs of Philadelphia and will be starting rabbinical school in fall of 2021. Her debut novel, Closer to Fine, will be published on May 25, 2021 by She Writes Press.
For more info about Jodi, visit her website: www.jodirosenfeld.com/author
And if you’d like to attend her book launch on May 25th at 7:00pm, visit: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/rosenfeldatreads/register