Noah Rabinovitch

I first learned the story of Noah’s ark in Sunday school. They told me:

“The people of Earth were very, very, bad. So, God sent down water.”

I was told the water did not kill, but clean. I thought about how filthy the water behind my home was, how it smelled, how it dried and left dirt on the tips of my shoes. I remembered that even the cleanest water would turn brown when used to mop. “Noah,” my namesake, was the sole survivor of the apocalypse: he carried life into the new world.

~ ~ ~

           I wanted to swim in it.

The canal behind my house would’ve been the perfect release from the outrageous Floridian summer heat that I refused to get used to. But of course, my mom had warned me that the water was riddled with chemicals that kept our neighborhood from smelling like the swamp it used to be. She had also warned me that the canal was filled with alligators, iguanas, and other wildlife that had grown accustomed to these chemicals, mutated by suburban sugarcoating. Just feet away from my mud ridden sketchers was a miniature ocean filled with the decedents of dinosaurs and water that was older than all of my favorite presidents, but I couldn’t swim in it. It wasn’t mine to swim in.

The canal-ridden land that I live on was once Cypress, was once Tequesta, and is still Seminole. Now, it is mostly southern and suburban: outdoor-stores sell alligator nuggets to men and women in camouflage jackets, students sneak their fishing supplies onto school busses, and neatly organized communities with trimmed wire fences snake around the few lakes that are too deep to develop. Yet, different from the rest of Broward County: this plot of land now sings in Spanish: families from Caracas, Bogota, Buenos Aires, and Maracaibo gather in homes previously owned by people who voted differently than them to discuss what to do when the water becomes an unwanted guest in their living room, the same water that once was worshiped by the Cypress, the Tequesta, and the Seminole peoples. The glades and the people who live on it are changing, they have been for hundreds of years. Yet, the water stands still.

~ ~ ~

Shortly after my Sunday school lesson, my elementary school took a field trip to the Seminole Reservation just minutes outside of city lines. We road boats through the marsh; we saw native life built on stilts and wild life crawling through the cattails. I saw native men dance with gators for sport and for show. They told us this was tradition. They told us the practice was here before the concrete that founded my community, but I didn’t buy it. If Noah was the first person in the “new” world, was he Native? Was he a conquistador? Why would he bring two alligators on the Ark if all they do is hurt?

~ ~ ~

I was older the first time I realized the canals were not for fishing. In middle school, I stood with my Bass Pro Shop toolbox in hand when a man in a bucket hat lurched out of his back door to remind me that

“este casa no es tuyo, y no puedes pescar aqui”

I knew that. The land might’ve been his, but the water most definitely wasn’t. This canal belonged to the things that swam in it, I just wanted to see them better. My neighborhood was a disorienting mix of Southern and Spanish dialogue. So, my Jewish-Romanian family found itself oscillating between the two: a pendulum that swung from the people who wished to conquer the water to those who were just getting to know it.

~ ~ ~

I now live a thousand miles away from the swamp I used to call home. I worry about it, so I check the news. I read in The Guardian that my home will be under water in 30 years. An article in the Miami New Times shows “South Florida Survivalists Preparing for the Apocalypse” ending with pictures of families hanging metal shutters over the windows before a hurricane. I remember this is how my father showed me how to use a hammer and nails, how to be a man amidst madness. From a thousand of miles away, a wealthier Florida native in my economics class tells me that “Weston-zuela is screwed, but that’s why the people who live there do. It’s just that cheap.” People are going to drown where I learned to swim, and all that matters to him is what language will they cry out for help in.

Years ago, people planted themselves on top of the water. Now, it’s rising to meet us. The canals are time capsules: at the bottom somewhere, there are artifacts from the Seminole, bottle caps and fish hooks from the Southern, and soon there will be living rooms from the Global South. I keep thinking:

“The people of Earth were very, very, bad. So, God sent down water.”

I keep thinking:

“The water did not kill, but clean.”

I want to go home so badly, to build an ark and carry two of every kind of person out of the flood: two doctors, two dancers, and two deli owners. But there are three people in my immediate family, three of the same type of person. I don’t know how to stop the flood or how to build an ark, so I turn to scripture:

“The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.
But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. Now the rain had stopped falling from the sky. The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.”

I call bullshit. That’s not how floods work. When water falls and floods it doesn’t just dry up and disappear forever. It evaporates, falls, and floods somewhere else. The water will be there—even if “there” isn’t where I used to live—forever.

~ ~ ~

The story of Noah’s ark is a mess. The flood couldn’t have happened the way it did, but even more worrisome is the idea that the world ended… but then was still there. In the absence of holy text that I can rely on, the news becomes scripture:

The Miami Herald: Are Isolated Indigenous Populations in the Everglades Headed Toward Extinction?
The Tampa Bay Times: Major Flooding in South Florida Shuts Down a Major Airport and Puts Roads Underwater
Palm Beach Post: Venezuelans fleeing to Palm Beach -‘It’s like starting from zero’
The Sun Sentinel: Up to 70,000 Broward homeowners may be forced to buy flood insurance. Are you one?

I have to rewrite the story of Noah’s ark. The story has to fit in both Genesis and Exodus, but the problem is I don’t speak Hebrew. I never finished Sunday School. I don’t have the language or the tools to create a newly old testament, but I do have the water in my old backyard. I’ll always have the water, it’s the one thing that can’t be drowned.


Noah Rabinovitch is a first-year student studying Economics and Environmental Policy. He drinks a cup of coffee every day, and thinks the world would be a better place if everyone else did too.