I think I was 4 or 5 the first time I heard about the Holocaust. Much of my father’s family had been lost to it and he carries with him an almost obsessive attachment to their loss.
I cannot say I blame him. Still.
History is peppered with genocide, tribal wars and political crusades. The numbers are so gargantuan that the individual stories get lost. Or so we think collectively. But the tragedies remain, buried in the consciousness of its descendents.
For years, I was convinced that Germans would come into my apartment, place a yellow star on my chest and whisk me away. If it happened to them, why not to me? Why not now?
When I visited Germany for the first time in 2005, I was surprised by how much I loved Berlin, but I was also keenly aware of what had occurred just over a half century ago. The new memorial had just opened and I found myself bee lining for it, somehow craving Germany’s ownership of its past.
But I left bereft, acutely more aware of easy is it is to fall prey to our lesser natures, how easy it is to conform to the prevailing thoughts of any given time.
It’s so easy to get caught in victim consciousness. If we step back, we see that every single human being on this planet is playing out some extended trauma.
In Germany, I thought about the weight of carrying the sins of one’s father and I thought about how that must feel, to bear that every day.
We carry our ancestors with us. There is no way around that. That is, until we heal it. It is possible to heal it, but it takes time and it takes work and it takes consciousness. The first step is awareness. When we refuse to acknowledge our history, it haunts us. But when we look at it from every angle, when we allow for context and when we resolve to both acknowledge it and let go of our attachment to it, we can heal. Otherwise, we are doomed to repeat it, unconsciously. My grandparents may have been victims of their circumstances, but I don’t have to be. I can choose otherwise.
My father is a child of the Holocaust. I am not. But I am a child of emotional refugees, whose traumatic childhoods begat my own.
I had to come to see myself as separate, as a soul having a human experience, here to liberate itself, to self-actualize. This has not been easy, but it has been necessary.
The details are almost irrelevant. Trauma can be large or small, collective or individual, but it stays in us, clinging to our cells like cancer if we don’t heal it. It’s the hold it has on our consciousness that matters.
I love being Jewish. I love the deep affinity for intellectual discourse and reverence for small, daily rituals that are its foundation. But I do not align with its obsession with survival, exodus and diaspora. That is the gift of my upbringing and the culture in which I was born. I get to choose.
Each generation has an opportunity to evolve beyond the previous one, and a large part of that comes from seeing one’s self as a part of humanity, rather than as part of a tribe.
That doesn’t mean releasing one’s ancestry completely, or abandoning the best of its traditions. It simply means being conscious and waking up.
Artwork by Michelle Favin of Whys LA for Poppy & Seed. Connect with her @whyslosangeles.