Rachel M. Roth

Facing our generational trauma

Our family, under attack, wonders how bad will it get? Should we leave our home? Our country? Should we separate from our children? Send them away somewhere safer? This was the deliberation of our family in Germany, 1939. They made an unimaginable decision and put their children on a train to send them into the unknown. The parents perished in the genocide, but the children survived. Because of that brave, foresighted decision, my beautiful children are here today.

This is generational trauma. We grew up with these stories, told hesitantly by our grandparents but repeated often, emphatically, by our parents as their part in passing down the unwritten instruction manual for how to survive. The stories of hiding under bodies and feigning death during massacres were planted in our minds by our grandparents, and stand ready to spring forth, as for the girl who survived the Hamas terrorist onslaught by doing so. The stories are woven into the unbroken chain of our people’s survival through thousands of years of persecution, expulsion, statelessness, torture, blood libel. We recognize calls for genocide against us when we hear them. And we hear them broadcasted openly in Arabic in the middle east media, and floating on the breeze from the mosques of our neighbors in the West Bank.

We see the familiar signs in prominent Jews stabbed and killed across the world. In rallies in Europe and the US calling for “Death to the Jews” and sadly, what has become the modern excuse for murdering innocent Jews, “Free Palestine.” And we take them seriously because we remember what happened to our family members who did not.

Much has been written on generational trauma. Imprinted deeply on children growing up in poverty or abuse, in Black and Indigenous communities in the US, among Jews all over the world. We all work through our inherited trauma privately, in our mental health management, our closest relationships, in therapy, in our parenting. To work through it and live normal lives despite the weight of this baggage, we learn techniques to remind ourselves that we are not repeating these fearsome cycles of our past. The circumstances of today, though they trigger deep-seated fear, are different than they were then. We learn to place one hand over our heart, and one over our stomach, and breathe. We remind ourselves: This is not the same situation as in the past. We are not powerless. This time, it is different.

This genocidal event turned on the trauma genes that Jews carry quietly from the holocaust, centuries of pogroms, inquisitions, and exiles. Memories that we have been trying to repress. Memories that we have been coaching ourselves to believe are solidly in the past.  But like monsters in the closet they have proven themselves present all along. Those memories are suddenly as immediate as yesterday. They burst forth and pile on top of the body count. An image passed around that read “6,001,300” #neveragainisnow. Suddenly, this trauma has been surfaced and thrust into the collective space. We ask each other, is it time to run again? Where would we go?

My teeth chatter when I allow myself to think of what could be, where might this end. Ground invasion, chemical or nuclear attacks, do we do what is most repugnant to us and bloody our hands with civilians in Gaza, lose our children in war, lose what few international friends we have? The Jews are a peaceful people; historically we prefer to comply, to run, to pack our bags and quietly move on, rather than fight. Any outcome is unthinkable. Deeply encoded in my DNA is the message of survival passed to me through thousands of years: “get the children out while you still can!”

A few days ago, an announcement was put out asking for people to host families fleeing from the south. But unlike our compounded collective trauma in 1945, these refugee families did not land on the doorsteps of a world who shut them out. They landed in the arms of their people. Within 45 minutes, every one of those families was placed, provided for, and fed home cooking with love from someone’s kitchen. By report, they placed 6,000 families in 45 minutes.

This time, things are different.  We have a home. We are unified. We are armed to defend ourselves. Is this an opportunity to do things differently? To achieve a different outcome? To finally find safety, security, and peace for our people?

Every day I look out over the rolling hills and valleys of my people’s homeland. The place where our ancestors’ bones are laid to rest. The land we have come home to. The only country that we are empowered to decide to protect ourselves and our people. I watch the helicopters chop along, the jets overhead, and the families kissing their loved ones goodbye as the leave home with a backpack and a gun. I struggle with my people’s ancient survival instincts now encoded in my DNA to pack up and flee, get to safety, that genocidal chapters never end well for us. But for now, for today, I place one hand over my heart, and one over my stomach, and breathe: This is not the same situation as in the past. We are not powerless. This time, it is different.

About the Author
Dr Roth is a US-trained family physician with specialties in mental and global health. She made aliyah ten years ago, and lives in the north with her husband and four young children. Dr Roth currently practices in mental health both in Israel and to the US via telemedicine.
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