How the Holocaust has Shaped My Philanthropy

I am a child of a Holocaust Survivor, Second Generation, 2g for short. The Holocaust has shaped who I am. If the Survivors were promised, in the sign at the entrance of the Auschwitz that “Arbeit Macht Frei- Work Shall Make you Free “, Melvin Jules Bukiet has titled a book he edited in 2003 : Nothing Makes You Free: Writings by Descendants of Jewish Holocaust Survivors as a takeoff on this and as a statement that the shaping of a 2g’s life by the Holocaust is inescapable and irreparable. As he writes in the introduction ”Our parents had a life before Auschwitz, we never did.”

I suffer from transgenerational transmission of the trauma – Holocaust survivors have unresolved experiences of mourning and trauma which cause a problematic attachment with their infants/children and transmits the trauma. In other words, I sort of act like a survivor myself. Let me give you a few examples of my survivor behavior

Food: I went to a fellow 2g’s house for Shabbat Lunch. Next to his seat was a pile of dairy products. I thought that maybe those were products that he especially loved, but no, those were products that the shelf life had just passed. Bingo, a soulmate. I have a similar story. I traveled from Israel to LA to visit my Mom who suffers from Alzheimer’s I stayed by my cousins. Their son and I wanted to have lunch together. So I found a very outdated cottage cheese in the back. “Don’t eat that” he said. “Let me try it before you throw it away” I replied and took a taste and said . “Tangy but good”. He took and taste and promptly bolted out of the room to wash out his mouth. Poor Josh he never would have survived Auschwitz. Before each visit now I joke with them about tangy cottage cheese. (2g’s are good at self deprecation)

Then there is the finishing all the food on our plate. My mother used to and subsequently I too conscientiously finish all the food on our plates but then proceed to finish off the food on the plates of our children and grandchildren. “Are you finishing that?” I say near the end of meals, pointing to an uneaten portion. Of course the situation has changed since we got a dog. I no longer eat the scraps. We share them.

Clothes: I don’t pay a lot of attention to my appearance. Most of my clothes have seen better days. When I asked my son which of my clothes he would throw away, “All of them” he said. I took his comment to heart and went to the second hand clothes store and bought myself two “new” shirts and a pair of “new” pants.

It is at that clothes store that I had bought my winter jacket. A bargain, real duck feather down. The only problem is that it is fluorescent Yellow. “They match perfectly the discounted yellow Crocs that I have yet to wear until now because they didn’t match any of my clothes,” I say. My wife is unconvinced. “Return it” she says. “It’ll help you find me in a crowd” I counter. “What crowds” she asks, “You hate crowds” “OK” I answer, “But if I were in a hypothetical crowd them you would be able to find me easily” This is based on the assumption that if I were lost in a hypothetical crowd, my wife would want to find me. I like to believe that she would. But it remains a hypothesis that I have yet to test. I hate crowds

Shopping: I used to spend my Fridays going to 4 supermarkets and the shuk in order to find the lowest price for everything we needed (and somethings that we didn’t). My wife convinced me that this was a waste of my time so I took her advice and changed. I shop now at just 2.

I also don’t buy new books, just used. Even my Shas I bought at a used book store, 25 years ago. Vilna, 20 volumes, 400 NIS, including free delivery. Yossi Halper, the bookstore owner, lived 2 blocks from my apartment.

Welcome to my life. So how has being a 2g shaped my philanthropy. As a pseudo- survivor I have no need for money, I do not want money, deep inside I feel that I don’t deserve to have money. So I give it away instead of buying new clothes and fixing the bathroom that has 3 types of tiles. It makes me feel good which used to be a feeling foreign to me. And it helps others and takes away their pain in a way that I hadn’t managed to do for my Mother. Is this normal? Probably not. Perhaps I am “on the spectrum” but right now I wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else

About the Author
Martin Herskovitz was born in 1955 a child of a Holocaust Survivor. In 1986 he and his spouse made Aliyah. He worked for 30 years in the IDF in Occupational Safety and Health and made early retirement to run his family tzedaka fund which consists mostly on the settlement he and his wife received from the Arab Bank Case.
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