I haven’t told you this before but I think it might be time.
I write this because I have three first cousins on my father's side of my family. I should have many more. I write this for all the grandchildren who should have been given the chance to embody along side our generation but their lineages were cut off too early. I write this because there were some who despite all odds, danced in the camps, wrote poetry in hiding, and shook their spirits loose even when it seemed all life was ending. I right this for those whose bodies survived but spirits deadened. I write this for myself. I dance and yoga and write and speak because my Bubby is one of the too few who survived and one of the many who left legacies of hope, life, triumph alongside, fear, grief and pain.
This week is Holocaust remembrance week. It feels right to share with you now. My grandmother, or Bubby as I called her, was saved by a farmer during the Holocaust. Had it not been for the family who kept her hidden, I would not be here.
My father was born in a displaced persons camp right after the war. I was raised with the stories of the old country and the plight of my people told and retold. I was also raised in the thick soup of transgenerational trauma where stress patterns along with cellular memory are inherited.
The stories of the past coursed close enough to pulse in my blood, my consciousness and my memory, but far away enough for me to turn the other way through separation. Yet this is my lineage, my history and my story. It is many peoples story. I was born and raised somewhere between the first generation and the second generation of survivors. The generation of the direct link but not direct experience.
On the holy day of Passover we retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. We retell the story around our festival tables across the world as a people united as if we were the ones in bondage. Right now. As if we are the ones being freed right now. As if we were the ones who had been directly liberated. As if we continue to be in this cycle of being enslaved and liberated again and again. The Seder is also often a dinner of conversation, debate, and discussion. The Mitzvah of the festival is to make the cycle of enslavement and liberation relevant to modern life. We do not let the past become outdated. Because these cycles of poverty, slavery, massacre, injustice are still happening. Not just for the Jewish “people” but for many tribes around the globe. In this way the Passover Seder is the activating of our cellular consciousness. We are activating the part of our transgenerational consciousness that literally was there. We retell and we remember and in so doing, re-member a part of our people and ourselves. We remember our story to re-member our global story.
There is a difference between remembering and re-membering. Sometimes in remembering we actually recapitulate an old story that in its retelling isn’t all that helpful or useful for the health of our current life. We feel the same emotions and have the same visceral body feelings as we remember and retell. We return to the past again. We may recall images, thoughts, sensations that actually are not all that life affirming and moving us toward greater health, healing and wholeness.
The act of re-membering is the usage of the story and putting ourselves back into that river of memory but choosing a different outcome for our selves. Rather than being victim to the circumstances of how the story played in the past, we rise to new and better options. We find resolution. If we didn’t have a chance to grieve we are given permission now. When we put ourselves back into that river of harsh memory but choose liberation instead of perpetuating bondage, that is healing.
My hope, my deepest dream maybe is that my generation be not only the beacons of hope and possibility, but the sowers of healing seeds.
I saw it all growing up in my Jewish community in Baltimore. I saw direct survivors of the Holocaust retell their stories and in the retelling continue to live in their stories of trauma and in so doing vicariously affect those they told. And this was by no means their fault or intention of course. How could you not be deeply affected by these graphic stories? I bet they even spared us details and descriptors. I have long felt this was the razors edge and shadow side of trying to “never forget”.
I saw survivors tell their stories and in so doing become liberated in the process. I saw them forgive and find life in the process of setting themselves and their perpetrators emotionally free. My father, the a post war first born has over the years made friends with the children of his parents persecutors, break bread with Palestinians in parts of Jerusalem where no Jew was accepted and work along side the black man in Baltimore city when people elsewhere said he was wasting his time. I bow to my father’s bravery and exemplary behavior across cultures. This is his yoga.
I saw survivors never speak of the atrocities and live in silence for fear the speaking would make it too real and too alive. My Bubby was a triumph but she was also partially paralyzed from the war. She held her stories close and tight-lipped. She dished out her stories and memories on rare occasion only. I can count on my fingers those instances. I think the connection I had in part with my Bubby was one based on silence. Not the silence of hiding, the silence that exists in understanding and resonance. The silence that happens when there is nothing to be gained or lost but existence is enough.
For my Bubby, her grandchildren were her biggest joy. She chose to focus on us. In her apparent silence, she turned towards the promise of life outside herself--our lives--my cousins, and mine because inside a part of her was dead and we were alive.
Growing up as an only child with this lineage I always felt an immense amount of pressure. I felt like I was living under a microscope. Not because anyone was analyzing my behavior or judging my choices. I was under the microscope of awe for life. I think my grandmother was so happy to see her family persevere when all of hers perished, that the life she never had was also poured into the potentiality of mine. I never felt pressure from her or my parents to be a certain person when I grew up. They valued my choices as a prize because so many others who would have been my age never got the chance to have life choices. In some ways I walked around believing I was indebted to my Bubby and owed the lineage lost my life.
I remember being shocked one day by her reaction to me living far away. After I left the modern day shtetle of Baltimore to go to college, I made every effort to live pretty far away. I suppose the sad thing for me about now living in New York is that I can’t visit Bubby the way I hoped. I can go into her house. I can sit in her old chair. But I can’t see her or get a back scratch or sing Yiddish songs with her.
So I tried hard and fast to stay away. And no matter how far I went, I felt the weight of an unexplained pressing guilt. I had disappointed her. Or abandoned her. I thought she couldn’t understand that I too needed to be liberated. So long as I was in the presence of the lineage, the lineage was a burden of sadness.
At some point when living in Boulder, I was at Bubby’s visiting. I confessed my guilt. I laid my anger and fear and remorse all at her feet. And I begged her forgiveness.
Her response was “Vell, you have to live vere you feel the most happy. I only want you to be happy. Every child has to grow up and do their own ting. Go on no mamanu. Don’t vorry. I love you. I only vant you to be happy”
In that moment she released me. She released me from her suffering and my own. She released me into the allowance of having a future. I was free. Since that conversation I have been and continue to contemplate and feel into deeply what will come of my generation than ever before.
I have been on a journey. I have been excavating my cellular memories and overhauling the tendencies in my nervous system so that instead of fainting and playing dead, hoping the Nazis won’t find me, I can settle into knowing I am not even being chased by them. I am my own person, living now. Layer by layer I have been altering my patterns while holding lineage and love and honor for Bubby close to my heart. What was a burden is my deepest blessing. I will have children born into the same legacy of hope but not imprisoned by the cellular imprint of fear.
Within the next fifteen years, all the direct survivors of the Holocaust will be gone. I find this terrifying. It is scary because with them goes access to direct memory. And so what we will be left with? We will be left with photos where we might imagine the experience and memories of the stories told to us. But the immediate link dies each time a triumphant survivor passes.
Yet it seems with this passing we may be given the opportunity to further re-member ourselves individually and collectively. The second and third generations are a pivotal group for we are both the lineage holders and the ones who are removed enough from the immediacy of the event to re-member.
In the past few years I have watched and mourned my aunties and uncles pass-over, leaving complex legacies for my generation to tend. They leave behind legacies of hope, humor, heartache, triumph, silence, fear, shame, anger, dedication, guilt, but mostly they leave legacy of life. They leave us the will to live.
My Bubby is no longer on this side of the stars now. I miss her everyday. But frankly I also miss all the Bubby’s that used to chat with me in the beauty parlor every Saturday morning when I sat next to mine as she got her hair done.
I find my generation charged with the responsibility to “never forget”. But I feel it is also our responsibility to our future children and the health of the global nervous system to not be paralyzed, unforgiving, and reactionary or recapitulate the same plight in our beings that the immediate survivors held.
We have a unique opportunity to re-member ourselves by following lineage and holding legacy and story but also choosing ways to re-pattern our body beings and psyches so that we don’t carry the weight of unresolved trauma. Instead we become the healers of the past.
By no means do I think we should or can eradicate the impact of the past. But I am wondering if there is a way to be impacted deeply in our being and create patterns of wellbeing that perhaps were not accessible before. I am not looking for how we will cope. I am looking for how we will carry on with pride. I am wondering not how we will “never forget” but how we will re-member.