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On Roots, Traumas, and Context

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Photo by Antonio Alcántara on Unsplash

This week, I thought about everything that had to happen for me to be here. Or, from a Jewish Polish perspective, all the things that could have gone wrong.

On my dad’s side, both his parents lost most of their families during WWII. My grandfather ran away from Poland to Russia early because he was a communist (they were persecuted a little before the Jews were). He fought with the Russian army (I think) and nearly died. He also married and had a kid and lost his wife to tuberculosis, all during WWII. My grandmother also escaped from Poland to Russia shortly after the Germans occupied her home town. She was sent to a work camp in Syberia, where she laid train tracks and survived God knows how. They met on the train coming back to Poland after the war ended. My grandmother found her house taken over by a Polish family, and her family gone except for a brother who had also escaped to Russia. They spent two years in a refugee camp in Germany until Israel was established, and then went to Israel like everybody else.

On my mum’s side, my great-grandmother came to Israel from Russia with her family during WWI. She was 14 when she began attending the agriculture school in Nahalal, where she would later live with her family. Nahalal was the first moshav, a cooperative agricultural community established in 1921 (and later replicated throughout Israel). She married and had four children, losing one to an accident when he was three years old and my grandmother two years old. My great-grandfather was the mayor of a young town in the south of Israel, built to accommodate Jews from Arab states like Iraq, Morroco, and Egypt, who arrived in Israel when life in their home countries became untenable. The family lived there for a while and then for some years in Jerusalem before returning to Nahalal. My grandmother was 14 when Israel became the Jewish State, and the 1948 war broke out. She hardly ever talked about her life. My grandfather on my mum’s side was absent a lot and died early, and I barely knew him.

My parents were 20- and 21 years old when the 1973 war broke out, both in mandatory army service. My dad was stationed in The Sinai Peninsula and lost at least one army buddy I know of. My mum’s then-boyfriend came back from the war “not right” and, a few months later, jumped out of a window.

These things, from the holocaust to the Yom Kippur War, are an integral part of who I am. I think my parents never felt safe, even living in a small, remote village in the middle of the Israeli desert. We grew up with the story that Jews are hated and persecuted everywhere in the world, that Israel was the only safe place for us, and that we had to fight to protect it.

These stories do not justify the horrific war crimes the Israeli government is currently committing or the racist oppression it has been perpetuating for decades. But, despite what some of my Israeli friends think, context is important. This is a layered and complex conflict; without context, we are just waving slogans around. So much pain, fear, and anger is now permeating the public discourse that it’s tough to stop and think about the other side’s context. But we must start by understanding each other’s traumas and finding a common language. We may have to start with the language of trauma, but I hope that, with time, we can find a common language of healing.


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