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Intergenerational trauma, Judaism, and living in Europe

Hey all. I don’t really know what this post will accomplish or even if anyone will read it, but I came here to make this post. I figured maybe I’d get some words of wisdom or some guidance. Maybe I just needed to vent…idk.

TL;DR American from a German-Jewish refugee family trying to find peace and Judaism in Europe. Sorry if this is overdramatic but it’s built up for awhile now.

For some background: I grew up in the New York City metro area (a commuter town). My maternal grandmother was a German-Jewish refugee. She, her mother, and her sister made it out, but only after a very long and very dramatic escape. My grandfather came to America before the war from a little orthodox town in Eastern Europe, but during the war (he was in his 20s) the entire town was exterminated and he lost almost everyone he ever knew.

Some people did survive and made it to the US. My grandparents’ generation spent a lot of time and energy tracking down everyone who survived and they all convened in NYC. So I grew up in a family of 40ish that included not only my aunts, uncles, and cousins, but also 2nd, 3rd, and in some cases 4th cousins because the family worked so hard to find survivors and bring them back into the fold. All of us kids did 20 hours of Hebrew school a week. I was raised very ethnically Jewish even though my father is not Jewish.

Anyway, I don’t know what other survivor families are like, but mine is very warm and loving but they can also be suspicious, very negative, and pretty bitter at times. They don’t like “Europeans”, they talk a lot about how dangerous the world is for Jews (and it is, but they talk a lot about it), and even though my grandparents are dead now, the generation below them still tell war stories at every family gathering. There’s not a lot of hate there, but there’s a ton of fear expressed every time they talk about Jewish issues. I’m a therapist and we read a lot in grad school about intergenerational trauma, and I’m sure it’s something my family grapples with regularly, including myself.

Well…I married a Dutchman (not Jewish) and we moved to the Netherlands this year. (My mother is still grieving that, but that’s a whole different story.) I’ve also noticed that Dutch families talk a lot about the war and there is a lot of history here that kind of acts as a reminder of what happened. I’ve found the lack of Jews here combined with the constant reminders of the holocaust to be a little disheartening. I knew in my head that it would be like this, but…idk…now I’m faced with it a lot. There are a lot of ghosts here and it feels a little surreal for me.

I haven’t practiced in years but I’ve found myself feeling very lonely here and missing my culture as an American, but also as a Jew. I haven’t really found a good American community here, but there are some little Jewish communities. I wrote a post here a few weeks ago looking for a Jewish community in the Netherlands and I think I’m going to services this weekend.

But also I’ve considered not going because there’s just a lot of irrational fear built up. When I mentioned it to my mother she said something like “try not to be seen going in or out of the building” and “don’t tell anyone where you went unless they’re Jewish.” I know I should just blow her off because it’s irrational fear, but I was raised this way so it stays with me.

I don’t know what responses I’m looking for, but maybe just people who can commiserate? Maybe just someone to tell me I’m not crazy for having all these feelings? Maybe just a kind word? idk…I have no one to talk to about these things.

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