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What Jews are feeling now is an inheritance of values — and trauma

This story was originally published on My Jewish Learning.

(JTA) — As we enter 2024, many of us are feeling a sense of uncertainty, even wariness, in our bones.

The events that exploded onto the world stage during the last months of 2023 — the brutal attacks on Israeli Jews by Hamas on Oct. 7, followed by Israel’s incursion into Gaza and the ensuing rise of antisemitic incidents around the world — have set off waves of shock, grief and apprehension for Jewish people everywhere. As a rabbi and psychotherapist, I have received many anxious calls and notes.

“I barely identify as Jewish,” one business executive confessed to me over the phone. “Yet I’m unbelievably triggered. Can you help me understand why?”

“For the first time in my life I feel unsafe,” a Jewish student wrote to me. “I suddenly know what my ancestors felt when they had to hide their true identity.”

“I feel ‘re-traumatized’ by all the violence and the resurgence of antisemitism, even though I’ve never directly experienced either one in my lifetime,” a client reported.

Emotions are, by definition, non-rational. But for many of us, our strong reactions to the recent events in and around Israel have felt disproportionate, confusing and sometimes uncanny. One way to understand this is to see them as having roots in earlier times. In this sense, the attacks on innocent Jews on Oct. 7 reverberate with a kind of biological memory of traumas that we ourselves may never have experienced, but whose residues nevertheless live within us.

Sound like a bubbe mayseh (grandmother’s tale)? Or a teaching from an obscure kabbalistic text? In fact, the notion that trauma residues can be transmitted intergenerationally is based on clinical studies in a relatively new field called behavioral epigenetics. These multi-decade studies demonstrate that younger generations can be deeply imprinted by the extreme life experiences that their ancestors endured, years before they themselves arrived on the scene.

This means, for example, that Jews whose great-grandparents survived the violence of the Russian pogroms, or whose grandparents hid from the Nazis with little food or light, or whose parents witnessed the bloody Farhud in Iraq in 1941, may carry within them a kind of cellular byproduct of their ancestors’ adverse life experiences. These molecular vestiges hold fast to genetic scaffolding. Though the DNA itself remains unchanged, how those genes express themselves can indeed be affected. Such epigenetic changes may make us more vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder, more sensitive to stresses in the environment, and can at times leave us with a predisposition to anxiety or depression.

Because I am more poet than scientist, the following vivid description by journalist Dan Hurley brought epigenetics to life for me. It also struck me as exceedingly Jewish: “Like silt deposited on the cogs of a finely tuned machine after the seawater of a tsunami recedes, our experiences, and those of our forebears, are never gone, even if they have been forgotten.”

For me, the phenomenon of intergenerational trauma is a reflection of the Hebrew phrase “mi dor l’dor,” which describes the Jewish tradition flowing “from generation to generation.” You may have heard these words sung in synagogue, or discussed in the context of Jewish tradition. Perhaps you’ve been to a bar or bat mitzvah at which a young Jewish person is celebrated as they are officially called to the Torah for the first time.

One of the most emotional moments of the way this ritual is observed in my congregation is when the Torah scroll is taken out of the ark and lovingly passed down from the most senior relative to the next generation (typically aunts and uncles) to the parents, and perhaps to the older siblings of the bar/bat mitzvah. Finally, the Torah arrives into the arms of the young initiate, the newest link in an ancient chain of heritage. At that moment, the celebrant makes a silent commitment to uphold the ancestral values that have been passed down for thousands of years: uprightness and justice, lifelong learning, loyalty to family, and the fierce determination to protect and repair the world we have been given.

This ritual reenactment of mi dor l’dor is often the moment when tears are shed. One can feel the power of ancient heritage in the room. One can sense those who have passed but are with us still in spirit. And one can recognize that however connected or disconnected we are from the Jewish path, somehow we each play a part in this time-honored tradition that so many of our ancestors wrestled to preserve — and all too often, gave their lives for.

The legacies that come down to us are a rich and complex mixture of noble values and the painful trauma residues of our fraught history. All of these reverberate within our very cells. In our generation, both science and the still-unfathomed events of these past months teach us once again just how deep our connection is to our ancestors, and how their lives continue to echo within us, from generation to generation, mi dor l’dor.

The post What Jews are feeling now is an inheritance of values — and trauma appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Treasure Trove: Remembering Yoni Netanyahu, a heroic soldier and leader

Jonathan (Yoni) Netanyahu was the older brother of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister. He was the commander of the Entebbe Operation on July 4, 1976 when Israel rescued 102 hostages who had been on a flight hijacked by Palestinian and German terrorists and ordered to land in Entebbe, Uganda. Yoni was the only Israeli soldier killed in […]

The post Treasure Trove: Remembering Yoni Netanyahu, a heroic soldier and leader appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Pope Condemns Anti-Judaism, Antisemitism Amid New Wave of Attacks Against Jews

Pope Francis waves after delivering his traditional Christmas Day Urbi et Orbi speech to the city and the world from the main balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, December 25, 2021. Photo: REUTERS/Yara Nardi

Pope Francis condemned all forms of anti-Judaism and antisemitism, labeling them as a “sin against God,” after noticing an increase in attacks against Jews around the world.

“(The Church) rejects every form of anti-Judaism and antisemitism, unequivocally condemning manifestations of hatred towards Jews and Judaism as a sin against God,” the pontiff wrote in a letter to the Jewish population of Israel dated Feb. 2 and made public on Saturday.

“Together with you, we, Catholics, are very concerned about the terrible increase in attacks against Jews around the world. We had hoped that ‘never again’ would be a refrain heard by the new generations,” he added.

The Pope noted that wars and divisions are increasing all over the world “in a sort of piecemeal world war,” hitting the lives of many populations.

Francis, 87, has condemned Hamas’ Oct. 7 cross-border attack from Gaza into southern Israel. He has also said on several occasions that a two-state solution was needed to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In his letter, the pope also called, once again, for the release of those hostages still being held by militants.

He said his heart was torn at the sight of the conflict in the Holy Land and the division and hatred stemming from it, adding that the world was looking at the unfolding of events in the area with “apprehension and pain.”

He assured the Jewish community of his closeness and affection, “particularly (those) consumed by anguish, pain, fear and even anger,” repeating his call for the end of the war.

Francis said he prayed for peace. “My heart is close to you, to the Holy Land, to all the peoples who inhabit it, Israelis and Palestinians, and I pray that the desire for peace may prevail in all.”

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Israel Says It Has Struck More than 50 Hezbollah Targets in Syria Since Oct 7

Israeli soldiers take part in training session near the Israel border with Syria at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, February 1, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Gil Eliyahu/File Photo

The Israeli military said on Saturday that since the outbreak of the Gaza war on Oct. 7 it had struck more than 50 targets in Syria linked to the Iranian-backed Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.

The remarks, in a briefing by chief military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari that mainly discussed efforts to beat back Hezbollah attacks launched in solidarity with Hamas, were a departure from Israel’s usual reticence about Syria operations.

“Everywhere Hezbollah is, we shall be. We will take action everywhere required in the Middle East,” Hagari said.

Israeli forces have attacked 34,000 Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, including 120 border surveillance outposts, 40 caches of missiles and other weaponry and more than 40 command centers, Hagari said. He put the number of enemy dead at more than 200.

Hagari said Israel had deployed three army divisions along its side of the Lebanese border in anticipation of Hezbollah getting involved after Palestinian Hamas launched a shock cross-border attack on Oct. 7, triggering the war in the Gaza Strip.

With tens of thousands of its northern residents having evacuated, Israel has threatened to escalate the Lebanon fighting unless Hezbollah backs off from the border – and has sought Western help in finding a diplomatic solution in Beirut.

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