One Dream, Generational Connections and a Very, Very Scary Election

8 Nov

My Grandpa, Papa, and Grandma, Bama, appeared in my dream for the first time in a long time the other night. They died in 2010 and 2019 respectively and used to visit me while I slept every once in a while. Normally they’d appear as silent versions of their formerly more gregarious selves. One time, while attending a dream version of an art show put on my my Uncle Mikel, Papa morphed from his human self to skeletal remains. He was still upright and appreciating the art, but he was all bones, no skin in sight. I found it rather unsettling but I was still happy to see him. Yesterday morning, as I dozed off next to a loudly purring cat, I dreamed I was hosting a house party. There, in the living room, having a conversation with her back to me, was Bama. The second I laid eyes on her hair and the back of her velour black jacket I knew it was her. She slowly turned around, walked towards me and enveloped me in a hug. For a moment, I truly thought she was there. I believed it so ferociously that I was able to call up Papa, who appeared, seated, in a chair nearby. I woke up, still lying next to a loudly purring cat, and tried grasping for the quickly retreating tactile memories of sharing space with them.

Typically, I leave my dreams to the realm of sleep and think of them as sort of a brain adventure. My mind is simply using its down time to work out whatever silliness is going on and, for the most part, I think it does a pretty good job. Given the stress and discomfort I’ve been feeling recently, this felt different. I went to my computer to do a little research and was met with a lot of predictable interpretations centering on love and an enduring connection between this realm and the one where Bama and Papa, (as well as my maternal grandmother, Mima, who opted not to attend the house party) reside. That felt too simple, too impersonal, to inaccurate in conversation with what’s been going on in my mind. And then I came across another potential reason: intergenerational trauma. And I thought, if intergenerational trauma can return to haunt us while we sleep, what about transgenerational trauma?

I’ve read a bit about inter- and transgenerational traumas, mostly while I was hosting a feminist podcast that loosely hinged on women’s health. As I understand it, its focus is centered around this idea that we carry traumas that we experience within us and that, through procreation and fetal development, we pass these traumas on to our children and they, in turn, pass them along to theirs. I’ve been lucky that most of my life happened during a period of time when being Jewish in America didn’t feel especially unsafe. It wasn’t the same for my grandparents who were both born in the United States in the 1920s, and were alive through Hitler’s rise to power. I regret that I never talked to them about how they felt during that time – being Jewish in American while whatever family remained in Europe was exterminated. I wonder what kind of trauma is inflicted on those who happened to be somewhere else. Did they experience something akin to survivors guilt? What was the flow of information like? And how did they go on living every day with this threat looming over them?

The stories I remember them sharing were more centered around their successes in the face of antisemitism. Like how Bama and Papa bought a house in a town that actively tried not to sell to Jewish families, so much so that a realtor refused to show them the home Bama had her heart set on once she realized they were Jewish. They came out on top and ultimately raised four kids in that house; my siblings and I grew up a short 4 blocks away. I remember Bama telling the story in conspiratorial terms, as if she snuck into the house under the cover of night and never left, everyone who didn’t want her there be damned. At the same time there were, of course, the somewhat darker comments over the years. They mostly came in response to a high-profile Jewish person doing something that played into antisemitic tropes. Think Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme. Papa’s response, which I’ve heard multiple times throughout my life was a short, simple sentence that spoke volumes: this is not good for the Jews. He was always aware of the precariousness of Jewish safety, that when the tides turn and things become perilous, it tends to not go well for us.

So here I am, in the year 2022. Save a few instances here and there, I’ve never felt particularly vulnerable being Jewish. The town that I grew up in – a town that only a few decades before my birth actively kept Jewish families out – was so heavily Jewish by the time I was born that I was convinced Jewish people were everywhere, rather than the truth which is that my parents raised us in a Jewish enclave. (Needless to say, college was a bit of a culture shock.) These past few years, and specifically the past few weeks, have been a culture shock all their own. The jolt of learning what my grandparents knew in their bones, what I intellectually understood but never truly felt: that Jewish safety is not guaranteed, that our privilege, while it undoubtedly exists, can be revoked at any time. That our belonging here is conditional.

The election in 2016, and the ensuing rise of white nationalists like Richard Spencer (who’s on Bumble now and claims to have moderate politics?) was certainly eye opening. Seeing footage of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville and hearing them chant “Jews will not replace us” was not something I ever expected to happen in my lifetime. But even then, it felt like that level of hatred existed only in small pockets and that the loud majority of people – and certainly those in power – found that march, those views, abhorrent. It felt like everyone was shocked, and from the shock would come action. Yet here we are, over 5 years later, and it’s worse than ever. Open antisemitism, something that had been relegated to the corners of the internet, has been on display in the most public places. It’s been on highway overpasses, blasted over the internet by celebrities and spoken in coded, and not so coded, language on the campaign trail. It exists on both the left and the right. I feels as if this veil I have been hiding behind my entire life has lifted and I feel in my very being this thing I had been denying lived within me. Almost like a cellular knowledge that this was possible and that it was coming. I think maybe by visiting me while I slept my grandparents were telling me that, yes, this is a burden we share but that I am not alone in the fear and pain that I feel. They are feelings that have been passed down through the generations since the beginning of time.

You can’t come from a long line of the hunted unscathed.

I write this because being a part of any marginalized group in America is tough; it feels especially tough now. There are complicated feelings we’re all having about what’s happening, what this means for our safety and what our next steps can and should be. My feelings and fears as a Jewish American are different from those being experienced by my friends who are members of different, also targeted, minority groups. I don’t know what the results of this election will mean for our future and I’m fucking terrified, for all of us. And I just wanted you to know.

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