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Haunted by Souls of the Past

Haunted by Souls of the Past

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Question:

I am a grandchild of Holocaust survivors but I feel haunted as if I went through it myself. I regularly see images of Auschwitz in dreams and flashes. I am sometimes even afraid to tell people I am Jewish.

It seems so ridiculous to be this way here in Australia in 2005. Am I crazy?

Answer:

You are not crazy. You are a sensitive Jewish soul, and what you are experiencing is not uncommon. It reflects a deep spiritual truth.

There is a mystical teaching that all Jewish souls are connected. We are more than one family; we are one soul continuum. No matter what "affiliation" a Jew has (or hasn't), every Jewish soul is connected. This connection transcends both time and space — we are horizontally connected to every Jew alive today, and we are vertically connected to the Jews of times gone by.

No matter what "affiliation" a Jew has (or hasn't), every Jewish soul is connected We have all felt the horizontal connection. When something happens to a Jew on the other side of the world, it effects me as if it happened to me personally. When a Jewish athlete wins a gold medal, every Jew walks around as if it was his or her own victory. And the athlete himself feels as if he has won on behalf of the entire Jewish people. When we hear news of a tragedy in Israel, it hits us deeply. And the victims are uplifted by our feelings of empathy and offers of support. This is our horizontal soul connection to all Jews alive today.

But we are also vertically connected to the Jews of previous generations. Imagine a pyramid of souls, with Abraham and Sarah, the first Jewish couple, standing at the top; each ensuing generation lies below them; and we, the souls of the present generation, lie at the very bottom, beneath layers and layers of souls of the past. The victories and challenges, celebrations and tragedies of those souls who came before us are on our shoulders.

Perhaps the images that haunt you are the collective experience of the souls which you are carrying. This is the challenge of living in our generation. It is a heavy burden we carry, so soon after this most terrible tragedy of Jewish history, in which the lives of so many Jewish souls were cut short. It is not an easy place to be, underneath the weight of all those souls.

We have a choice. We can buckle under the weight of this pillar of souls; it can overwhelm us and we can collapse. It may seem to us that being Jewish is just too heavy, and we can try to relieve ourselves of its weight. Or we can take another path. We can rise to the challenge and elevate the entire pyramid. For we have a gift that was taken from all those souls above us--we are alive. Unlike those who have moved to higher worlds, we live in the world of action, where we can still do good and lift ourselves. And then, from our position on the bottom of the pyramid, we can lift the entire structure and elevate the souls of those on high.

We have a choice: we can buckle under the weight or we can rise to the challenge and elevate the entire pyramid. The souls of all previous generations are looking to us. Their time in this world has ended, but through us, their unfinished lives can be completed. By living a proud Jewish life, by creating vibrant Jewish homes and communities, by bringing more Jewish children into the world, not only can we fulfill our own purpose, but we can fulfill the hopes and dreams of those souls who never had the chance to do so themselves.

You are not crazy, and you are not doomed to be haunted by the images of pain that weigh you down. Let them drive you to do more good and be more Jewish.

Each of us—descendants of survivors or not—has to ask ourself: Does the horror of the Holocaust define my Jewish identity? If so, my Jewishness may become a burden I'd rather not carry. But if the Holocaust inspires me to deepen my Jewish identity and makes me more determined to live up to the Jewish mission, which is to transform the world into a G‑dly place, then not only will I not buckle, but I will elevate those souls to higher places, and bring the world some of the goodness that those souls wanted to bring themselves.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
Image by chassidic artist Shoshannah Brombacher. To view or purchase Ms. Brombacher’s art, click here.
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Anonymous Untited States February 21, 2014

The mirror and the Jew I was raised Christian and to this day my family refuses to acknowledge that we are Jewish. Since being kicked out of Spain they completely hid their Jewish ancestry out of fear; even to this day. So sad. However, this is something that I recently learned within the past few years.

When I was a child I used to play the mirror staring game. Every time that I would stare into the mirror I would see a Jewish man looking back; completely superimposed over my image. He was always wearing a black hat and I know that he was me or I was him. To this day I still see him. Sometimes young, sometimes old but it is the same man.

Even though I was raised Christian, I have never been comfortable around Christians. In fact, I once had to meet a Jewish client at the JCC and I felt like I belonged. It was a strange sensation. Then I was in Cuba a few years ago and accidentally stumbled by the temple and a Rabbi outside was chasing me down to talk to me. I freaked out and kept going. Reply

Sandra Abernathy California August 23, 2013

Haunted by Souls of the Past I found this writing comforting. Reply

Rosemary Australia December 11, 2012

To Anonymous, Chicagi, il of March 12, 2010 I read the comments again today & was disappointed to realise I had not replied to Anonymous, 12 March, 2010 though she had addressed me. I am very sorry & would like to reply now.

I understand the fear you mentioned, including how it can arise in various situations, when something is seen, etc or for a shadowy reason. I experience this too & seemingly always have. It has always distressed me greatly to hear and see violence, including to animals, & when someone speaks harshly, dominatingly & irrationally to someone or is acting humiliatingly towards them or myself. My fear can be so high my body hurts & I have to work hard to calm myself & to think clearly & act in the best way. I will not stay if I think it is ok to leave. Because of great fear, I have also avoided what I think should face & I have had to learn to forgive myself & keep trying to act well. Hashem is the rightful judge & can help us be strong. Reply

Peggy Rhoades Galt, Ca December 5, 2012

Pass life as Jewish individual? Is it Possible? As I was growing up..and even now, have always felt like I was or should be Jewish origin, I would always watch programs regarding the the terrible things that happened in Europe during World War II...and feel so sad for all those people who died in such a tragic way. I felt anger because it should have not happened, but I also had dreams of being in a family..who were experiencing that fear...I would have a fear of suffocating..or not being able to breathe..? My Grandmother would occasionally talk about things at happened to friends/or family in Hungary during the war, ..so maybe it caused an anxiety in me..I don't know..but, even at 63 I still feel and have dreams of being in an environment of a Jewish community? Reply

Silvia Vancouver June 12, 2011

Very interesting article... I'm of anusim/Marrano origin, descendant of Portuguese Jews and I officially returned (converted) to Judaism last year. For the most part my story has little to do with the Holocaust, but I was recently surprised by a story I made up when I was around 4 or 5 years old. My mom found it while cleaning up some things. I used to love to make up stories and before I knew how to write, I would ask my mom to write them down for me. This was one of these stories. It was about a little girl who lived in a country that was in war and it described in great detail how bombs were falling all around her, and then she went home and her parents had been taken away, she tried to hide at her neighbour's but her neighbour didn't like her and told her to go away, so she wandered the streets looking for her parents. Anyways, it was such a depressing story and I was really puzzled about how a 4-year-old living in Brazil, where there are no wars, came up with such a war story. Maybe this explains it? Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA March 7, 2011

I am not haunted. I am loved by ghosts of the past. They help give me strength to face my own calamities and remind me not to have pity parties for myself. Our ancestors have gone through even worse than we have. They help G-d to do His job. They are my angels. Particularly, I have a grandma and an aunt who did play a role in my upbringing, and I still actually talk to them although they are deceased. They are in me always. In my heart. They live through their love. Reply

Anonymous New York, NY March 6, 2011

Thank you It's very good to read the conversation of 5+ years in this space -- conversation between those who identify as impeccably Orthodox in family line as well as those with no "visible" connection to Jewish identity, family, or religion. Reply

lisa david brooklyn, ny February 13, 2011

past life regression There is a doctor who has written a series of best seller books claiming to have regressed many of his
patients to rembember their past lives in order to help them in their current lives. Is this possible according to Jewish belief? Reply

Karen (Chaya) Bell (Kleinman) March 17, 2010

To Anonymous in Chicago re: Tikkun I had heard of Tikkun Olam, but I thought it was only for the living. In my heart, I always thought that G-d sends down the spirits of righteous dead to help as angels on earth in the form of other people, or animals who help people, but now that I have heard from you that it is CENTRAL to Judaism for souls to do Tikkun, I understand my original precept to have merit. Thank you so much! In fact, I believe my beloved Bubbe and Zayde have been helping me during terrible tragedies! They have survived so much, and have so much wisdom. I am happy their wisdom is not in vain. Reply

Rosemary Brisbane, Qld, australia March 17, 2010

Viewpoints It is human to need and form points of view about something. It is also a fact that people arrive at different viewpoints, both Jews and non-Jews.

In this case we are considering the origin of images a person may experience of experiences in Holocaust times. Rabbi Moss had kindly responded to a question that was troubling somebody about her experiences of this. And here we all are talking about the matter, sharing our ideas.

As I understood it, the key point Rabbi Moss made was that "There is a mystical teaching that all Jewish souls are connected". Is it "hubris", as a recent commentator suggested, to believe this? One could just as well ask whether it is "hubris" NOT to believe it.

But perhaps such judgments are not helpful. If we do not tolerate a diversity of viewpoints about something, what does this say about us and what are the consequences? Can't we learn from the tragedies that have happened when one viewpoint seeks to extinguish another? One may do so in various ways. Reply

Mark Ottawa, Canada March 16, 2010

Re: it's human, not Jewish Thank you, Abrahim Sabir, for your comment below. I am a Jew and I am human and connected to all humans by simple virtue of the common humanity of us all. This article, and and the conceptions from which it springs, are hubris in the extreme. If there's a G-d out there (and in here), He loves ALL His creation. Reply

Anonymous chicago, usa March 15, 2010

dear AS... i dont know much about other religions or races having been raised orthodox... but I DO KNOW that Judaism is definitely based on the concept of souls coming back into THIS world to do a "tikkun"... to fix something. and so, it would be very natural for us to contemplate that possibly when soo many of us are having dreams since very early ages... waaay before we ever learned or internalized to scope of the horror done there. YES, i knew that i didnt have grandparents.. and yes, i saw my fathers number... BUT my dreams started waaay earlier... before i had ever heard the word NAZI... and my FEAR has never ended. last night, i watched a tv show "brothers and sisters"... a regular family drama... always enjoyable. well, the plot last night was that the woman running for senate was being "boo-ed" down by a group of people who didn't agree with her platform and when she looked up, there were POSTERS of her with a Hitler mustache and Nazi signs. my gut reaction was FEAR!!! sheer terror. Reply

Karen (Chaya) Bell (Kleinman) March 15, 2010

Thank you, Abrahim and Brian. I totally enjoyed reading both of your posts. What NICE people you seem to be. G-d bless you many long and happy years! Reply

abrahim sabir bangalore, india March 15, 2010

i am not protesting the claims I see some friends here have taken my comments in a negative sense. I can perfectly understand the individual cases of those whose near & dear ones were lost under nazi rule, and the fact that they are direct descendants of them gives us a better view of their own struggles in coming to terms with the realities. in fact what i want to highlight here is the fact that even someone very much unrelated to jews and ww2 can be very much affected and can feel the pain of those who perished... feeling others' fears and pains to the extent that you get nightmares about it is not something which is specific to a sect or group of humans... it is common to every human being on the planet.
So while we are discussing this topic specific to the holocaust the underlying reason is something which goes beyond religions and races. Let us not 'hijack' a very human trait (which makes us human in the first place) by saying its just 'us'!! Reply

Brian Brody Sherman, TX March 14, 2010

Karen One thing that most don't understand is that children are closer to the spirit world than us adults. It is not until they get old enough that parents tell them that the things they think and feel are not real. I find that most children are more open to collect images through their dreams. When my granddaughter speaks to imaginary friends, I encourage her because she is making contact with someone from the spirit world and it is someone who was close to her always. It is our society that forces them to become closed off to G-d and the spirit world. Reply

Karen (Chaya) Bell (Kleinman) March 14, 2010

Anyone who reads about the Holocaust And who has empathy, will dream about it and put themselves in other people's places. My own granddaughter, although not considered Jewish because she didn't have a Jewish mom, when she learned about the Holocaust in school and from discussions with me, began to have such dreams. She said that her friends, also, shared these "memories". It was as if they could EXPERIENCE it as in PTSD. Reply

Anonymous March 12, 2010

What Explanation to Use? Abrahim draws our attention to the need for careful analysis, avoiding oversymplification & being misled by emotions & ego.

Thorough analysis, as can be seen in the Talmud, is painstaking work. There are many different opinions to consider, each with its own unique contribution.

In my case, to share a piece of the puzzle at hand, my vivid & detailed holocaust dreams started when I was very young - my earliest memory is at 3 years - and had had no relevant input from outside myself. My family was both assimilated & in full flight from Judaism & there was no local Judaism or TV etc when I was young.

Is there an explanation, apart from memories from a previous life? One needs to keep an open mind.

As for "collective human consciousness", I have heard that EXPLANATION in various forms. WHY is it true? And WHY is this concept needed to explain sensitivity & empathy? I thought these were from inner qualities, observation & reflection.

Shall we dialogue on this? Reply

Joy aka Arielle A. Aaron Myrtle Beach, SC March 12, 2010

HELPING TO TRANSFORM THE WORLD INTO A GODLY PLACE Dear Aron,
That is exactly why I wrote I REMEMBER SINGING: A BOY SURVIVES THE HOLOCAUST. All my life I had dreams and nightmares of being there to the point of trying to find the places I had dreamed on a map. Then I met a man who was a boy in the Holocaust and who was rescued so I told his story for him first...mine will come later because it is vastly important that the world know and understand that the Holocaust happened from people who were there and who can physically prove it. He and I signed the true book together at the US Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC last year. Many teachers and Middle School Teachers purchased the book.
I lit a candle there in honor of and in remembrance of his parents who were murdered at Auschwitz and I lit another in remembrance of the children of Terezin.
Shalom, Reply

Anonymous chicago, il March 12, 2010

to Abrh. Sab... EMPATHY is what we feel about the victims of Haiti, Katrina, Tzunamis, earthquakes... BUT when YOU SEE a number tattooed on your father's arm your whole life and you KNOW what it signifies and you NEVER have grandparents or extended family because they were gassed to death... and YES, you learn about it in schools and other mediums BECAUSE you don't ever want to forget the animalistic cruelty of the NAZIS... THAT, sir, is quite differnet than "empathy" for the human masses! i have donated money to all the disasters of the last few years and I care... but it's not as personal to me as what i have "felt" as the direct descendant of those killed and tortured... but THANK G-d as their LIVING granddaughter! a PROOF to the world that they DID NOT WIN and that we survived no matter what ugly plan they had! and OF COURSE, i know that many NON-JEWISH people were killed too... homosexuals, and people who tried to be honorable and save others... G-d rest their souls too... everyone suffered. Reply

Anonymous chicago, il March 12, 2010

to rosemary... i hear what u are saying... BUT i think that any "normal" person does NOT want to die a "violent, tortuous" death. it's one thing to trust G-d if you go into a coma or if you are slowly getting weaker and weaker and your family is all around you... i am not afraid of death... it's going to a higher spiritual place... closer to G-d. BUT I am TERRIFIED of violence. All of my life, when I heard the news on TV about murders and rapes, etc. ... my heart would start pounding. In the last few years, I cant go to R rated movies that have violence in them. It's been a constant TERROR of violence in my life. I used to have a fear that someone would attack me in the mikva parking lot since they kept the lighting down for modesty reasons. Let's go back to the gilgul (reincarnation) theory.. IF there is any validity to my "thoughts" as a reincarnation of my very young uncle... then it wasn't fear of death... because they didn't really know they were gonna die. BUT for sure NAZIS were MEAN and VIOLENT and SCARY!!!!!! Reply