Being Jewish is a very conflictual layer of identity, because it combines so much. There is a lot of guilt and fear, but also power and sexiness and the clichés of intelligence, humor, intellectualism, and resilience.
In Israel you have all kinds of seeds that grow into these layers. What it means to be a woman, what it means to be Jewish. And these seeds are socially institutionalized. I’ve had a dialogue with these seeds ever since I was six. Now I have come to terms with them and I can say, yes, they are part of me, but it took me 46 years to do this. So now I think it’s just recognizing that those seeds are there. It’s not about how I feel about them. They can be loaded with things that I disagree with on other levels, because those aren’t the only layers I have. On the emotional level, my soul argues with those seeds that I don’t want, but are still part of me.
In Germany, I usually don’t say
I am Jewish. It helps to simplify things, so I don’t have to start a philosophical conversation. In the States I didn’t feel American, in Israel I didn’t feel Israeli. And I always say it as a joke, but it also has truth in it. I needed to come to Germany and get a Portuguese passport to feel at home. The whole thing just made sense.
My grandmother Miriam came from a very orthodox Polish family. And at 16 she decided not to be religious anymore but to become a Communist and Zionist. Her father said, “If you are going to Israel you’re dead to me, and I’m sitting Shiva on you.” And he didn’t talk to her any more. She went to a Kibbutz, met my beautiful grandfather, got pregnant, wrote her father in 1939 that she was having a baby. He was excited and planned to come the next summer. She waited and waited but he never came. He didn’t make it.
I think that’s part of the trans-generational trauma that I’m carrying, because something died in my grandmother then. She was never really able to be warm towards my mother. I think she was so full of guilt that she was not able to open up her heart even to her own daughter. But I think it is true of many from that generation. They all share this trauma.
I have never researched it, but after living here for a few years, I feel that Germans have three distinct layers of trauma from World War II. The trans-generational trauma of the 'normal soldiers’, not the high-ranking Nazis, who fought at the front. They left their families and then died in the war or came back wounded. The second layer is the refugees, who came to Germany with nothing, and they experienced displacement and poverty. The third layer is people who are descendants of high-ranking Nazis. And you can sense a disconnect, something different about them and how they give off this kind of acute harshness. They might be very kind and polite and progressive. But there is something there. It's like a secret that wants to come out and it's not even theirs.
I remember my first lessons of the Bible as a child in school. I remember the deep disappointment of not understanding why everyone was making such a big fuss out of it. I just could not get it. Same in every Passover, when we would read the Hagada. I would ask every time, "what does this mean?" "Why are we reading it?” "Is this really what we believe in?” I could not understand, I just could not relate. But when I read the Tao Te Ching for the first time it just instantly made sense.
Am I Jewish? What is that? Is it the egg or the chicken? Which came first? Somebody calls me Jewish, and then I learn I become Jewish by that title, I learn what that means and it binds me to a collective. Or was I born Jewish and the world just calls me by my name? These layers of identity help me find a place in the world, but is it a place that I want?
When I was younger I did not understand why the Israeli state insisted that my ID say that I am Jewish. I didn't ask for this. It didn't give me anything except being a part of a group that could be persecuted on the one hand, and on the other hand guilty of occupying other people. It was an identity that had so much death and violence related to it. I didn't want to be part of this whole narrative. And I felt it was unfair because my family went to Auschwitz because they were labeled Jewish, and thrown into the gas chambers. So why does the State of Israel label me a Jew?
I know how to be an outsider and somehow get along. Staying in survival mode. I was born in the States and grew up both in Israel and in the states. Maybe this experience affected how I perceive reality and how reality perceives me. It is a constant connection between my biography and how I am labeled. "AHH, you are Israeli, so you are Jewish?" And I would say: "No ,I am not Jewish and I am not Israeli. My parents are Jewish and I COME from Israel!” But at some point I understood that it serves me to be positioned somehow, somewhere and not to be lost.
One day I was walking in the street carrying something heavy, and nobody offered to help me. And I felt so enraged that nobody really saw me as a woman. And then I was like, okay, this is a privilege that a man would never have. And it's a privilege that I became dependent on somehow. But of course it also limits my power. It's complex, but it grants the power of getting help, of asking. It’s the same thing with the Jews. Jewishness is a skill that I have learned. Like femininity is a skill that I learned. And that skill is also a layer of my identity.
Michaella has been a counsellor, a coach and a social entrepreneur for the past 17 years. She is currently the European Business Development Advisor for EDelia Group. Michaella has a BA in political science, social work and is a trained integrative psychotherapist, Leadership Coach and Mindfulness teacher and is an accredited EMCC Senior Coach. She was born in Washington D.C, raised in Israel and has lived in Berlin since 2014.