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Words from our Founder

My name is Daniel Roth. You can call me Dani. I was born in Jerusalem on October 14th, 1979. A few hours after the celebrations of the Jewish holiday Simchat Torah. Simchat Torah means Rejoicing with the Torah. Rejoicing with the art of the Jewish story. Rejoicing with a story that for thousands of years has brought prophecies of world peace. This day, Simchat Torah, is a happy day of celebration and singing. The euphoric energy that has surrounded this day over many thousands of years was transferred to me when I was born.

My mother was also born in Jerusalem. My grandparents on my mother’s side are of Persian descent. They are from the Cohen family. The Rabbinical lineage of the Cohen family. Dating back to the times of ancient Babylon. From the times of King Solomon and King David. To the Persian empire and Nebuchadnezzar. The Rabbinical lineage of storytellers. Storytellers of the Jewish tradition.

So when my mother tells me stories about what I was like when I was a young child, she says I used to sing songs and celebrate the moment. I would clap my hands when guests arrived and generally made everyone around me happy. Indeed, I embodied the joyful tradition of this day.

Most of my childhood was happy. I lived on a Kibbutz when I was 9. A Kibbutz, for those who don’t know, is a community, a socialist commune where families live together and share everything. For me, this was perfection. I was one of 20 kids living in a house together sleeping four per room. We used to wake up in the morning together, get ready, and head to class in the same house. It was called ‘the children’s house’ or Beit Yeladim in Hebrew. After class we would all play together, building sand castles and treehouses and putting on performances in front of the entire community.  Those were the best years of my childhood.

Then when I was 11, my dad, who is a biochemist, got a job in Long Island, NY and our family moved to Plainview and then Dix Hills, New York, on Long Island. Even though my dad was already an American citizen even before I was born, this was a huge shift for me, moving from an intimate socialist community to the capitalist suburbs of Long Island, NY. I was mostly curious and remember being enthralled by limitless American Tropicana orange juice and big cartons of chocolate milk with American cereal and impressive glossy TV ads, cooking shows, and diamonds on QVC being sold by well dressed, highly groomed women.

And then something changed when I was a teen. My older brother, who himself wasn’t having an easy time adjusting to the new culture, started beating me up to take out his aggression on me, especially if I was singing or expressing joy. I felt that my ability to experience happiness was stripped away by how much aggression was directed towards me. The combination of being the new kid in school, learning a new language (English) and culture, and receiving violent aggression from my brother caused me to become introverted. I lost my joy. I lost my inner child self. I stopped singing. I lost my connection to the day I was born.

Fast forward to me in my thirties, thanks to the help of a very talented therapist (shout out to good therapists), I started trying to make sense of my life and the source of the aggression that I received. To understand the origins, I started tracking it all the way back to World War II.

My dad was born in Germany. His father, my grandfather, was born in Poland. My grandfather was taken to Auschwitz, a labor and death camp, because he was Jewish. He had a wife and two children. They were all killed by the Nazis.

When my grandfather arrived at Auschwitz, he became a forced laborer. The conditions there were so terrible, the lack of food and the working conditions were so tough, that he realized he’d only have six months or so to make it. So you know what he did? He went to the camp’s internal mini-train tracks, lay his left hand on the tracks, and let the train run over his fingers. Several fingers broke. He then went to the Nazis and he said, look, I can’t do physical work anymore, but I’m a tailor and know how to sew. And they transferred him to a sewing section.

That’s what he had to do to survive.

When World War II was over and the Holocaust ended, he met my grandmother.

My grandfather didn’t talk about his story. He mostly held it inside. All of the aggression, he held it inside. Bottled up aggression. Bottled up fear. Bottled up sadness. He held it all inside. And because he held it inside, he transferred it to the next generation, my father. And my father, he also wasn’t too expressive. And because he held his emotions inside, he transferred them to my older brother. And my older brother, who also didn’t have an easy time acclimating, took this accumulated aggression out on me.

Have you thought about your own lineage and the aggression that has been passed down to you?

How has it impacted you? Held you back? What have you learned about it?

And me, what about me. I received all of this aggression. Lost all of my joy. I lost the connection to the day that I was born.

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