Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Signs You've Made It: Nightmares

Nightmares are probably the strangest sign that you've really cast your lot with the Jewish people. But they seem to be universal: everyone begins to have nightmares about Nazis, the Holocaust, or other anti-Semitism. [I don't think anyone dreams about the Cossacks.]

It seems unavoidable. Interestingly (and in my totally unscientific opinion), I believe it's one of the earliest signs that a convert has really affiliated with the Jewish people.

My theory can be analogized to linguistics. You know you really know a language when you begin to dream in that language. Personally, I've progressed that far with Spanish and French (though I can't vouch for being anywhere near fluent in either anymore). It's a really strange feeling. Even within the dream, I'd stop and think it was strange that I was speaking and listening solely in a foreign language. When I woke up, I knew exactly what had happened in the dream, even if I couldn't reproduce the "script," so to speak.

This is called internalization. You have internalized the language such that it has become a part of you. However, you don't have to be fluent to reach that stage. But you won't reach that stage if you insist on thinking in English, then translating the English thought into the target language. Internalization is when you begin to actually think in that language like a native speaker would. [Personally, I think this is the secret to learning languages, and anyone can force themselves to do it!] It takes a lot of humility to admit to yourself that you can really only say, "I like cheese" instead of discussing the amazing cheese dish you just cooked. 

So what does that mean for converts/conversion candidates? When you "think Jewish," you will begin to internalize a Jewish identity. That is all kinds of awesome, but Jewishness also includes a history of antisemitism. The good comes with the bad. Thankfully, the only antisemitism many of us experience is in the dream world. That is certainly true for antisemitic violence, which is thankfully not common in America today. But that isn't very comforting while Nazis hunt you down in the Polish countryside of dreamland! When you have that first dream, you will wake up thinking you're insane. But don't worry, every Jew has these dreams at least occasionally, according to my very unscientific polls.

This discussion doesn't make the nightmares any less disturbing, but maybe now you can see the good in them too. And if they freak you out or are otherwise bothering you, feel free to discuss them with your rabbi. I think that's an important topic to work through with him. Anti-Semitism is something you really need to come to terms with, and this is the way most of us do.

25 comments:

  1. (Long time lurker undergoing conversion. This one hit home, so I had to post!)

    I've actually had recurring nightmares about the Holocaust since I was a little kid, looonnng before I "decided" to convert. (I feel weird saying decided because even when I was little I would say "When I grow up, I'm going to be Jewish!" like kids want to be ballerinas and firefighters) I have cousins and a grandparent who are Jewish (all through marriage), but I really don't think that has anything to do with the dreams. I firmly believe that those who have a strong desire to convert have a sort of Jewish soul trapped in the wrong body, and maybe these dreams are either telling us about a past life, or it's our soul screaming out the Jewish identity trapped inside. I'm not sure, but since I've had the same nightmare over and over again about nazis pounding on my door and the horrors that follow, it's something I try to analyze with my convert mindset.

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  2. I completely agree. I've had those nightmares.

    They were really bad in August right after the last Pink Triangle died (I'm gay as well as converting). It didn't help that a few days later, I went out for my anniversary to a little Bavarian tourist trap (Helen GA) and there was a rather huge protest that I witnessed where the protesters said they were going to burn the gays, Jews, and Witnesses and how Hitler had the right idea. I was wearing a rainbow necklace and there were two Stars of David in my pocket so really felt obvious. My partner and I were trapped for over an hour unable to leave. When we finally did leave, I just lost it.

    I was already having some Holocaust nightmares before that but after that, it got so bad that I was only sleeping an hour a day for a while. Didn't want to sleep, didn't want the Nazis to get me. (And yes, I did say that to a few people who knew me well enough to not have me committed.) I eventually took sleeping pills for a few days and then the nightmares went back to their original level.

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    1. Mel,
      I just read your post on here. what a bad ordeal! I am glad you & your partner made it out of there safe. I have heard that in the south there is still those with bad feelings for others. anyway, take care.

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    2. I have always found this blog a true method of support & have posted multiple times. I have had nightmares about the Holocaust for the past 29 years. I was born in the year 1971. I am not from a Jewish family. I am posting now, because I have just finished my first novel about my night terrors:

      "Holocaust Nightmares: ASH FROM THE ROSE"
      It is available on Amazon Kindle at:
      http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HXKTFFG

      I have a website for my book & gallery exhibition of work:
      http://enigma3304.wix.com/ash-from-the-rose

      I also have a Holocaust Nightmares blog on Word Press:
      http://pamelafiedler.wordpress.com/

      I think it takes a lot of courage to come forward, and communicate to the world about our nightmares. Thanks to this blog, I know that I am not alone. It was a large support for me, as I wrote my book. I hope that others who have posted here, take the time to come back & read, re-read what others have said. Also, I hope you reach out & communicate with me. I look forward to hearing from you.

      I am also on Twitter:
      @Enigma3304

      --Pamela

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  3. My dreams involved my family helping Nazi's find me.

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  4. I don't think I've ever had any Jewish fear dreams (I can't even think of the last time I had a fear-based dream), but I have anxiety dreams all the darn time and plenty of Jewish ones there. Usually involved in going about my business and then finding out I just ate treif, or finding out I just did something halachically horrifying. I dream of myself in a shul or other Jewish setting somewhat regularly, often including prayer services and waking up with the tune stuck in my head.

    It was all kind of weird at first, but then I started looking at it as being saturated with Jewishness and that is a good thing. :D

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  5. I*ve had such dreams as a kid/teenager, long before I started conversion process...

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  6. I'm the same -- I started dreaming and being obsessed with the holocaust as a kid, long before even contemplating converting (before I even really knew what Jewish was - and had never met a Jew before - or at least not one who was vocal about it in a way that made me realize he or she was). It's interesting to hear other people have been the same way :)

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  7. I have had dreams like that all my life. Seriously, even when I was little, I was TERRIFIED of the holocaust dreams. Except for the epic one where me and Hercule Poirot went to save Anne Frank - but that was a sort of anomalous crack!dream.

    Admittedly, that probably has a lot to do with the fact that I do have relatives who were hiding from the Nazis during the war, even if it was for nonreligious reasons.

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  8. Shoah dreams are the norm for me, they've only intensified now that I'm less than a week away from the mikvah. I just accept it now.

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  9. I dreamed last night antisemites chasing me! after seeing the movie Everything is Illuminated

    (Blue Star)

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  10. I have recently learned about my Jewish heritage. The amount of knowledge we have right now is fuzzy, but all signs point at least to a certain Jewish heritage if not actual ancestry. I consider myself Jewish, and am in the process of adopting the faith. I would be very surprised if I didn't have Jewish ancestry.

    However, I made my decision during Rosh Hashanah. I guess I have internalized it so much. I live and breathe it now.

    I had a incredibly vivid dream that I died in a gas chamber last night. It was so long and drawn out, from trying to avoid the chamber to dying. I remember in the dream that the gas didn't affect me the first time and I had to be "re-gassed." They ended up injecting me with poison to finally kill me. I actually felt the process of dying and my spirit leaving my body. It was so vivid and horrible. I honestly don't know what to do with myself, and don't want to sleep again tonight.
    This article really hit home.

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  11. Well, I'm not sure about having dreams just yet, but I am just wondering how one handles blatant antisemitism? I have heard people say things out in public and am not sure how people normally deal with this....

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    1. Originally posted: January 26, 2012 at 2:09 PM

      Anonymous about antisemitism in real life: It depends on both on you and the particular situation. Never put yourself in danger. And some days, you won't have the patience to handle the situation without ending up in a fistfight. I don't think there's any blanket answer anyone can give you, other than don't get hurt! As for me, sometimes I say something. Sometimes I say it nicely and less frequently, not so nicely. Most of the time, I realize my words will do nothing. I try to focus on my actions to be a good, kind person, and maybe drop a hint that I'm Jewish (usually only works if I'm wearing a star of David necklace or something). I also try to be on my best behavior whenever I look particularly "Jew-y" to an outsider, such as wearing that necklace. So in a way, I try to preempt those kinds of comments by giving a good example. I don't think I'm in any position to change someone's mind about stereotypes.

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  12. I am just wondering if all of those who posted before me WERE raised within a Jewish family?

    I turned 40 this year. I am not Jewish. To my knowledge, no one in my past was Jewish. I've had nightmares about the Holocaust since I was 13. I am now a former professor who has an entire exhibition of work regarding my dreams.

    I was not obsessed with the Holocaust at age 13: It was the Civil War instead. I even received a copy of the Civil War magazine in the mail...

    Anyone else out there like me?

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  13. Pamela,

    I was not raised in a Jewish family, nor is anyone in my family Jewish to my knowledge. I also began to have nightmares around the same age--12. I am now 23. My nightmares come in waves: I can go months without having one, and then I can go three months only being able to sleep for a few hours a night. The feelings from the dreams follow me around during the day and I am utterly exhausted--physically, mentally, and emotionally when this happens.

    I never was specifically obsessed with the Holocaust. I'm not even sure I learned about it before I was 13. I was also interested in the Civil War. I was also reading historical fiction and non-fiction on the Civil War around the age of the 13.

    What kind of work do you produce based on your dreams?

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  14. I am sixteen and plan on converting once I have become an adult and gone through college (I also plan on becoming a rabbi, and they usually need a college education) and since I was six, I have had nightmares like this. I remember in seventh grade we discussed the Holocaust and I had horrible, horrible nightmares for weeks. Gloved hands turning metal wheels on pipes; the horrible hiss of gas seeping through the ceiling as children panicked around me; gun fire; ovens... even thinking about it makes me shiver and look over my shoulder. I still have those nightmares sometimes... ugh...

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  15. oh my! I just stumbled across this blog...very interesting indeed. My geirus was completed over 23 years ago. I had Holocaust identification dreams etc. for years before I went to the mikvah. I even went to Germany once - just made things more intense. I was terrified of my attraction to Torah and yiddishkeit...but my desire for it was insatiable. I studied the aleph-bet in secret as a teenager! Nothing worked to resolve the issues until I decided to convert - only to find that I might be Jewish...I lived with a wonderful community and had a good beis din, but we could not factually trace my ancestry and so I went to the mikvah after all...and the nightmares stopped! go figure. :D

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  16. I started having these nightmares after I met a man who was a holocaust survivor. He never described his experience to me, but he told me that he'd been at a camp and he had the tattoo. We talked about yiddishkeit and whatnot, but once I left I just couldn't shake the absolute horror at the very idea of the camps. It wouldn't leave my mind. That night I had a nightmare about nazis and then a few weeks later I had a terrifying dream about trying to escape the nazis on a train, but they'd found me and others, and we were cornered. I'm relieved to hear that this isn't weird or a sign that something is wrong with me. I hope that I don't have them again, they are awful and I don't see how these nightmares help me to resolve anything or work out any issues. They just scare me.

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  17. When I was 13 I started having nightmares about the Holocaust. I am now 41. I was not an avid reader of World War II, or of Holocaust movies at the age of 13. I subscribed to the Civil War Magazine and loved that area of history with a passion.

    I was born Christian. To my understanding no one in my family was Jewish or in a concentration camp.

    When I have nightmares about the Holocaust, it isn't one, continuous dream all night long. Instead, I will dream 4-5 nightmares in one night.

    I am a former Professor of Graphic Design. I have an entire body of work dedicated to what I see in my nightmares:

    http://www.Enigma3304.net

    Most people who did not live through World War II, have a choice as to whether or not they want to view images from the Holocaust. I do not have that choice. I have been to rabbis, ministers, shrinks, and doctors. I have taken sleeping pills and been on meds for depression.

    The nightmares always come back.

    The closest understanding that I have received in my personal opinion came from a psychic. I was told that there are 2 entities that surround me: A Nazi Officer and the 13 year old boy that he murdered. And, until the officer forgives himself...the nightmares will not end. The war is not with me...it surrounds me.

    Do you have any words of wisdom?
    I can also be found at: Enigma3304@aol.com

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  18. I have had nightmares of the holocaust since I was a very small child. I am 45 now. I am a Christian and my family is German, but has been in the US since the 1600's. The dreams are extremely vivid. I have by now just accepted that I will always have them. My Grandfather served in WWII in Japan. My maternal grandmother's parents emigrated from Germany in 1910 and were very wealthy, but we always heard they were German. From that I thought about having a dna test to see if I'm Jewish, but it's costly. In the dream, we're brought to a cement bunker down below the ground level, made to strip, Wagner is playing. Someone is yelling "Where is your G-d now?" Then, some pepper like substance comes out and a furnace is turned on. Everyone is clutching each other. ~Wendy H

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  19. Originally posted: November 29, 2011 at 2:04 PM

    Anonymous, wow! I had more Holocaust dreams as a kid than I do now. I don't know how it happened, but I was obsessed with the Holocaust from elementary school through middle school. That's probably the first of my "Jewish coincidences."

    Mel: That's awful! I'm glad you guys made it out alright!


    Generally: I find that dreams come in waves. I can go years without one (that I remember).

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  20. I posted here 3 years ago & actually stumbled across the site again so I thought I would update. It has been 30 years that I have stood in the gas chambers and listened to the screams. I was born in 1971.

    My fiance was the first person I told about the nightmares. He died 3 months before our wedding in 1997.

    The horrors of humanity...and me being cast as a continous player in the
    Holocaust ...watching it over and over again...I weep for all of humanity every night.

    This eternal sadness began at 13. I will be 43.
    The happiest day I ever spent in my life was in a grocery store.

    I used to be able to control the tears.
    My biggest fear when I die is that I am forever stuck in World War II.
    I am a freak that has never fit in.

    People sit in their cubicles and complain about what to.fix for supper.
    I go home and take a nap and stand in the gas chamber.
    Who wants to be around such a person?
    I wouldn't hang out with them either.

    Even if the nightmares stopped tomorrow, I have witnessed so much
    I just simply cannot stop the tears.
    I never lived through it.
    I am not jewish.

    If there is a heaven, I hope my grocery store is in it.
    It is the only safe place I can find thru my tears.

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  21. Great - as if my T-Rex nightmare wasn't enough. . .

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  22. Hi guys, here's my story:
    I am German on my father's side, with a little Czech. There is one distantly related ancestor (i.e. cousin of my great-great-grandmother) who very possibly fought in WW2 on the German side: My record shows that he died in 1941 in Germany, and he wasn't more than 20 years old. My direct ancestors were all here before the war. I am Mormon (mother's side is Mormon; father's side is not very religious and as far as I know we don't have Jews in our background, speaking of the religion). When I was in high school I got really interested in the Holocaust. I served an 18-month mission for my church and near the end of it (2012) I had my first Shoah dream. I was about to be put into a chamber to be burned. I was with other women and a woman was in charge of doing this to us. Last year I dreamed about Hitler. About a month ago I had another dream. I was not in a camp, but in a building: there was the feeling of fear, that if you said or did the wrong thing you were going to be in trouble, and there was a nursery and the babies were going to be killed. I feel it's something embedded in my psyche. Since having these dreams I have had issues reconciling the Shoah with my religion. This is because my religion teaches that everything bad that happens to us is somehow cleansing; it has even been termed "redemptive." The idea, also, is that it helps us understand the suffering of Christ. After the last dream I had, I had to sit down and figure this out. I believe that the Shoah was not redemptive. If in the eternities I am proved wrong, so be it. But I have seen it, I have felt it. And now that I've read Pamela's accounts of her seeing it and feeling it, I do not feel pretentious saying that I also have seen it and have felt it. Since I have had that experience, I do not feel OK saying that it was redemptive. It was the horror that it was, and that is all. If God chooses to turn that experience to something good for those people, that is His business. I will not attempt to turn it into anything good. Maybe before I could have. Now that I've seen it, I can't.

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