I have lived 38 years of my life with the black and white concept that life ends after death. Recently, as my thoughts deviate, I am tearing down the barriers that have prevented me from making sense of what exists beyond our physical world.
Although I was raised Jewish and feel connected to my culture through traditions and holiday celebrations, I have never been religious and frequently question the importance of religion in my life. I tend to question the existence of G-d as I cannot comprehend how any being could allow the genocide of innocent people in death camps of torture. I also cannot believe that a G-d would allow good people to die from terminal illness or suffer from chronically disabling disease as I do every day, living with multiple sclerosis (MS). While I’ve struggled to understand my religious beliefs, I can always trust science. Explain to me why something is; provide proof through data. Otherwise, it may not exist.
A deep connection to the Holocaust has kept me in touch with my roots. Seeing pictures of precious human life, emaciated, abused, and torn from the arms of their loved ones triggers a feeling of familiarity and fear that haunts me to the bone. Upon applying to college twenty years ago, I wrote my college essay on my connection to a young girl in a picture at the Holocaust Museum in Israel. As I stood there, staring into her eyes, I was horrified wondering what she could have been. What gifts might she have given to this world, had she had the opportunity to grow and thrive? It is safe to say that Jews can assume they have ancestors who died at the hands of the Nazis, but up until recently, I didn’t know how deeply impacted my great grandfather and his family were by World War II.
My father’s paternal family came to America in the early 1900s from Poland, at which point their last name was changed. This was the story of many families arriving to Ellis Island, making it difficult for a descendant in 2021 to trace their family tree. I sat down at my computer and typed Wosk into the Google search engine. To my disbelief, an online family mapping site appeared with an entire family tree by that name. I recognised the name of my grandfather and his parents, confirming that it was, in fact, my family. My father’s cousin, whom he had lost touch with at an early age, placed the family tree online after completing his own research. I reconnected my father with his cousin and, in the process, gained family photos and information that would change my viewpoint on life and beyond.
One photo spoke to me through the eyes of my great aunt. As I scanned the photo of my great grandfather’s four siblings, her face was instantly familiar as my eyes locked with hers. Much like a moment of déjà vu, I found myself feeling as though I was staring into the eyes of someone I knew deeply, even though she had died some forty years before I was born. I’d seen those eyes, been in her company, and felt as though I’d carried her stress before. But she hadn’t existed in my thirty-eight years in this world.
I have always resembled this part of my family, so as I sat there wondering why I felt so connected to this stranger, I couldn’t help but wonder if the familiarity was, simply, shared genetics. Despite our similar brown eyes and brown hair, my husband couldn’t see a resemblance. When I learned of her passing during the Holocaust, I felt even more connected due to my lifelong spiritual connection to those haunting years. Had I been her in a past life? Never before did I entertain the validity of reincarnation. But never before did I look at a picture of an ancestor and feel connected at an altitude beyond my own comprehension.
The barricades that had shielded my spiritual thoughts since the day I was born were working against my current state of mind. If my consciousness wouldn’t allow this possibility to exist, then I’d have to search for evidence that would enable my skepticism to dissolve on its own. I set out to do research on the validity of rebirth and afterlife.
It wasn’t long before I came across the research of Dr. Ian Stevenson and his mentee, Dr. Jim Tucker. Working through the Division of Perceptual Studies at The University of Virginia, their research is organised and statistically significant. The fact that an academic university is heading this research gives them instant credibility. For sixty years, they have collected data on memories of past lives as remembered by young children. The information these children recall is factually checked and the lives they claim to have lived are traced to people who existed before their time. Some children remember details including their name, their occupation, and can identify pictures confirming who their previous personality was. Case after case, my mind was blown away by the vast information these children remembered about their past lives. They remembered details that young children wouldn’t have known unless they had a direct connection to these deceased human beings. Some of these children had memories of living the lives of their own ancestor. This was the scientific proof that I needed. My once firm belief that when a body dies the person is gone had now been broken down into tiny pieces of gravel.
I remember a time when my own child, at four years old, asked if my recently deceased grandfather was in someone else’s belly yet. I now believe that young children have more insight into their past than adults do, if only this concept was widely accepted, and parents were taught to nurture these conversations.
None of my living relatives have details on the life or death of my great aunt or her siblings, aside from the fact that they were murdered by the Nazis. I may not be able to confirm how or why my great aunt is familiar to me, but Dr. Tucker’s research has given me the ability to believe that these connections exist for a reason. I now look at my children with an understanding of why they seem wise beyond their years. I have a newfound curiosity for making sense of who we are and why we have the phobias, interests and talents that make us unique. I can now accept that this life with MS will strengthen me and prepare me for lives that may follow. It’s comforting to know that when our time here comes to an end, we may just have another shot at this thing called life.