Roots & Wings: Why Connecting with My Ancestry Changed My Life

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Roots and wings.

I woke up this morning with those two words in my mind. Partially, perhaps, because I’m about to travel—fly—to a sacred place of my ancestral roots for our honeymoon next week.

I remember the first time I went to Israel a few years ago. One of the very first things our tour guide had us do was take off our shoes and touch the ground. She spoke about how emotional it was for Jews all throughout the world to touch this ground for the very first time. To fully recognize where they were standing. Their genetic roots.

It’s part of why we’re going there for our honeymoon. It’s part of my context—both my ancestral and my personal. It’s a place that tells a story about who I. Even parts of myself that I don’t understand. And it was also an important place that I visited before. A place I want to share with Garrett.

Exploring context is always liberating to fly. When you know your context, you’re free to work with it consciously (versus acting it out unconsciously).

It’s something we explore in the Sacred Circle constantly. We use etymology and subjective relationships with words to explore both historical and personal contexts. We understand every moment of your life, every trauma, every dream through the Brand Energies—to give you roots, but also wings.

We need to understand who we are, if we’re going to become who we want to be.

I’m fortunate that I’ve done a lot of ancestral work in my life. Maybe it’s simply the fact that I’m a product of an Italian immigrant (who still has attachment to his home country) and a Jew (whose culture is, quite frankly, hard to kill).

I remember the first time I went to Italy. I was only 12, but already I understood that this place taught me things about myself I never expected. It explained values and ways of being that I couldn’t have predicted. Walking the very streets my grandparents grew up in. Hearing stories of their experiences. Following tradition and rituals. It was in my blood and my upbringing more than I knew.

I resonated so much that I found a way to live their for two summers—in both Rome and Salerno on the Amalfi Coast. I learned Italian. I studied politics and religion. I filmed a documentary about ancient Ostia (Rome’s port city). And I immersed myself in context—my context. My roots and my wings.

It was a place I found myself. In every sense of that that phrase. So, when I planned to propose to Garrett, of course I’d take him to Italy. It was my roots and my wings. It was part of the context of who we was marrying. And, being Italian himself, it showed him more of who he is, too.

Israel was a whole different beast. To be honest, I might not have gone to Israel quite as early in life if there weren’t a Birthright opportunity. But I’m so grateful there’s this gift for every Jew to connect with Israel. In fact, it’s something that I’d love to see every culture embrace.

I think I had always identified more with how Italy affected me. I mean, my dad was born there. My Nonna’s English—some 50 years after moving here—is broken, at best. And I had spent enough time in Italy to know it well.

But was I really Jewish? Or a good Jew in any way? I mean, I went to temple for a few High Holidays when I was younger. And I really liked Hanukkah (my grandpa owned a toy company). And I could always take out my Star of David and walk by a Jewish teacher’s room when I wanted to skip class in high school (without fail, she’d notice within five seconds of me walking by and tell me we needed to talk).

But you can’t really beat a free trip to Israel. And so I, like most young, secular Jews, jumped at the opportunity.

I know everyone says Birthright is life-changing. It’s almost a cliché to talk about. But it’s hard to put that experience into words. Because, for one, it’s a forced, contrived social experiment of putting 25 or 30 young people together for 10 days, throwing them into emotionally intense experiences, and making them sleep-deprived. Of course your barriers will break down, and you’ll swear you’re best friends by the end.

But, as one of the only Jewish kids in most situations I’ve been in throughout my life, it was surprising to me just how many parts of my experience were actually informed by Jewish culture. How many ways I related to perfect strangers about things I’d never related to anyone about. How validated I felt about who I am.

When I got home, I wrote an article about my nose for a publication. All my life, I’d be insecure about my big nose on my relatively small face. But, as I walked the streets of Jerusalem, next to my newfound friends, Israeli soldiers and American Jews, I didn’t feel that my nose was ugly in any way. I felt that it carried a history—a genetic map of my ancestors. And it honored them. And carried them forward. And was the most beautiful thing I could possibly imagine. So, of course, I carry that nose proudly. Because I am the result of so many people’s lives.

Isn’t that so beautiful? I’m the result of experiences and hardships and laugher and joy and love and pain. And my life validates all of theirs. I honor all of theirs. Simply by being and shining my light in the world.

There’s a potency to roots and wings. One that goes beyond the ways I normally conceptualize those words. Because—knowing our roots is so freeing. Our energetic or subjective roots (in the case of my work with Brand Energies), but also our ancestral roots. Understanding the context of everything. Exploring that context deeply. Understanding the experiences of the people whose genes I carry. Really, understanding who I am.

I think that’s ultimately the most powerful and liberating things in the world—understanding who we are, in every sense.

So, in just over a week, Garrett and I will head back to a place of my ancestry. We’ll travel to Israel. We’ll fly and we’ll root.

How do your roots and wings serve you?

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