Book Review: Now You Can Limit the Power of Hidden Traumas

I strongly commend to your attention Wounds into Wisdom: Healing Intergenerational Jewish Trauma (Monkfish Press) by psychotherapist and rabbi, Tirzah Firestone. The many personal and collected narratives she shares compel the reader to reflect in new and helpful ways upon one’s own life, family trauma histories known, and those perhaps dimly perceived–even long after the volume is read. Her writing style is beautiful. She demonstrates the importance of applying a core concept articulated by Yael Danieli, editor of International Handbook of Multigenerational Legacies of Trauma:

“Awareness of transmitted intergenerational [trauma] processes will inhibit transmission of pathology to succeeding generations.”

Is or was there a bump under the rug of your family story? Something you felt was unspoken and hugely significant? A personal trauma? Or, from the collective traumas of your people? Traumas that must be there, yet weren’t discussed? Rabbi Firestone cites Israeli traumatologist, Dan Bar-on whose research finds:

“Untold stories’ often pass more powerfully from generation to generation than stories that can be recounted.”

Rabbi Firestone’s father, like so many of her parents’ generation, as a returning soldier, did not discuss World War II experiences. Through her effort to heal and understand family traumas, when after his death the family found “photographs hidden away in his files: shocking images that he had taken inside the death camp…” She began to feel shifted, discovering:

“…the capacity to put our pain into context is key, allowing us to acknowledge its power, yet give it boundaries.”

And she continues: “Traumatic memory torments us and will own us if we do not contain it. But when we face and acknowledge it, it may be possible to convert it to something positive.”

Rabbi Firestone learned that children’s psychic borders are highly permeable. And she discovered the work of Dr. Vamik Volkan who “calls the transmission of trauma from one generation to the next, image deposits. He maintains that traumatized adults can unconsciously deposit their internalized images into the developing self of the child, who then becomes a reservoir for the adult’ trauma images, which can shape the child’s life.”

She came to understand that her father’s “entire world had subtly organized itself” around the images from the war” and became able to write: “When I imagine the feelings of utter vulnerability that Dad must have experienced in the war, which he later overrode with bluster, rage, and incontrovertible opinions, I could more easily forgive his heavy-handed parenting.” Rabbi Dr. Firestone cites the work of Dr. Rachel Yehuda at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, that overwhelming trauma “resets and recalibrates multiple biologic systems in an enduring way.”

Seven Principles

Seven principles are derived from the interviews that Rabbi Dr. Firestone conducted. For example, in Principle Five “Disidentifying from Victimhood” one of the interviewees, an Israeli graduate student from Russia describes a trauma sense perhaps readers have too, especially in this age of resurgent anti-Semitism: “If we are not actively fighting, we will be erased from the face of the earth.” Another says: “It’s as if I’ve been running all my life.” America, Israel, Europe, South Africa and other contexts are addressed. She also looks closely at how to engage in this work without retraumatizing ourselves. She draws upon an IDF officer who shares that he learned from his grandfather that there are two kinds of Jews:

“One kind of Jew says: The Holocaust happened to us as Jews and we have to do whatever we can, with whatever means, to make sure it did not happen to us as Jews ever again…”

“…The second kind of Jew—and this is the kind of Jew that I want to be—is the Jew that says: ‘We were part of one of the hugest catastrophes that happened in humanity. We were one of the groups that were harmed from this, but not the only group and we now have the responsibility that this will never happen to anyone again.’”

Throughout the volume we meet those who show us ways of hope for the human future.

Incorporating Jewish Wisdom

In Wounds into Wisdom, Rabbi Dr. Firestone also applies Jewish wisdom as found in our sacred literature, for example:

“Had I not fallen, I could not have arisen. Had I not sat in the darkness, I could not have beheld the light.”–Midrash Socher Tov 22:7

And, from Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning Rabbi Dr. Firestone emphases how Dr. Frankl turns to Nietzche’s words: “The survivor who knows the ‘why’ for his existence, will be able to bear almost any ‘how.’” She guides us then to ask: “Who am I now? What social and political conditions shaped my tragedy? What can I do to prevent this kind of suffering for others? What meaning can I make of this?”

Rabbi Tirzah Firestone’s Wounds into Wisdom is an important contribution not only for those affected and the field of psychology, it is also the newest entry in categories such as Jewish Healing, Jewish Cultural Healing, and Jewish Spiritual Healing. This volume will appear beside early works such as those by Rabbi Morris and Mrs. Tehillah Lichtenstein, founders of Jewish Science, Avraham Greenbaum’s The Wings of the Sun, and Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People.

Contemporary works in the field of Jewish Healing include:

There are also specialized works such as Nina Beth Cardin’s Tears of Sorrow: Seeds of Hope: A Jewish Spiritual Companion for Infertility and Pregnancy Loss, Jewish Pastoral Care: A Practical Handbook from Traditional and Contemporary Sources by Dayle A. Friedman and Barbara Eve Breitman, The Grief Journey and the Afterlife: Jewish Pastoral Care for Bereavement, by Simcha Raphaell Paul, Anatomy of a Tear: A Chaplain’s Stories of Life, Love, and Loss by Leon Olenick, and many more.

In Conclusion

Hopefully there will be a future volume for mental health professionals, Jewish spiritual directors, chaplains and other clergy that teach us more specifically Dr. Firestone’s methods of working with clients through this remarkable lens. The way she puts her balanced, carefully nuanced approach together gives us reason to embrace the trauma stories we can unearth. This gives us the material we need in order to get the context and understanding we need to work with ourselves and professionals like her to interrupt family patterns, possibly even those of epigenetic destiny, and reshape the trajectory of our lives, our families, of our people, and our relationship to all peoples. Wounds into Wisdom is a keeper.

Israel Independence Day Celebration at Thomas Paine Plaza

Celebrations for Israel’s 71st Independence Day took place at Thomas Paine Plaza, 15th Street and JFK Boulevard in Philadelphia, on Thursday, May 9, 2019.

Rabbi Batya Glazer, Director of the Jewish Community relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said of the event, “This is our opportunity to come together as a community, to celebrate Israel’s 71st anniversary.” In spite of the inclement weather, she said, “we’re hoping for the best.” Volunteers handed out samples of Israeli confections, including cookies from the Israeli restaurant Zahav.

Addie Lewis-Klein, Director of Community Engagement   of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said, “We are out here at City Hall celebrating Israel’s 71st birthday.” That morning, she added, Philadelphia’s City Council passed a resolution supporting Israel, “and now we’re out here, under the billowing Israeli flag,” she said, “giving out Israeli treats and taking pictures with Israeli flags to show our support, and giving out some information and other fun things to show our support for Israel.”

Yoni Ali, Executive Director of the Israeli American Council of Philadelphia, said, “We come to celebrate the 71st anniversary of Israel, to show the support of the Philadelphia community to Israel, to show the love for Israel, and to give the people of Philadelphia some facts about Israel. We have a large Israeli-American community in Philadelphia that supports Israel and loves Israel.” Ali handed out cards showing facts about Israel.

Michael Sklaroff, a graduate of Barrack Academy, represented the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF). “I’m here to raise awareness,” he said, “for our organization, which helps wounded soldiers recover, and supports people who want to go over to Israel to enlist in the IDF, but don’t have a place to stay and a stipend for meals.” Sklaroff said a number of young people go to Israel to serve in the military, “tons of people in our organization.” FIDF, added Sklaroff, also provides scholarships for Israeli military personnel who want to go on to college.

Don’t Trust Republicans When it Comes to Fighting Anti-Semitism and Racism

By Joshua Runyan

“Proud Boys, stand back, and stand by.”

As president of the United States, Donald J. Trump had one job to do: Call out racism and anti-Semitism for what it is and to tell the modern incarnation of the Nazi Party in America that the hatred that they spew has no place in what passes for proper discourse in the greatest nation that the world has ever known.
President Trump failed at that task, the latest in a long string of failures that have plagued 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and the rest of this great nation since Jan. 20, 2017.

Make no mistake: For all the talk that Republicans give the scourge of racism and anti-Jewish hatred over the past four years, the Grand Old Party, in actuality, cares not about hatred, about ethnic identities, about common decency. The president who gave you “decent people on both sides” when faced with the image of torch-bearing neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va., is the same president who cannot, when teed up for the easiest putt the Northern hemisphere has ever known, call out hatred for what it is.

“There is blame on both sides!” he fumed, when challenged years ago. And again, when Fox News journalist Christ Wallace invited Trump Tuesday night to denounce hatred from the podium of the first presidential debate of the 2020 campaign, the president prevaricated.

This is nothing new.

Two weeks ago, when the House of Representatives voted on H.R. 2574, the social media world was treated to the headline, “162 Democrats Vote Against Amendment to Protect Jewish Students from Antisemitism at School.” The smear was spread against Democratic politicians from Rep. Madeleine Dean (PA-4) to Rep. Susan Wild (PA-7). In truth, the vast majority of Democratic congressmen and congresswomen voted against a Republican-backed amendment that would have included “anti-Semitism” as among the types of discrimination prohibited under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The problem is, the actual story is much more complex, and much more inapposite to the partisan hatchet job that voters, including in the Jewish community in southeastern Pennsylvania, were treated to. With H.R. 2574, the Democratic-led House attempted to create a new private cause of action for discrimination faced in education. Republicans, who by and large, opposed the measure, sought to stick it to Democrats, trying to send up an anti-Semitism amendment via a “motion-to-recommit.”
As legislation, the amendment was poorly drafted, neglecting to contain a definition of “anti-Semitism.” But as a necessity, it was suspect, considering that since at least the Obama and second Bush administrations, the Justice Department – who is tasked with enforcing the Civil Rights Act – has always considered anti-Jewish discrimination to be prohibited under Title VI.
Nevertheless, Republicans saw fit to introduce what they later claimed was groundbreaking legislation under a legislative provision that when fronted by a minority party in the House is always defeated by the majority party in power. And that’s what happened: Democrats, including Dean and Wild,voted against the amendment.

But the amendment passed. And the now-amended legislation passed by overwhelming numbers, with Dean and Wild, and countless other Democrats, supporting it. Republicans? Joined by the sponsor of the anti-Semitism amendment, 187 other GOP representatives voted against the legislation that they later claimed was a strong statement against “anti-Semitism in education.”

An equally truthful headline would have been, “188 Republicans Vote Against Legislation to Protect Jewish Students from Antisemitism at School.”

The fact is, if the Republican Party really cared about anti-Semitism, they wouldn’t have empowered their social media minions to smear Democrats in southeastern Pennsylvania.

The fact is, if the White House really cared about racism and hatred, and about uniting this great country instead of dividing it, the president wouldn’t have been so timid when invited to denounce the Proud Boys.

As a Jewish American, and, more importantly, as an Orthodox rabbi who has experienced his fair share of anti-Semitism, I care more about the party and the candidate who will actually do something about the hatred that has been the hallmark of the last few years of American life. Time and again, President Trump and the Republican Party have ignored the opportunity to denounce anti-Semitism for what it is, and to commit this country upon a path of understanding and peace.

President Trump has failed at his task, and the Republican leadership in Congress has enabled him. It’s time to transfer the reins of power.

Rabbi Joshua Runyan is an Orthodox rabbi and former editor of Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent and the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle. He is an attorney in Philadelphia.

Flavors from the Emirates for Rosh Hashanah

Benjamin of Tudela

The first Jew to write about his travels to the area that is today the United Arab Emirates was Benjamin of Tudela. In 1170, one hundred years before Marco Polo embarked on his voyage to the Silk Road, Benjamin of Tudela traveled to “Kis,” located in the north of the Arabian Peninsula. He wrote about this and many other adventures exploring Europe, Asia, and Africa in his book, The Travels of Benjamin. This year a peace treaty is being signed between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. It will finally be possible for Israeli citizens to follow in the footsteps of Benjamin of Tudela.

Kis was connected to the port city of Julfar, in present day Ras al-Khaimah. Ras al-Khaimah, which means “head of the tent,” is located on the coast of the Persian Gulf. It is famous for its lush date palms and fertile mountain valleys. It was active in trade with East Asia, importing spices, porcelain, silks, gems, and incense. Kis was inhabited by Bedouins, who excelled at trading and navigating.

Many of the foreign traders who sailed to Kis were Jews. A sea captain named Buzurg ibn Shariyar described one of these Jewish traders, named Ishaq bin Yahuda , in his Book of the Wonders of India, first published in 900. In the 1970s a group of Bedouins discovered a Jewish tombstone from the 1500s in Ras al-Khaimah. It was made for a man named David. He was presumably a trader who died in Julfar and had to be promptly buried, per Jewish law. No other archaeological signs of Jewish life have been found, indicating that there was never a significant permanent Jewish community in Ras al-Khaimah.

Benjamin of Tudela probably enjoyed Bedouin cuisine during his sojourn in Kis. The staples of the Bedouin diet consisted of flatbreads baked in an earth oven, goat’s milk yogurt and cheese, olives, fava beans, lentils, dates, pomegranates, grapes, almonds, and melons. For special occasions, grilled lamb or chicken may have been served. Everything was flavored with exotic spices imported from the East. The Bedouins of Kis also grilled the abundant fish they caught in the Persian Gulf.

In honor of the peace treaty between Israel and the UAE, add a special recipe from Ras al-Khaimah to your Rosh Hashanah feast. Like the ancient Jewish traders before you, try this delicious Bedouin recipe for fish flavored with dates and spices. It would be fitting for such an historic Rosh Hashanah!

Samak Mashwi: Charcoal Grilled Fish
Adapted from The Complete Middle Eastern Cookbook by Tess Mallos

Kosher fish
2/3 cup dried pitted dates
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 onions, chopped
1 ½ tsp. Baharat spice mix
1 tsp. ground turmeric
Salt to taste

If grilling over charcoal, light the charcoal and wait until it glows.
If you are using an oven, preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (232 degrees Celcius).
Soak the dates in cold water for 30 minutes.
Wash the fish.
Mix the onions, garlic, Baharat, turmeric, and salt in a bowl.
Fill the fish cavity with the spice mix.
Place the fish in a roasting pan.
Puree the dates.
Coat the fish with the date puree.
Grill the fish over charcoal until it flakes easily with a fork.
If using the oven, roast the fish in the oven for 18-20 minutes.

Virtual StandWithUs Student Conferences

Due to the Covid 19 pandemic this year’s StandWithUs conferences were hosted virtually. The 2020-21 StandWithUs High School Interns and college Emerson Fellows completed their respective conferences and are excited to begin educating about Israel and combating antisemitism in their schools and communities. Educational sessions were run by StandWithUs staff, and they bonded via the multiple networking, exercise and engaging sessions designed to connect them together individually and as a group. While virtual conferences have their challenges, and students worldwide are experiencing zoom-fatigue, none of this seemed to matter!

Created in 2012, the StandWithUs High School Internship is a year-long program for North American students in 11th and 12th grades. The program prepares students for challenges they may face regarding Israel in college and to grow their Israel knowledge and leadership skills to make a difference in their schools and for the future. Interns are passionate about creating educational opportunities to inspire their peers with thoughtful, nuanced, and intentional Israel education programs throughout the school year.

This year’s interns are Abi Schonberger, Lower Merion High School; Matthew Khelmer, Council Rock High School South; Alexa Jakubowitz, Upper Dublin High School; Benji Himmel, Taylor Allderdice High School; Blake Fox, Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy; Alex Forgosh, Parkland High School; Miriam Decker, Cheltenham High School and Lital Abergel, Kohelet Yeshiva High School.

The StandWithUs Emerson Fellowship was founded in 2007 by Los Angeles philanthropists Steve and Rita Emerson. Student leaders on campuses throughout the US, Canada, the UK and Brazil are selected and trained to educate about Israel and confront anti-Israel rhetoric. Throughout the year, they create interesting Israel programming designed to engage others, including bringing in speakers and creating educational and cultural events. They also monitor and respond to anti-Israel and antisemitic actions.

This year’s Emerson Fellows are Penn Israel Coalition board member Allison Gorokhovsky at the University of Pennsylvania; Alexis Lukaszewski at Pennsylvania State University (University Park), who serves as secretary for Lions for Israel, and Paige Weisburg at Muhlenberg College, who is the Hillel Israel Chair.

Both programs have a record number of students this year, selected from high schools and universities in the U.S., Canada, the UK, and Brazil. There are 125 High School Interns and 149 Emerson Fellows.

Interns and Fellows attended two conferences, including SWU’s annual “Israel in Focus” International Conference. Throughout the August conferences, students learned how to create their personal “Israel story,” and present it to different groups. They took a deep dive into Israel’s history, the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and the social history of Israel to have the context necessary to have insightful conversations about Israel. They also learned about when criticism of Israel crosses the line into antisemitism. Participants were exposed to tactful debate skills so that they can begin to practice addressing anti-Israel claims in a respectful and effective manner. They shared strategies of how to confront anti-Israel boycott campaigns and disputes with professors.

Paula Joffe, who recently celebrated her first anniversary as executive director of StandWithUs Mid-Atlantic, remarked, “With their eagerness to learn, their passion to educate about Israel and their enthusiasm for sharing what they’ve learned, these extraordinary students are setting examples for their peers, their parents, their educators and their communities. StandWithUs provides them with the tools and support to become credible sources of information and the confidence to become life-long leaders. These students and their coordinators Matthew and Nathan, will have a profound impact on the pro-Israel movement and in creating a community of critical thinkers who understand why Israel is vitally important and why we must combat antisemitism.”

AMIA: Still Demanding Justice

By Max Carp, AJC Philadelphia/SNJ intern

Liliana Ines Friesel Elkouss grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Today she lives in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where she has

Photo by La Nación

found American Jewish Committee (AJC) helpful in staying connected to her heritage. She also plays an important role in AJC’s annual AMIA program, offering an Argentine perspective on the horrific bombing of the Jewish community building perpetrated by Iran and its terrorist proxy Hezbollah on July 18, 1994, that killed 85, and injured 300.

“Every year I am thankful for AJC’s commemoration,” says Elkuoss. “Yet the plague of impunity hits me hard on the face as it slaps me over and over.”

A plague of impunity is an apt description. To this day, not a single perpetrator of the heinous atrocity has faced any consequences. The 2014 Memorandum of Understanding between Argentina and Iran (later struck down by Argentine courts) granted Iran a role in adjudicating the perpetrators of an attack its own leaders orchestrated. And the 2015 murder of Alberto Nisman, the federal prosecutor investigating the attack, on the day before his scheduled testimony, was heartbreaking. Argentina, and the world, lost a great champion of justice “The wound definitely intensified,” said Elkouss, “when we were cheated out of justice on the horizon.”

“The AMIA bombing exemplifies the worst consequences of the inseparable connection between Iranian terrorist proxy Hezbollah’s military operations and its goals,” said Marcia Bronstein, AJC Regional Director. AJC is working with governments across Europe and Latin America to designate Hezbollah in its entirety a terrorist organization. To date, the United States, Canada, Argentina, Israel, Honduras, Paraguay, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, as well as the Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council have designated Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization. And AJC continues to press all EU member states to correct the error they made in 2013, by recognizing only the so-called “military wing”, and not its “political wing” as a terrorist organization. Even Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has said there is no distinction; Hezbollah is one.

The AMIA bombing, which came two years after the deadly bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, was part of Hezbollah’s perpetual reminder to the Jewish people: no matter where you are, you are not safe. As part of a national group of communal workers who spent time in Argentina after the AMIA bombing, Bronstein remembers a pledge she made to the leadership there that until there is justice for AMIA, we will tell the story and demand action. The current Argentinian government has resumed investigating the government collaborators who impeded justice for decades.

When Elkouss reflects on the attack, she mourns for the extinguished human potential. “They had names, families, children, friends, and they had plans for the future which for them never came through,” she said. At AJC, we will shed tears for these victims on July 18, when we honor their memory for the 26th year in a row.

Our plea to the world hasn’t changed: Justice for AMIA.

High School Internship from StandWithUs and Gratz College

StandWithUs and Gratz College have partnered to offer the StandWithUs High School Interns college credit for successful completion of the Internship. The StandWithUs High School Internship is a year-long leadership program which prepares high school juniors and seniors for the challenges they may face regarding Israel in college and in their communities. The Gratz College course will appear in the Gratz course library as, “Israel: The Socio-Political History of a Modern State.” Participating students may apply the three college credits they receive to their future universities.

Dr. Paul Finkelman, the president of Gratz College noted that “for 125 years, part of the mission of the College had been to support and develop new programs in Jewish education.” He observed that “this partnership brings together two leading innovators in Jewish education: Gratz College and StandWithUs. Both strive to prepare the next generation of Jewish leaders to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The teenagers selected to participate in the StandWithUs High School Internship program are precisely the kind of students that Gratz seeks to work with: bright, articulate, caring, and motivated. We look forward to watching them develop through this program and beyond. We believe this new partnership will benefit StandWithUs, Gratz, and our larger communities through our joint efforts and through the leaders we help educate and inspire.”

Miri Kornfeld, StandWithUs Executive Director of High School Affairs, who holds an MA in Jewish Education, will oversee the program. She stated, “We are always seeking to provide our students with the best possible educational and leadership opportunities. Collaborating with Gratz College, a prestigious Jewish university, allows our students to be rewarded for their incredible effort and educational achievements during the course of their internship. We are thrilled that Gratz recognized the hard work that our students do every single year and are honored to to offer this game-changing opportunity to our students who truly are game-changers themselves in so many different ways.”