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Under Forty at the Jewish “Mental Health” System Survivors’ Workshop

In April 2015, Janet Foner, the International Liberation Reference Person for “Mental Health” Liberation, led a Jewish “Mental Health” System Survivors’ Workshop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. Out of thirty-three participants, eleven of us were under age forty. It was the largest number of younger folks so far at a “mental health” liberation workshop.

We were Jews of the global majority, white Jews, Jews with Indigenous heritage, Sephardic Jews, and Ashkenazi Jews. We were born and raised in Canada, Russia, Israel, and the United States. We were of all class backgrounds. We were ex-psychiatric inmates; therapy survivors; psychiatric drug survivors; children, siblings, grandchildren, and other relatives of “mental health” system survivors; and children of “mental health” workers. We were LGBTQ and heterosexual. We were men and women. It was a big deal that we represented such a range of experiences with the “mental health” system and Jewish identities and that we got to be together and support each other in our personal and collective liberations.

On Saturday night there was a class on the Holocaust and having a present-time perspective on it. The following are some gems from Janet:

  • Hitler failed. He didn’t win. We are alive.
  • The Holocaust is over. It has been over for seventy years.
  • We fought hard as a people; the idea that we went as sheep to the slaughter is a myth.
  • We now have many committed Gentile allies in RC, a very different reality from even thirty years ago.
  • Many parts of our religious traditions emphasize suffering, but we have the ability to focus our attention off of the suffering of our people and off of our distress.
  • We get to envision that we will be safe, even if we don’t feel it now. We get to know that we are safe, even if we can’t tell (perceive) that we are.
  • One day the Holocaust will be a historical fact, without huge feelings attached to it.

Janet gave us a list of children’s books about the Holocaust that she had found useful for discharging on the Holocaust with attention on reality. These included When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and Uncle Misha’s Partisans.

She talked about her Five-Point Program for Getting Present and Staying That Way. One of the points that’s been elusive to me is counseling with attention away from distress. Janet explained how Tim Jackins’ description of being “counselor” for our young selves while being client is actually one way of putting attention off of distress. I had never heard it framed that way. I now have a better picture of having my attention off my distress while working directly on an early hurt.

Being at the workshop helped me see that there is much more to life than the Holocaust. I am a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors and a great-granddaughter of pogrom survivors. Growing up I attended a Jewish school in which we learned a lot about the Holocaust, both in and out of classes. At home I did not get a lot of information about the Holocaust, but I got the distress! Nowhere did I have the opportunity to discharge.

Looking at and discharging about the Holocaust with my attention off some of the distress, I can make distinctions between the historical events, the experiences of my family members, and my own early experiences in life. All of these had previously been stuck together in a big lump, held in place by distress that was difficult to discharge.

I can now discharge much more easily about a range of things I hadn’t been able to work on. The perspective that “whatever these feelings are, they are old and have nothing to do with the present” gives me a better chance at staying in present time, which allows me more space not only to discharge but also to enjoy my life.

Rachel Beck

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of Jews

(Present Time 184, July 2016)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00