Israeli Jews Healing from the Holocaust

Last week I led a Regional workshop for Jews on healing from the Holocaust. I suggested that we “let go of the victim role” by discharging on what happened to our people during the Holocaust and then discharging on our oppressor distress recordings.

The Holocaust targeted the Jewish people for destruction. Horrific things happened to Jews in Europe and North Africa. People lost families and communities. That such a thing could happen affected the entire Jewish world. Then came the waves of refugees and the hardship of immigration at the end of the war. All this led us to adopt the victim role. Whether it takes the shape of misery and complaining patterns or that of endurance and resilience patterns, the background feeling is of being deprived, wronged, and at risk.

No one wants to be a victim. We hate that material and often fear that looking at it will keep it in place. When hopelessness is added (“this is too big to be discharged”), we try to ignore the recordings. And that interferes with our re-emergence. It also limits our empathy for each other’s stories and our ability to build strong alliances among us (and with others).

When a fact (I was hurt) becomes an identity (I am a victim), it can prevent us from seeing anything that is inconsistent with the identity. We can handle seemingly contradictory facts, for example, “I’ve been hurt, and I am also strong and have a good life.” But an identity is much less flexible. If I am a victim, it is harder to see my power and my good life and to face that I am sometimes wrong.

A powerful way to work on victim material is to claim and discharge oppressor distress. This does not mean that we don’t also discharge the grief, anger, and fear from what happened to us. Doing both is necessary, and possible, so that’s what we did!

We started by working on how we had been hurt by the Holocaust.

The language liberation team talked about the connection between language liberation and healing from war. Those who wanted to (almost everybody in the room) mentioned the lost languages (two, three, or more) that had been spoken by their ancestors and were no longer spoken in their families.

We proceeded to a panel in which seven participants shared how they and their group had been affected by Holocaust-related hurts. I reminded us that telling our stories is important, that there need be no competition or ranking of oppressions, and that no story or oppression is irrelevant. We heard from an LGBTQ Jew, a religious Jewish woman, a non-Jewish woman raised in the United States, a survivor of the “mental health” system, a Mizrachi Jew, a Sephardic Jew born in Israel who survived World War II, and a Jew born and raised in the United States.

In the afternoon I started telling the story of Paulina Plaksej Kisielewska, a Polish Catholic woman who was sixteen when the Nazis occupied her town. I said that if anyone needed to discharge at any point, they could raise their hand and we would stop for a mini-session. I reminded the group that the hardest thing is being unable to discharge and that this is particularly true with respect to hurts that we did not experience directly.

In most cases we did not ask to be told the story of the Holocaust. We also could not discharge. We were unable to stop the story when it became unbearable, so we learned to “turn ourselves off” in order to not feel the full effect of it.

As I expected, someone requested the first mini-session before I even began the story. I was surprised, though, that the following mini was far into the story. I could see how we could barely hear the details, as we were consumed with anticipating the “really bad” part of the story. We often don’t allow ourselves to be heartbroken over the “minor” details (for example, being forced to leave one’s home) when we know that something worse will follow. Slowly we began to have more minis, as almost every word in the story restimulated something. Then we met in support groups.

In the evening we spent the whole class on discharging heartbreak and then had a wonderful creativity evening with lots of attention and closeness.

The following day I suggested we work on oppressor material as a way to contradict victim recordings. I based the class on the article “Working on Oppressor Material,” by Karl Lam, in the January 2015 Present Time. I introduced the possibility of discharging oppressor recordings that were not related to the oppressor roles we were assigned by society. We broke into support groups to experiment, and many reported significant discharge.

Our last group meeting was an hour of playing games (sheer pleasure) followed by work on alliances. I told the second part of Paulina’s story—how she and her family had rescued many Jews during the war, in cooperation with others and while risking their own lives.

I suggested that we shift our work from “having allies” and “being allies,” to giving up the victim and oppressor identities and building strong alliances. The victim identity (“something terrible happened to me; therefore you now owe me”) and the oppressor identity (“my group has treated your group oppressively, and I am going to repair it now and act for your benefit”) are not optimal for our liberation. And trusting that we have allies, treating people as allies, and being effective allies happen best within the framework of building real relationships in which we each have something to contribute and something to gain.

Tami Shamir

Shefayim, Israel

Reprinted from e-mail discussion list for RC Community members

(Present Time 184, July 2016)

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