Event held to discuss surviving trauma, and the Talmud’s reasons for anti-Semitism
Nightmares, flashbacks, hypervigilance, and negative thoughts persist for some who’ve experienced trauma.
Holocaust survivors pass their genetic changes to their children, according to a 2016 scientific study by Dr. Rachel Yehuda at Mt. Sinai Hospital. Trauma isn’t just from one’s environment.
How a person is treated after suffering trauma is what makes the difference, said Alexander Rand, keynote speaker at the annual Kristallnacht Remembrance at Congregation Machane Chodosh on Wednesday, November 9.
On Kristallnacht (German for “Night of Glass”), 267 synagogues were destroyed, 7,500 Jewish businesses were shattered, 30,000 Jews were taken to concentration camps, and 91 Jews were killed in Austria, Germany, and the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia on November 9-10, 1938.
Herschel Greenspan shot a German embassy delegate in Paris on November 7, 1938, to get the world’s attention after his family and other Jews were kicked out of Germany into Poland. The German diplomat died on November 9 .
“Who is there supporting the victims? Are they cared for, listened to, understood?” “Human beings are tremendously resilient, but a large part of that resilience comes from the support we receive from others,” said Alexander Rand at the Remembrance.
Rand is a licensed and practicing social worker in Brooklyn and a professor at Yeshiva University’s Graduate School of Social Work.
The pain and devastation people experience “become intolerable when it’s kept inside, with nobody supporting the burden.”
“We are social creatures.” “Loneliness in of itself can have devastating effects even before we experience a trauma.” “The need for attachment never lessens.”
Loneliness increases early death by 26% while depression and anxiety do by 21%.
Connecting with people to let them know they are not alone “is one the main ways we can help somebody.” “People naturally want to move forward and often stay stuck, precisely because they never received the support they needed.”
As a therapist, Brand “is fully present with the pain of my clients” but he also “gives over a sense of hope and belief in the client’s ability to recover.” His job “is to sense what the client needs more at that moment.”
“People respond to physical or emotional pain by trying to make it go away or by numbing it,” said Rand.
“Healing will come from being there for someone, connecting to let them know they’re not alone.” “Empathy is being an act of connection. Sympathy is moving away, separate.”
At a shiv’ah house, “try to be there for their pain.” People worry they will say the wrong thing. Some will try humor or change the conversation to take a person’s pain away. Others avoid listening to others’ pain.
The importance is listening. A person can always say to someone suffering how they’re not sure what to say or do, said Rand.
“Rarely do words capture the truth of their experience.” The suffering is more than words can convey, said Rand, who quoted Edward R. Murrow, the first American journalist to see a liberated concentration camp.
“Pray you to believe what I have said about Buchenwald. I reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it, I have no words,” said Murrow in his radio report.
The Talmud (Megillah) gives two reasons for anti-Semitism by way of an allegory, said Rabbi Yossi Mendelson of Congregation Machane Chodosh.
One person has a mound of dirt on his land while a neighbor has an empty ditch. They agree to work together to fill that hole.
The first person with a hole on his land “represents a ditch in his life,” “an emptiness, a gap, some kind of vacancy in his life.”
The other person with extra dirt on his land “demonstrates some kind of obstacle, something in the way,” said Rabbi Yossi Mendelson.
Jews represent a heritage “that is associated with a set of ideals and principles.” That might expose in a person “the emptiness, the question in their own lives: Where is my me? What is my heritage? Where do I come from, and where am I headed?”
The second person, with a mound of dirt, represents something in the way, something that doesn’t allow him to accomplish the things he wants to accomplish. The exaggerated stereotype of Jews controlling the media, finance, and government can be that.
“It also could mean that a person would like to live a meaningless life in which there are no rules, no principles, a life in which reality is up for discussion.” Jews “live our lives with the sense that there is a fundamental truth to the universe. There are immutable rules,” said Rabbi Mendelson.
Rabbi Elisha Friedman of the Young Israel of Forest Hills read T’hilim 130 at the beginning of the evening.
Rabbi Judah Kerbel of the Queens Jewish Center chanted the Keil Malei Rachamim towards the end.
The singing of “Oseh Shalom,” led by Rabbi Yossi Mendelson, concluded the program.
City Council Member Lynn Shulman was at a conference out of town so Kevin McAleer, her Legislative Coordinator and Constituent Liaison, was there in her stead.
By David Schneier