PTSD and Jewish Identity
An enduring passion for Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, has been taken for granted for two millennia as a universally-shared Jewish trait. Learned or not, Ashkenazi, Sephardi or Mizrachi, yeshivische or chassid, secular or devout, man or woman, those of us who pray have pleaded for a return to this land three times every day and those who don’t pray at all also kept it close to their heart. As a refuge, as a fulfillment of God’s promise, as a romantic ideal, Eretz Yisrael has always, even in our moments of greatest discouragement, been identical to Jewish identity.
Ironically, as the western, democratic, world has devolved into the strenuously non-democratic mire of “identity politics,” the one group which, in this wave of ethnic adherence, swims against the stream and prominently features many who loudly and publicly repudiate their identity and celebrate their “independence” from their people is, of course, our own. Of course, these are a tiny minority of the people who self-define as Jews, but given their disproportionate voices in the ubiquitous media, they attempt to lend legitimacy to anti-Israel Jews.
This, of course, stimulates a backlash where their credentials as Jews is seriously questioned. Many in the more traditional wings of our people have taken to referring to them as the Erev Rav, the “mixed multitude” of never-Jewish opportunists who first attached themselves to our people when we were redeemed from Egypt B’Rachush Gadol, with great wealth. Our Oral Tradition blames this group for all our misdeeds in the desert, especially the twin great sins of the Golden Calf and the Spies. Hangers-on, they’re first in line to claim the perceived benefits of being Jewish, also the first to undermine the Jewish people from, seemingly, within. Today, their prominence in the academy and media fits the stereotypes both of “Jews control the universities/media” and “Jewish liberals.”
As a rabbi, especially as an orthodox rabbi, I will not offer a halachic opinion this issue. Not only am I, personally, not qualified, but I question if there is today any legitimately authorized rabbinic organization that can make these pronouncements. Rather, I propose a self-test in today’s current epidemic of savage, murderous attacks on Jews in Israel and elsewhere.
Three times a day, when I recite the Amidah, the centerpiece of each prayer service, I encounter the prayer Rofei Kol Amo Yisrael, where I pray for the healing of the entire Jewish people. Like many, I use a pause in this bracha to insert the names of family and others I’m directly connected with, along with others I’ve been asked to include, for whom I’m personally and specifically asking God for their returned health. In this current wave of deadly attacks, I next think about those who have survived these attacks and are in one stage or another of recovering from their wounds. I realize that just as I’m shocked and in need of God’s loving help when my own relatives are seriously ill, so are the parents, siblings and children of all the victims, both those who have survived and those who, Rachmana L’tzlan, didn’t.
Radiating from the center of the attack victims themselves to their immediate and then extended families and then to their friends and colleagues, to every Jew living in Eretz Yisrael (who are also now living with fear) and, finally, to all the Jewish people who are arevim ze l’ze, interwoven together as one people, to some extent we’re all survivors of this horror together and are, all of us, currently experiencing one or many manifestations of PTSD. Some of us are in the frantic or mourning stage, some of us experience this as rage and anger, many of us are, by now, just numb. To one degree or another, all of us whose neshamot are connected within the great web of Jewish neshamot can’t help but feeling these symptoms at this time.
If you cry with each attack, you’re Jewish. If you scream with rage as well as with pain, you’re Jewish. If you shake your head in sadness and disbelief, you’re Jewish. If each new savagery seems to leave you deeper in a tunnel of silence and despair, you’re Jewish. But if, instead, you just don’t care or if, chas v’shalom, you blame each victim and the family of each victim, no matter your genealogy…..well, fill in your own blank.
Harry Zeitlin is a non-congregational orthodox rabbi. He is also a guitarist and visual artist. Currently living in Seattle, he is looking forward to relocating to Israel.