“Wounds into Wisdom: Healing Intergenerational Jewish Trauma” by Rabbi Tirzah Firestone— Ethnic Trauma

Firestone, PhD. Rabbi Tirzah. “Wounds into Wisdom: Healing Intergenerational Jewish Trauma”, Adam Kadmon Books, Monkfish Publishing, 2019. Ethnic Trauma Amos Lassen I doubt that anyone will deny that members of the Jewish religion suffer from ethnic trauma. New research in neuroscience and clinical psychology shows that even when they are hidden, trauma histories (from persecution and deportation to the horrors of the Holocaust) leave imprints on the minds and bodies of future generations. In “Wounds Into Wisdom”, Rabbi Tirzah Firestone “makes a compelling case that trauma legacies can be transformed and healed.” She brings together contemporary neuroscience, psychology, and ancient Jewish wisdom and values, to give us a roadmap for Jews, and all individuals and groups with trauma history, who wish to find and use the power to change their lives. We have case studies and interviews with trauma survivors and their descendants (from Berlin to Shanghai, Cairo to Colorado) to demonstrate what Viktor Frankl called, “the uniquely human potential to transform personal tragedy into triumph.”  Rabbi Firestone is both a rabbi and a psychotherapist and she has studied and counseled many Jewish families and individuals for over 30 years and here she shares how these people have been able to deal with  their tragedies. We all learn something here. We see the ways that past trauma influences and shapes the present regardless of the nature of that trauma. Out of the testimonies she has received, Rabbi Firestone draws seven principles that contain traditional Jewish wisdom and give way to the freedoms we have today. Rabbi Firestone builds on the work of traumatologists that have come before here including Drs. Rachel Yehuda, Bessel van der Kolk, and Yael Danieli. We see how people can transform the residual effects of their families’ painful pasts and change their long-term futures. It is important for us to remember and to be reminded that we have the capacity to rise above whatever devastation comes our way because of our innate wisdom and inner freedom. Collective trauma has impacted the world today and we see this in entire populations being dislocated by war, us with a template for people everywhere to emerge from their tragedies and reshape their destinies. This is relevant not only to the tragic past, “but to the world of turmoil and displacement we live in today”. This is a book for everyone and especially for anyone who has suffered trauma, either directly or in a family whose generational trauma is buried. Reading this helps us  It uncover pain and suffering in order to heal. Humanity has had to deal with death and trauma as a result of the Holocaust and it remains a horrendous event to think about but it is part of history and as Jews it has become an integral part of who we are. Rabbi Firestone shows us how to embrace empathy and compassion which in turn leads us to a “spiritual voice that heals and lifts our souls.” Tirzah Firestone shares ‘resonant truths that hold meaning for today.’ I might note that I do not agree with everything in the book but I am moved by much of what it says. We know that what is happening in the world today opens old wounds and brings new ones and these are issues that we must face but do not always know how to do so. If you have ever wondered if it is possible to come out of a tragedy as a stronger person, then you need to read this book. Not only can we learn to deal with trauma but we can become wiser as a result. Because trauma is painful we tend to try to bury it rather than face it head on thus causing it to enter the unconscious, and it can be passed unknowingly from generation to generation. We read the stories people who’ve suffered extreme pain, faced it head-on, and found a path to healing. These stories mellow our hearts and inspire gratitude and compassion for our fellow humans,. It is also from these stories that we find the tools to make sure the trauma stops. From the rabbi we gain the wisdom of a compassionate therapist and the spiritual perspective of a rabbi who has found her way to the deeper currents of Jewish understanding. We read of Firestone’s own family’s trauma and it is powerful in itself and empowering. We can feel how the rabbi has herself lived through trauma and has even found her way to become a great healer and teacher. While the book is addressed primarily to the Jewish experience of trauma in the twentieth century but I think it can be profound help to anyone seeking to navigate the path to healing from trauma and that is really all of us.

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