Shocks and Aftershocks
The Importance of Process Post the Takana Proclamation
By Special Guest Writer: Professor Joshua Werblowsky M.D.
The writer is a clinical psychiatrist living and practicing in Jerusalem.
When a beloved leader crashes, the fallout is not confined to him and his immediate family. There will also be serious consequences for those who have aligned themselves with him and his worldview.
During the 35 years I have practiced clinical psychiatry, I have worked with individuals, communities, VIPs (very important persons) and with what I call VVIPs (very, very important persons), dealing with the aftereffects of trauma, including the “fall” of leaders who influenced broad Jewish communities.
In that context I have presented communities with an educational plan to accept the “fall” of their leader and to take responsible action with regard to the aftereffects. The essence of this plan is awareness of the nature of the necessary process. Attention must be paid to all feelings and statements in order for the process to progress successfully.
The process will include the following stages, which may overlap or reappear: numbness; denial; sadness, leading at times to depression, and anger, leading to a sense of betrayal. The ultimate goal is acceptance of reality – however disappointing or disillusioning – and healing. And finally, growth of the individual and the community.
Initial reactions to trauma or loss vary from denial to numbness. Denial can be best exemplified by statements, which I have personally heard, such as: “It’s impossible!” “I don’t believe it!” “ He could never have done those things.” “He was so important to me and still means so much to me.” “It didn’t happen.” “How could it be that a leader of this stature, who appeared to be full of love and caring for others and was such a warm and an excellent Torah teacher who related to all Jews, do the things that are described by Takana.”
The consequences of the allegations made by the Takana organization regarding Rabbi Mordechai Elon are still reverberating around the country and abroad, and will be felt for some time to come.
Some may blame the source of the revelations, no matter how professional it is, of being motivated by its own personal agenda. Others will just be numb, attempting to push the entire issue aside as if it did not occur, and may refuse to discuss it.
Those who have been able to get past the denial stage may have several different reactions. The first one is sadness and a sense of a deep personal loss. This can lead in some cases to a serious level of depression and even clinical depression. Others will begin to experience anger, at times to a serious degree. Some will feel that they have been betrayed. They may then identify the betrayal of their trust with what the VVIP stood for. If the individual who “fell” was a religious leader, they may question all religious leaders and even the religion itself. In unaddressed cases this can lead to giving up their religious orientation.
Some will remain in the numb stage. Others will remain in the denial stage. Still others will remain in the sad to clinical depression state and be unaware of the etiology of their feelings. Those who are angry may also wind up being irritable and angry with others, unaware of the source of their anger.
With appropriate awareness of the shock and resultant aftershocks, through the appropriate educational process, individuals and communities will be able to reach a new equilibrium, a new reality, and will learn and grow from the experience. Some will understandably need counseling to deal with the loss of the important figure in their life and the loss of trust in others in a similar role in their lives and community framework.
One memorable example of this healing process is that of an artist who came to me following a trauma. He wanted to paint a picture expressing his feelings about the ordeal, but found himself unable to commit anything to canvas. During the course of therapy he attempted to paint several times, but could not complete the picture. Over time, as he dealt with his need to deny the trauma, and went through the stages of sadness and anger, he was able to paint a composition that truly represented his experience. It was, objectively, an unattractive scene, but in the painter’s words, “It was true. It was reality.” As a result of the process of therapy, he found that his paintings had deeper significance and he subsequently considered himself a better painter.
Following the Elon revelations, many people remain in the denial stage. However, I have not seen any direction taken publicly by leaders of the community post the initial disclosures.
In order to alleviate the public and private trauma, I suggest that the following steps be taken: use this information as the educational basis to enable teachers to respond to their students’ questions in a helpful and supportive manner; arrange for educational groups, roundtable discussions, and workshops to be available to deal with students’ evolving feelings and responses .In addition, offer advice and support to rabbis and community leaders on how to deal with their members’ ongoing reactions.
The awareness of the process required in adjusting to trauma is the cornerstone that will form the basis for healing. Steps in the process cannot be skipped if we are to reach a new equilibrium that will allow for a healthy and respectful relationship with our rabbis and leaders who will remain our role models.
Judaism is greater than any particular leader. Let us use our G-d-given abilities for helping and not harming.