Chaya Passow
Chaya Passow

Everything We need to Know, We Learned in Family Therapy

With all the news (unfortunately, mostly tragic or troubling) of the last few weeks, I wonder how many have paid attention to the Pew Report on American Jews that recently emerged.  Having once been an American Jew (today, I am an Israeli) I discovered that the report contained some noteworthy findings.

There was a blog on the Times of Israel site (“There are more American Jews, and they’re staying Jewish”: Leonard Saxe) that was meant to be reassuring to those who were concerned that the American Jew was disappearing. The article suggested that the Pew study revealed a healthy growth in the numbers of self-identifying Jews since the last study in 2013. Unfortunately, the data may be misleading as the criteria for including Jews in the tally would certainly be called into question by many.

For example, one of the “Jewish activities” that presumably supports identifying Jewishly is “eating traditional Jewish foods.” So, if you like latkes, you might indeed have been included in the total. My orthodox grandchildren really like pizza, Viva Italia!? I’m just saying.

However, one of the findings was indeed troubling. It appears that the majority of American Jews perceive a significant rise in anti-Semitism in the US with 75% reporting their belief that there is more than just five years ago.  Nearly 40 % of Jews have personally seen anti-Semitic graffiti or heard anti-Semitic tropes, aimed sometimes at them, in the previous year. A majority have experienced these secondhand.

All of which perhaps helps to understand the growing liberalization of most American, non-Orthodox or non-affiliated Jews in the US. No one likes to be hated, taunted, or treated negatively. Nor is it comfortable to be identified with a group that is. It is common for the victim of such treatment to try harder to fit in, to be less “reprehensible” in some way, and to better conform to what they perceive as “more desirable” behavior and opinions.

In terms of family dynamics, we might compare this to the situation of the abused spouse who is told by the abuser that they are the ones responsible for the abuse because of their “unacceptable actions”!  The abuser’s excuse is often “I didn’t want to hit you (or say awful things to you) but you made me do it!” And often, it has been noted, the abused spouse will try to change, cutting off family and friends, desisting from outside activities, or keeping a low and passive profile in hopes of curtailing the abuse.

Could we imagine any sane or decent marriage counselor advising the abused party to take responsibility for the abuse and to try somehow to be “less offensive” in order not to trigger the abusive behavior? Certainly not! Yet, hasn’t that been the reaction of non-Jews throughout history, and of many Jews, too. “Perhaps if they (we) fit in better, weren’t so obviously Jewish, were more like us (them), we (they) would treat them (us) differently.” Jews are too troublesome. Israel is too much in the news. Why don’t we just behave better?

In the midst of the constant shelling of Israel by Hamas from Gaza, a headline in today’s TOI tells us that “Rabbinical students urge US Jews to hold Israel accountable for ‘rights abuses’”. It appears that while Hamas is posing a serious existential threat to Israel, 90 Jewish rabbinical students (not from Orthodox institutions the article assures us) decided it was the appropriate time to lob other varieties of destructive projectiles at the Jewish State.

Why is it then, that while no decent or sane professional or friend would advise a victim of abuse to change themselves in order to “make it stop,” this has been the recommended course of action for dealing with anti-Semitism for millennia? And it continues to this day.

I was reminded this week of the 1970 hijacking of three TWA planes by Palestinian terrorists when I met three of the seven members of the Raab family at a Jerusalem pizza store. The entire Raab family, parents and five children, had been on one of the hijacked planes and were held for three weeks on a desert airstrip in Jordan while the hijackers negotiated for the release of other jailed terrorists, including Leila Khaled who had been arrested following a foiled hijacking attempt on an El Al plane. I knew the Raabs because two of their sons had been on the summer tour in Israel which I led in 1970. They had remained in Israel after the tour was over and returned with their family in early September on the TWA flight that was hijacked.

The 1970 terrorist hijacking happened during a period of time when there were several such occurrences, each with the goal of negotiating with governments for the release of prisoners or for other concessions. As long as the governments continued to capitulate, the hijackings continued. It was only when governments agreed to no longer negotiate with the terrorists that the hijackings ended. The 9/11 hijackings were of a different type, as they were not for the purpose of demanding concessions but rather for the horrific purpose of turning the airplanes into guided missiles aimed at mass murder and destruction.

Parents of toddlers know that if their children throw a tantrum in a public place because they are not getting something they want, the wise parent does not capitulate. Any child psychologist will tell you that. It is well understood that, uncomfortable as the scene might be, if you want the behavior to stop you do not reinforce it by capitulation. Why would a small child stop having tantrums if by having them he achieves his infantile goal.

Since I can’t imagine any child psychologist suggesting otherwise, one easily wonders why the same should not apply to terrorism and other acts of evil carried out with the sole goal of negotiating ends which the perpetrators choose not to attempt achieving in normal or peaceful ways. Most likely, because the demands are totally unacceptable. By capitulating to the demands of terrorists, we assure that terrorism continues.  Even agreeing to negotiate in the face of illegal terrorist actions, encourages the evil and perpetuates it.

The author Robert Fulghum wrote Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Perhaps we can extrapolate from what we know or have learned concerning family dynamics and apply those ideas and techniques to the broader issues of dealing with terrorism and anti-Semitism. Instead of empowering the “tantrum throwers” and “abusers” why don’t we act on behalf of the real victims of terrorism and hate and make the Family of Man a much safer and better one.

About the Author
Chaya Passow, a graduate of Stern College, majoring in English literature, taught English at the Hebrew University High School in Jerusalem. A lecturer and teacher of Jewish studies both in formal and informal settings, she is one of the founders of Lomdot and Melamdot, a program for advanced women's Torah learning. Since 2002 she has been living her dream of residing in Jerusalem, together with her husband, Eli, and enjoying being savta to a large cohort of beautiful grandchildren. Her new book, 'Letters from Planet Corona' was published in 2020.
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