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Removing the mask on Holocaust Memorial Day

Yad Vashem Hall of Names. David Shankbone, wikimedia.
(Twitter)

This week, Israel removed the mask mandate as a COVID19 precaution. After a year and a half of traveling on the Haifa-Jerusalem train line I saw the faces of my fellow passengers. I saw their smiles and I saw their yawns. I saw their relaxation and I saw their frustration. This week is also Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day.

Spending the last two years masked, specifically among those who we are less intimate with, has reinforced the importance of actively seeing the nuances of facial expression in order to connect. While some of my psychologist colleagues worldwide did not see the mask as a barrier to therapeutic connection, I felt limited in my ability to be fully present with my patients’ experiences. We compensated and often succeeded, but it was tough.

When sitting on Zoom, I lost the nuances we translate from full body non-verbal communication and the intimacy which comes from fully sharing a physical space. A deep belly breath missed with the camera focused on the face, a jittery leg, a relaxed posture or legs wrapped around the chair. When shielded by a mask I also lost an important actor in the theatre of emotions which play out on the face.

This year on Yom HaShoah we have the opportunity to hear the few remaining survivors, face to face. To hear their stories, to see their stories and to bear witness. COVID19 has made it easier than ever to connect worldwide, to break down physical barriers and “witness” others’ experiences, seemingly up close. The accessibility of the news, reporting with cellphone cameras and Skype have made it faster than ever before to “witness” atrocities and relate.

But we are not there. We are not witnessing with all our selves and we remain detached from the horrors playing out worldwide. The news moves at a rapid pace but the horrors of war and social destruction continue even when the cameras stop rolling. This year make an effort to sit face to face with a survivor because that opportunity is fleeting.

About the Author
Anna Harwood-Gross is a Psychologist and the Director of Research at METIV-the Israel Center for Psychotrauma in Jerusalem. She has a private practice in Zichron Yaacov
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