Translating words and idioms from Hebrew to English can be clumsy, demoralizing, even an uprooting of meaning. Davka comes to mind, of course. על הפנים? לפּרגן My favorite idiom is המבין יבין: “The one who understands will understand”? Doesn’t exactly do it, but it assumes a certain intimacy. A belonging.
My job as a trauma therapist is to empower. But assuming intimacy can result in frustration, which is disempowering. For example, trying to take on the translatability of two post-Black Sabbath war words in use.
“הפּקרנו can mean “forsaken.” “Jilted.” But “stranded” is a word which speaks more to the mood, “we always knew the army would be there.” Conveyed to mean “dumped” or “ditched,” might relieve while calculating the actual human suffering resulting from the predicament of those living a certain number of kilometers from Gaza or Lebanon, versus those a few more kilometers away: they may feel more “neglected.” As a Hebrew snob I say, it’s all of them, used all together! It takes at least five words to express this all-encompassing, heart-breaking הפּקרנו.
The direct translation of מוצף is “flooded”. “Overwhelmed” was the widespread response after October 6th to the question, “How are you?” A case of “too-muchness,” as Jerusalem psychotherapist Julian Zanelli explained: “When we experience too much of certain things, like too much fear, shame, shock, confusion, threat, or stress, our psychological selves and/or our bodily selves suffer this as a threat—psychic or physical— and partially closes down to protect itself.”
Working as a trauma specialist with a team in Eilat this fall, we established a communal lexicon: הזוי described our daily experience working with evacuees who survived an event that feels surreal, hallucinatory, delusional. When I asked psychologist David Senesh how to translate “attunement,” he laughed and said that Israelis like to stick to the English word when it comes to clinical verbiage. (As in נעשׂה בּוא : “reframe,” for you cognitive behavioral therapists out there.) Senesh also suggested using the word התכווננות, as in the tuning of a piano. The therapist’s striving for empathic attunement demands total listening: seeking connection, deferring for a moment to hear the personal story, the feeling the person is expressing. Like a pianist: replaying the note until it resonates? That’s when we get it right.
A word we perceived in another way was “time.” My colleague Yuval said, “Every day here is like a year.” So much happened, so much felt in one day of work. A constant “very-muchness” (as Julian Zanelli might put it), that words were never enough. Or more precisely, there was never enough time for all the kinds of grief felt, and the words to hear and be said.
“Grief” is a short word but a long-term concept. While in Eilat I took questions from 8th graders at the Metro-West Jewish Day School in Framingham, MA. “What stage of grief are the evacuees in?” asked a 13-year-old. “All of them,” I answered. In one day, evacuees may have to give witness statements to police gathering testimony from survivors; hear of the death of a friend originally thought missing; and attend a shiva after burying a loved one—and not in your own cemetery, because that’s a closed military zone. Having to get children to the war school, which is being held in a tent normally employed for hotel weddings. Preparing for what’s next, perhaps a transitional apartment while their kibbutz is rebuilt?
What was the unsaid thing I wish I’d said to just be a little more helpful? To show that attunement extended beyond the exchange of words? Music. This began while helping one Hashomer Hatzair worker who never got enough sleep. I texted him, “Bedtime in one hour!”, following it up with Woody Guthrie’s “Hobo’s Lullaby.” Another I offered was Achinoam Nini singing Leah Golberg’s “Song of the Hyacinth.” I sent the Dud’daim classic, “Carry us into the Desert” by poet Alexander Pen, as a tongue-in-cheek lullaby expressing the absurdity of our Eilat existence. For those challenged by mornings, I might send “Here Comes the Sun,” or “Good-Morning Starshine.”
As for DJ Trauma’s Digital Therapy’s top tune? “Uh Huh,” where Holly Near sings, “I feel so sad, uh huh. I feel so bad, uh huh…I feel so blue, uh huh. Too much to do, uh huh…Breathe in, breathe out.” The best song for the worst moment. It was if Holly had studied the trauma treatment recovery playbook of interventions.
One morning in Eilat, I sing my go-to ditty in the hotel dining room for a buddy of mine: a toddler all riled up by a noisy bunch at the next table. I translate Holly Near’s, “Uh Huh” into Hebrew for the four-year-old. But nothing halts her squirming exasperation. Her face contorts, and out comes this “caterwauling.” A word with dozens of Hebrew similarities, but if there’s an idiom for the howl that reaches across the Red Sea, it is hers alone: “NOOO! YOU-GO-AWAAAAY!” Attempting to utilize the empathic attunement-to-a-child’s-emotional-needs that I aspire to, my response is: “Oh, I get so irritated, too! It was nice and quiet before they came in here–they make so much noise!”
“Lisa,” my little pal looks at me. “Why don’t you just breathe in breathe out like the song says?”