“It's been really confusing. It's been painful. And trying to sort this all out for myself is my own work in…really helping me become a better therapist and working with people that are dealing with racial, historical trauma, and cultural trauma, and also just trying to make sense of where we are and where we're going in our society.”
~ Brad Kammer, Senior Faculty and Training Director of the NARM Training Institute
This special bonus episode of Transforming Trauma welcomes Brad Kammer, NARM Training Institute Senior Faculty and Training Director, to introduce listeners to a series of “High Holiday” episodes featuring two different Jewish leaders advocating for healing of cultural and intergenerational trauma for the Jewish people. Brad begins by framing the next two episodes that will focus on the psychological journey and struggle for the Jewish people, as well as sharing about his experience coming to terms with his own Jewish identity through the healing of intergenerational and complex trauma.
Transforming Trauma host Sarah Buino asks Brad to start off by sharing about his own personal experience, something Brad likens to a “coming out”. Brad recognizes that his career in working with complex trauma has been shaped by his own personal journey in healing from cultural and intergenerational trauma, and through this process, he feels he has been reclaiming his identity. Brad reflects, “I’ve spent my life hiding in many different ways and it's come at a cost. And I guess this is part of my wanting to personally proclaim that I'm ready to address these issues…and not continue to pass it down.”
This process has required him to face the realities of othering, objectifying, unwelcoming, scapegoating and existential threats. In his career as a teacher, for example, he says, “I walk into a room, I show up as a teacher and I'm immediately objectified and I'm put into a group that is usually considered “white male”. That is not only NOT the group I identify with, but that has been the oppressor for my people for many, many centuries. Part of the trauma that Jews have suffered is having our identity taken from us and it being defined outside. And so when someone does that to me, it's just a trigger for me.” At the same time, Brad acknowledges that he has used this “privilege” to get by in America. “Jews have tried over the years to act like they fit into the mainstream dominant culture, even though we never have. So me coming out when I'm afforded a certain kind of privilege…it feels scary.”
No matter how much Jews have tried to fit in to the countries they have been forced to live in exile (the “Diaspora”), no matter where they went – Europe, Africa, Americas or elsewhere in the Middle East – Jews have long been objectified, vilified and attacked by the dominant culture. Part of the unresolved trauma for Jews, who have never been safe anywhere they have lived, is feeling that at any point they will be attacked and/or pushed out. Brad reflects, “There are people actively today that want to annihilate me and my family and my people, my children…And like, how do I reclaim that? How do we reclaim that without it being a strategy of fighting, which is what Jews are doing right now in Israel, or submitting, which didn't go well for Jews…[with] one third of our population wiped out when we couldn't fight back. And so we're in a really difficult territory as an oppressed people who have suffered oppression for over 2,000 years now.”
The challenge Brad has faced as an American Jew is that while “right wing” groups have never been safe for Jews, and still aren’t, “left wing” groups have become increasingly unsafe for Jews as well. Brad has been involved in social justice work for many years and is concerned by this recent turn toward Anti-Zionism, which is often inseparable from Anti-Semitism. Many “progressive” social justice groups are now identifying Jews as European, white colonizers, which is another attempt at eradicating the Jewish identity.
Brad differentiates between the psychological and the political, by introducing us to the idea that while Zionism has become associated with the Israeli government, military and illegal activities against the Palestinian people, Zionism at its roots is not a political movement, but a collective psychological attempt of the Jewish people at self-determination. It’s an expression of the right for the Jewish people to exist. Brad speaks of it as an indigenous liberation movement, no different than the Tibetans wanting to return to their homeland after exile by the Chinese occupation. No matter where the Jews have lived during the Diaspora, they have spent many, many years now praying for return to their native, sacred land. For Brad, this dislocation trauma, and the ensuing efforts at annihilating Jews wherever they went for several thousands of years, has left Jews with a heavy burden of intergenerational trauma.
Brad laments that the focus on politics and violence in the Israel/Palestine conflict furthers the problem, that it is too complex to solve simply through politics, and that we need to be looking underneath the political to the psychological, or what’s driving the never-ending conflict and violence. Understanding intergenerational trauma, and how this leads to objectification or self and other, is a place we start in NARM. “We’re not a behaviorally-oriented model because what we focus on is the internal experience that's shaping the behaviors…And I think until we're able to really grapple with the wounds in unresolved trauma on all sides, we're not going to get anywhere.”
Healing complex trauma can be a vehicle for personal and collective transformation. Brad speaks to his process of reclaiming, contextualizing and decolonizing his own Jewish identity, using the NARM concept of “disidentification”. This process of transforming his trauma-based identity has not been easy, but it has been affirming, healing and an opportunity for self-compassion and love. Brad also hopes that this can be an opportunity for increasing connection to the humanity within and between us all, despite all our differences.