Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
"It feels like they've returned from a different planet"
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"It feels like they've returned from a different planet"

How traumatized is Israel going to be as (or when) we emerge from this war? We turned to one of Israel's leading experts on PTSD to find out, and heard some surprising and reassuring insights.
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Transcript

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In today’s podcast, which we’re making available in full to all, we address the question of whether Israel as a society writ-large is going to find itself in the grips of a national form of PTSD. We turned to Professor Danny Brom, one of Israel’s foremost experts on trauma to learn more—we did, indeed, learn a great deal, and also heard some surprising and reassuring insights.

Before we get to that, though, a brief sampling from this weekend’s press that gives a sense of the national mood. And then our schedule for the week … and then, the podcast.

This illustration, one of many such drawings and photos that peppered the Israeli press this weekend, is from Makor Rishon (https://www.makorrishon.co.il/opinion/735291/)

Anyone reading this week’s Israeli press could not help but notice one issue that seemed omnipresent—the draft of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) young men into the IDF. Drafting the Haredim has, of course, been an issue for decades, but due to political considerations and fear of Haredi outrage, Israel has consistently kicked that can down the road.

It appears that those days may be over. We’ll cover this in much more depth on Thursday.

Several factors have sparked a widespread outrage at the status quo. Some of it began to percolate even during the Judicial Reform protests, when hundreds of thousands of young Israelis chanted the rhyming phrases

im lo yihyeh shivyon
napil et ha-shilton

If there’s not going to be equality, we’ll bring down the government.

“Equality” meant many things in that context, but equality of “sharing the burden,” as it’s commonly referred to here, was most definitely one of them. But then came the war, and with hundreds of thousands of young people called up, many sent into battle, and with the losses mounting, the notion that an entire segment of Israeli society can simply “exempt itself” from military service is striking more and more people as unthinkably obscene.

What may have tipped the scales, though, is a new IDF request for a change in the law that would extend regular military service for both men and women, and would quintuple reserve duty for many. Israelis understand that the army needs more manpower, and many are willing to serve—but not if the ultra-Orthodox keep getting a pass.

The issue of the Haredi draft is but one of the many political issues that is beginning to heat up. Another, not surprisingly, is the growing call for elections (and with them, many assume, the toppling of Netanyahu). The hostages, and the belief held by many that Netanyahu is turning down deals for his own political purposes, is further fueling the flames.

A few Israeli comedians this week noted that the desire to continue the war for their own personal needs is ironically something that both Yihyeh Sinwar and Benjamin Netanyahu have in common. What Sinwar (who is known to follow Israeli TV and media carefully, as he speaks fluent Hebrew after years in Israeli jail) thought about the skits, we not know. What we do know is that Bibi was not at all amused or pleased. Which, of course, gave many others deep pleasure.

In short, as the war rages on (and the north remains an enormous looming issue), some of the political divisiveness Israelis somehow managed to put aside for a few months is returning.

To give a sense of what’s brewing, from a very moderate and level-headed column, here’s a portion of the weekly column by Ari Shavit (one of Israel’s leading, very centrist journalists) from Makor Rishon this weekend.

… in this fifth month of the war on Israel, the Israeli spirit is challenged. When “lions” and “lionesses” [DG - men and women soldiers fighting the war] are released from reserve duty, they are appalled to discover on the home front winds of hopelessness, buds of defeatism and a return to factionalism. When the soldiers doing regular army service finally get home to recover a bit, they cannot help but wonder why the ultra-orthodox are still not drafted, how tragedy of the abductees has morphed into a source of political controversy.

Has the time really come for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to return to petty politics, incite against the media and isolate his partners in the war cabinet? Has the time really come to flood the country with huge billboards placing all the blame on one person? Is that we have already defeated Hamas and repelled Hezbollah? Do we really want to go back to our civil war when the war for our very existence is still being waged?

We are coming to crossroads: the primary national asset that allowed us to come to our senses, recover and overcome is in danger. The Israeli spirit that turned everything around is now under attack. The politicians are back to their old ways, and they are trying to divide the people. The extremists from both sides are doing nothing to restrain themselves, and once again sow seeds of hatred and condemnation. Both the right and the left are dealing with nonsense again. Both ministers and journalists seem to have forgotten where we live. Wrong paradigms, delusional conceptions and unrestrained behavior patterns have returned to the center of the arena. Our terrible politics means that we may lose a historic achievement, and intensify with our very own hands the existential threat that still faces us all.

Throughout his life Netanyahu has wished to be Winston Churchill. Therefore, perhaps the time has come to refresh his memory: the first and most essential action that the British leader performed when he was appointed prime minister was to address his staunchest political opponents and invite them to be full partners in power. Although a member of the Conservative Party, Churchill gave the Labor leaders two of the five places in the War Cabinet. He appointed Labor leader Clement Attlee as deputy prime minister. Being a leader of historical stature, he understood that without true unity it would be impossible to defeat the Nazis and save the free world.

What was true in the battle for Britain is true in the war for Israel. If the ultra-orthodox parties think they can return to the draft-dodging ethos of October 6, they are wrong. If the right thinks that it can impose on the Israeli majority a world view of a minority, it is greatly mistaken. If Netanyahu thinks he can go back and be Tricky-Bibi—he is hugely mistaken.

The opposition and the leaders of the protest must bite their lips and overcome the their unfortunate tendency to the “anyone but Bibi” mantra, and the government and its leader must immediately start to take the high road. The Israeli spirit will not forgive those who turn their backs on it again.


We shall see.


Israelis are facing an unfolding crisis, but also an important opportunity to rebuild. If you would like to share our conversation about what they are feeling and what is happening that the English press can’t cover, please subscribe today.


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MONDAY (2/19):   A new video is making its way around Israel, with a new look at the Nova music festival at which hundreds of young Israeli people were murdered. It’s a powerful video, with much footage that hasn’t been seen before. We’ve added subtitles for our readers, along with some photos I took during my recent visit there.

TUESDAY (2/20):  The last of the reserve units that first went into Gaza are now being pulled out, and Israeli news carried a fascinating interview with some members of one of the very first unit to go in—and the last to come out. The soldiers have some powerful messages for Israeli society—some of which may surprise you.

WEDNESDAY (2/21):   We will run the second half of our interview with Ari Harow, author of the new book, My Brother’s Keeper, and once a close political advisor to Benjamin Netanyahu. Harow has great respect for Bibi as a leader and statesman, but some very surprising things to day about what he things Bibi SHOULD do now on the political front versus what he thinks Bibi WILL do. We’ll have an excerpt for everyone, and the full conversation with a transcript for paid subscribers.

THURSDAY (2/22): In this past weekend’s papers, one story was front and center—the drafting of the ultra-Orthodox into the army. Even among the religious non-Haredi population, patience has run out. We’re going to present two articles, some politics ads, a comedy routine and memes making their way across Israeli social media showing how attitudes have shifted and are continuing to move … even among the religious right.

FRIDAY (2/23):  Finally, we’ll close out the week with a podcast, available to everyone, with Michal Cotler-Wunsh, Israel’s Special Envoy for Combatting Anti-Semitism. It’s an enormous and daunting task, so Cotler-Wunsh outlines her strategy.

Dr. Danny Brom (Courtesy)

Professor Danny Brom is a clinical psychologist and founding director of the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma of Herzog Hospital in Jerusalem, Israel. Known in Hebrew as Metiv, Professor Brom’s Center has helped thousands of people, including many veterans, who otherwise might not have been able to live the functioning lives that they do. Originally from the Netherlands, where he founded a psychotrauma center, he also founded and served as chairman of the Israel Trauma Coalition.

Among his work is the oversight of academic research of the prevalence and condition of post-traumatic stress disorder among combat soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces; his most recent book is The Trauma of Terrorism: Sharing Knowledge and Shared Care, an International Handbook.

How deeply traumatized is Israeli society likely to be after the horrors of October 7 and the war in which we find ourselves? Are we going to be a nation in the grips of national post-trauma syndrome, or is there reason to hope or expect that we will prove more resilient than that? To hear from the person best equipped to help us understand what we will soon be facing, we turned to Professor Brom.

We’re making this full conversation available to all our readers and listeners.


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Dr. Danny Brom, who we were fortunate enough to speak with a couple of years ago, I think it was in June 2021, shortly after the violence between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs in May 21, is the founding director of Metiv: The Israel Psychotrauma Center. He is an internationally renowned expert on trauma and resilience, especially in the face of terror and disaster. Metiv is a fascinating organization which is doing really critical work in general in Israel, but now, especially. Israelis were obviously all witnessed to Hamas's brutal attack on October 7th and are feeling a sense of profound shock with the country at war and everyone has really been affected.

As among the leading experts in trauma in Israel, Metiv is working to treat survivors, to support soldiers, parents, teachers, community levels, and, as we'll hear in today's conversation, fascinatingly arguing that Israel is not a PTSD society. We are a society that is shaken, but Danny will explain to us, it is very important to think of Israel not as a society of people who need treatment, but as a society of people who need to learn how to dig deeper in order to find the resilience that we're going to need in the coming months and probably years.

I’m very grateful to Danny for taking time out of what is an unbelievably busy schedule these days to tell us more about the work that they are doing and more about his assessment of what Israeli society needs at this unique time in Israeli history.

So, Danny, first of all, thank you very much for coming back and having another conversation. You and I actually had our first conversation right when Israel from the Inside was really just getting started. We had our conversation, I think in June 2021, which was right after the trauma of May 2021 with all the internal violence in Israel, which now seems like in a different world. And it seems like a petty problem compared to what we're dealing with now.

You are, as we said in the introduction, really one of Israel's and the world's leading experts in PTSD treatment and theory of treatment and so on and so forth. And this is a society that is asking lots of questions about trauma in a non-clinical way, trauma in a clinical way, PTSD. So, let's talk first of all a little bit about the kinds of settings and the profiles of people and groups that you're now dealing with that five, six months ago you might not have imagined you would need to deal with.

Well, first of all, thank you for having me.

It's really a pleasure.

So, Israel is in a very different place after the 7th of October and in the ongoing war, and we've done a lot of work over the past 15 years with combat teams coming out of service and how to transition into civilian life. Now we're in a different position. Now, we have people who've been in combat, active combat, for three months, and now they get a month or two months off, and they come into society and they look at the world and say, “wow, is the world still going on?” Because what they've seen and what they've experienced and what they've done is just horrific. And they have to understand, how do I do this transition? How do you do that when you know that you have to transition back into the army in a number of weeks?

So, we got a lot of requests from combat teams who are now in Gaza and who already say in two weeks we're coming out. Can you do a workshop for us because we really don't understand what this is. How do we see the world now through the eyes of combat? And we have to treat our children and we have to meet our wives and we have no idea.

Who is making these requests? Is it coming from the commanders? Is it coming from regular soldiers? Who's reaching out to you?

Actually, it's just the regular soldiers and the social workers who work in the army that say, we hear they really need something. Can you do something? In the beginning of the war, actually, it was the army reaching out to us.

Which is a good sign, right? That an army takes trauma seriously?

Yes. The army has really recognized the importance of what we do. The “masa shihrur”, or the peace of mind program, that we do together with the Jewish communities in the world, and they started co funding that, but now it's different and they do recognize the need. And so, we built a program together with other NGOs, and now we're starting to do that. And then the army forgot a bit about this, and so we're just starting and not waiting for anyone because the guys are coming out now.

What are you seeing with these people that are coming out?

Well, what people are saying themselves is, you know, I don't understand this world. They're just looking, and they don't know what to expect, really. They come home and it looks as if they come from a different planet. That's how they say it. Now, what I've seen is really horrific. And not only, to be honest, it's not only the soldiers, but also police forces who were active on the 7th of October and so many others that have seen things that you never want to see. So, you have to in some way put that somewhere and process it, if that is possible, and create sort of a story about it from what is this? And there are many different stories now about it. There are people saying, “oh, this is the Holocaust”, which is a very hard story. Not sure it's the best story, but there's no good thing at all in all of this. But it tells you, we are not going to let people do this to us. And that becomes, of course, very violent. What can you expect? There are people who are trying to adopt a different story of what is this conflict and things like that.

People being the soldiers? People at home?

Everyone. At this moment, I heard about an army team that came out, and one of the members knew a Holocaust survivor and said, let's go there. And they went, before they went home, they went to talk with this Holocaust survivor and asked them, is this Holocaust? And what I've been told is that he said, guys, this is not Holocaust. We are in a different place. Yes, they've done atrocities, horrific things that were also done in the Holocaust, but this is not a Holocaust. I found that a very moving story.

I'm very moved hearing you. It's not a Holocaust because why? We can defend ourselves?

We have an army; we can hit back. We're not in the same position. And basically, what he also said is be careful not to put that label on it because it brings you to a very different position. I found it also very thoughtful of the team that they would go to hear this.

And has this helped the teams? Whether it was going to visit this Holocaust survivor or any of the other interventions, your sense is that it's helping these people make the transition back?

So, yeah. Now it's only starting. Now, the interventions that a lot of organizations are actually doing, two days, mostly two days or three days, just before they go home, just relax. Just if they can, just understand how your body feels full of adrenaline and how every small stimulus basically tells you they're attacking me again, everything is dangerous. And then how do you go back into the world and in your home and in your own bed and understand, or your body needs to understand that this is not a place where you immediately get murdered.

Right. Now, look, the demobilizations are just really starting. We're just a handful of weeks into the major demobilizations. So, it's early. I know it's early. We don't have lots of data yet, but from, this is obviously your world. What are you hearing about these men? Mostly men, a few women, but mostly men who are going home to wives or girlfriends, maybe children, again, anecdotally, not necessarily in a research level, but what are we hearing about what's happening at home?

Yeah. So, they're really saying it feels like I come from a different planet. I look at my kids and I hardly recognize them. And we hear from the wives, they say, this guy comes in after three months. I hardly recognize him. And everything is different. Now, I think in Israel, everything is different at this moment.

Right. We'll come back to that. Yeah.

So, people ask themselves, what is happening with me? Is this wrong? Do I need treatment? What do I need?

Well, do these soldiers typically need treatment? Or would you say this is it’s clinically interesting because it's a natural process, but they're going to be okay?

We know that that combat soldiers after they've been in combat, most of them will be okay. 10%, maybe 15% will have long term problems and we need to take care of them.

Well, 10 to 15% of tens of thousands of soldiers who went into Gaza is a huge number.

Huge number.

Do we have the resources in Israel to give them the treatment that they need?

I'm not sure.

Wow.

We do a lot of training at this moment. There's so many. It's as if this is the first trauma. Suddenly we get from all kinds of hospitals, can you do a trauma course?

So, who are you training? Who are you training to offer this treatment?

Mental health professionals, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists. And it’s amazing how many people now suddenly say, I want to learn this. It's good. But it's almost strange. What we didn't have trauma before? So, I'm looking at this and then there is the idea that so many people say that all the soldiers need treatment and that's wrong. And it's not only wrong because it's factually wrong, it's wrong as a message. It's wrong because basically you say, count your symptoms and if you have too many symptoms, then you're in trouble. So, you make people worried and you look at yourself in a way of looking sort of a witch hunt for symptoms. And what we need actually is a different language, a language that says, how do we cope with this? How do we support each other? How do we stay a vibrant society? Because we are.

So, the interesting thing with these soldiers, is they say, when I'm in Gaza, I don't have a lot of feelings, I don't have deep thoughts, there's no philosophy, it's survival. Day to day, hour by hour, and I can do that. I don't know how it goes automatic. And then when you come out, you think, oh, what was this? Was this me? It's the transitions that are so difficult.

And it's another complication here, because with thousands of these soldiers, my son actually among them, they're coming out, but they know they're going back in.

Exactly.

And how does that complicate the transition?

So basically, we're talking about survival mode, which is a hardware mode in our bodies. If you're in danger, it comes up, you don't have to learn it. You do exactly what is necessary without thinking, without feeling, you just do it. And then afterwards, you need to integrate the feelings because they are there somewhere. Now, we are built for survival, human beings, and the army can sort of shape it a bit.

But you don't have to learn survival mode. What we do have to learn is how do you get out of survival mode? And why would you do that? There's no survival value to it. That's why you will find a lot of former combat soldiers who will never sit with their backs to the door in a restaurant. You won't even notice it because it's natural. They will just not do that. Sort of remnants of survival mode. Now this in and out and in and out, that is a problem. And basically, the system in our bodies, then says, I'm staying in survival mode. I'm not going to risk myself by relaxing.

Even when I'm with my spouse, I'm not really with my spouse.

Yeah. And that is a problem. We are talking, we had some lectures for the wives of combat soldiers, and they're very worried because they come home, and they really don't feel the same. They're rough, they have a short fuse. And then what do you do? Because the wives also went through a lot. They are fearful for their husbands, and they have to take care of the kids.

There's usually an economic impact also.

Yeah. It's a societal problem, basically, to see how can we create systems of care. That doesn't say everyone needs individual therapy.

Okay, so we'll come back to community resilience in a bit. But in addition to these soldiers, Metiv, the organization that you created and that you run, and which is so central, has been seeing a lot of soldiers. But you told me that you also visited a hotel. There are these hotels. Let's talk about, that's a whole different population with very serious trauma. Right? I'm not saying it's clinical PTSD trauma. I'm just saying it's a population in trauma.

It's a population that was forcefully removed from their homes within a few hours. It didn't take a lot. And then they're in a hotel, and when you hear about hotel, you think, oh, nice. But after you're there for a week and two weeks and three weeks and two months and three months…

And your whole family in one or two rooms. So, it's hardly a romantic vacation.

Exactly. So, we accompanied one hotel that had 400 rooms and over 1,300 people living there. And no way to do anything. You cannot cook, you cannot do your normal things, so you're there without anything to do. So, we looked at that and we started to develop programs for that, but people were not interested in talking.

They wanted to do something.

They want to do something. So, the best program that was basically done was the wife of a psychologist who works with us. She went with him to the hotel, and she started swimming lessons for the children and for adults, and that became a hit. Everyone wanted that. Just doing something and feeling you're accomplishing something, which was the thing to do. And it certainly was not, the need for a psychiatrist was not very high unless there were previous problems. But you see in these hotels, people walking around like zombies. No one tells them when they should be able to go back or when they have to go back. There's a lot of discussion now in the government and they're fighting over, some say just send them back. Well, you want to go back while still rockets are falling?

I kind of doubt most of them would go back, although if they don't have a financial choice, they might.

Yes.

So, I know that Metiv recently, I don't know how recently, but relatively recently moved campuses. Why'd you move? And what did the new facilities allow you to do?

So, Metiv is affiliated with Herzog Hospital, Herzog Medical Center, which is in Jerusalem at the entrance of the city. And they basically built a building for us where we have something like 35 rooms, which allows us to really enlarge our team because also we're now a central place for the rehab department of the Ministry of Defense, for the whole area around Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. So, we are really awaiting an enormous wave of referrals of former soldiers, and we are preparing ourselves to give a wide range of services.

How many people a year can Metiv treat in any meaningful way? I guess there's different kinds of treatment obviously, but…

Yeah, well, we see a few thousand people as individuals, and we're also starting more and more groups.

And you're meeting with these soldiers or groups and so forth?

Yeah, that is besides that. I mean, we were supposed to do 40 groups of Peace of Mind in 2023. We had to postpone 16 of them because they were in October to December. So, 40 groups is about 600 soldiers. The need is enormous, and we will have to get back and basically also in the middle of the program, they're being hosted by Jewish communities all over the world. So, we really need that connection also. And I think Jewish communities nowadays also need to feel the presence of Israel in a good way. And the Peace of Mind program is exactly what does that.

Look, we're talking, 350,000 soldiers were called up. I don't know the exact number between the north and the south that actually went into combat, but it's many thousands of people. It's many, many thousands of people. We have about somewhere between 150,000- 200,000 people who are internal refugees, so to speak, displaced people from the north and the south. You start to add up these numbers. You're getting to a very, very big number of people, to say nothing of people like you and me, who are just at home, working, but heartbroken about what's going on to this, what happened on the 7th, what's going on in this country.

Let's talk about Israeli society writ large. You're the expert. What do you think? We're going to look back and say that in 2023, in the last months of 2023, what started? Are we going to be different? Are we going to be able to get beyond this relatively quickly whenever the war ends, whether that's in a few weeks or months, in a year, who knows? Or is this going to change us in some way for the lifetimes of many of the people that are now sitting around tables?

So, I think that for the first time in many years, maybe in 1973 there was something similar, we felt that our existence is really in danger. Enemies basically conquering parts of the country and murdering families. So, we really were conquered. And that brings a lot of fear of, what is this? And then we sort of lost our ideas of, oh, what are we doing here? How do we live here if this is the possibility? We have our safe rooms. And after the 7th of October, many, many people started to create a lock on the inside of your safe room.

Yeah, we bought one. We bought one.

And you think, and it's insane. But that's what you do.

Right, it sounded insane. So, my son, who's in a special forces whatever, said to me, he sent me a link. They were selling them on Facebook, you should buy this. And I said, you know what, Avi, first of all, they're all sold out by now, I'm sure. And second of all, I don't live in the Gaza envelope. I live in Jerusalem. I don't need it. And he wrote me back and he said, Abba, you don't know who's coming into your house from East Jerusalem or right across the West Bank, 3 km from you. So go out and buy one. And we did. It was a different kind, but we bought one of these gizmos. So, we're all feeling a vulnerability in a crazy kind of a way. Until my son said buy it, I would have thought, what do we need it for? But we do need it, I guess. Who are we going to be?

So that is a very large question. One thing that we shouldn't forget is, besides the crappy and horrible things that have been happening and are still happening, there is an enormous amount of volunteering and good stuff, good energy coming out of the people.

The home front has been unbelievable.

Yeah. And it almost sounds like I heard someone saying yesterday, the country nowadays is run by the people, which is interesting, and we shouldn't forget that. And the question is, how do you contain that and continue that? And that is a major question.

So, we sort of discovered a capacity for resilience, right? I mean, we discovered a lot of those organizations that have been formed during the whole judicial business transformed themselves into chamalim or citizens civilian command centers. Israel already had before the war, the highest per capita rate of nonprofits of any country in the world. So, we have an instinct about helping and getting involved. But something developed now in the last 90- 100 and whatever number of days. So, you're saying we have to figure out how to keep this going.

Yeah. Starting on the 7th of October, a sort of frenzy started in Israel, saying, and even the president said, at some point everyone needs treatment.

The president of the country?

Yes, and government ministers said things like that, and I became very worried. Now, I set up a lot of trauma services in Israel. And so, I found myself in a strange situation that saying, now, wait, this is not reality. Let's think a bit about what we need. And I got together with two very interesting colleagues, two other centers, one in Tel Aviv, one up north, Professor Mooli Lahad and Professor Nati Laor, and we started to think about what actually do we need right now as a society? Because there will never be enough therapists to give everyone therapy. That is insane. It doesn't happen, it's not realistic, and it's the wrong message, as I said.

So, we started to think about how do you create resilient communities? And we created a program called Ta’Atzumot. It's difficult to…

Yeah, it's hard to translate.

But the literal translation is fortitude, but the idea being that we want to basically teach local communities, cities, local authorities, to create collaborations within and get them to strengthen all kinds of fields. And we're thinking of the field of education. What are the kids going through? How do you strengthen them? Community health and mental health, of course, this is part of it, but also, and that is new for the thinking about resilience is culture. A vibrant community also has cultural activities and creating that and maintaining that is very important. And also, we're thinking about how do you support not only financially, but small businesses.

So, we created a very comprehensive program that we're now going to pilot in a number of cities in order to see how can we hold each other, because that is what is needed. After trauma you don't need a therapist, you need people in your environment to hold you and get through it and build stories, like in communities you can do community theater, playback theater, all kinds of things in which people can build their stories and not necessarily cry out for therapy.

Why is the story so important?

Well, that is what we do naturally.

That's what we human beings do?

Human beings do after trauma. You have to understand what happened to me, and how do I know that it won't happen again tomorrow? So, the way human beings do that is also by letting their bodies get rid of the survival energy, but also by creating a story, understanding and thinking about it. And I'll give you an example of it. Once I worked a lot with people after traffic accidents. And when you talk with them a year and a half later, they said, they say, well, you know, the first few weeks I didn't dare to drive again. And then someone said, if you don't go back to driving, you'll never drive. No one knows if it's true, but it works. So, I started to drive, and now a year and a half later, I can drive 120 km an hour like everyone else here. We're in Israel, right?

Which may be why they got in the accident in the first place. But that's another story.

Okay, but I'm okay now, except for where it happened and where it happened, you know 100 meters before I slow down, I really look well, and another 200 meters and then I'm free again. And then you can ask yourself, what is that? If you ask the same person, is that the only place that is dangerous? They'll say, no, not really. But they build a story which has an illusion in it, like the danger is over there. And if you build that story, then you're free in other places. And we live with positive illusions. It won't happen to me. I'm an okay person. Once there was a research many years ago that 95% of drivers say that they drive better than the average. So, that's how we live in this world and live with the dangers, you know I'm okay.

What's the national story we're going to tell ourselves?

So, that of course, now the question is, we're still in the middle. And I hope in the middle and not before the middle even. Who knows? I don't know what story we will be able to build. That is a major question. And to be honest, I hope that government thinks about that, because the story that at this moment we live with doesn't fit.

Well, it's not a good story right now.

It's not a good story. But then you have, “together we will win”, and no one feels we are winning in any way. So, we do need to think about what will be the story? How can we help people build stories that are helpful? And there are many ways to do that, but it happens also in an automatic way. I know that there are also organizations more on the religious or on the side of helping people feel spiritual connection, that are now doing programs in all of the communities that were displaced, which is interesting, which is good. So we need a lot of work on recreating, revitalizing communities because we are beaten down. And you feel that.

I had a friend coming over from New York who said, this is a very different energy. There's always this frenzy energy in Israel, which is sort of attractive. And at this moment, there's sort of a depressed energy and people not knowing, where is this going, and there's no one holding this or telling us what no one can really say. So, it's frightening, but we can do things. We can really bring people together. And that is, at the end of the day, that is what people need during and after trauma.

The analogy that you gave to this driver who was in an accident, when they get back to that spot, that's the place where it brings everything back. I'm trying to imagine Simchat Torah next year.

Exactly.

Whenever I walked by where I was when I first heard the explosions and we were kind of kibitzing with each other, we were actually at shul outside and we heard it and we were like, well, what could it possibly be? We were kind of joking around. We were a little bit worried, but we were mostly not worried, because what could it be? And whenever I walk by there now, when I think about what was going on in those kibbutzim at the moment that I was sitting on a plastic chair with my tallit on, kibitzing with my friend about what could it possibly be? I think of the horror that was unfolding every time I walk by there and I park my car right in front of there almost every day, I get chills, a little bit of feeling guilty that who was I to be sitting outside chitchatting when, I mean, obviously, what did I know, right? But are we going to experience another mini round of national trauma come Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah next year?

Yes, I think that there will be a lot of feelings around there, and now it's close to Yom Kippur, which reminds so many people of the Yom Kippur War.

And it was exactly 50 years, we finally were saying, I actually kept the paper from Yom Kippur, not because I obviously knew what was going to happen, but I thought it was such an interesting paper that people were saying, 50 years later, we're finally done. There were articles that said it took a half a century, but the Yom Kippur War is behind us. And then a week later…

Yeah. So, the question then again is, how are community leaders going to lead that? Because you need to give it a place. Because if you don't give it a place, it's all over. But if you can give it a memorialization, if you can make a ritual about it, then you have a chance that it won't overwhelm you.

So Metiv, the organization that you created in head, is going to play a critical role in that, right? I mean, in other words, it's going to be one of the major national resources for helping people think through how to do this?

Well, I hope that with this big idea of Ta’Atzumot, that we can really influence also leaders, mayors, and heads of local authorities to think about this in a well-regulated way, in a cultural way, in an almost philosophical, spiritual way, so that it won't just fly all over the country and people feel lost.

Have you reached out to them yet as an organization? I mean, has Metiv reached out to mayors, regional councils?

No, that is the plan.

That's the plan.

That is the plan. And it's a big idea, but a very hopeful idea. It doesn't speak only about psychopathology and PTSD. It talks about coping. It talks about, we've gone through the Holocaust. Not everyone needed treatment after. People started to speak on the mirpeset [balcony] on Friday night, with each other. I've heard that from survivors. Maybe there was a need for more therapy than was available then. But not everyone became totally post traumatic. Now, you have very, very bad memories, and sometimes you're reminded of it and you don't like it, of course, but there are ways to give it a place, and human beings know actually how to do that. So, I'm very worried about you know there are many resilience centers now, and they've become treatment centers, and that's a wrong message again.

Right, we don't need treatment, we need resilience. And there's a difference between.

Yeah. And how to do that. There's a whole methodology…

It's fascinating because Metiv, which has been known for so long as one of the leaders in PTSD, is actually now as an organization under you saying, well, of course PTSD is an issue and people need treatment, and we're going to continue to provide treatment. But don't jump into thinking that this society is PTSD. Think about this as a society that has to actually cultivate the skills of resilience.

Yeah, and use the energy that is there. There is a lot of... I don't know if to say positive energy, but it is.

Yeah.

It is. The volunteering, the philanthropy, it's enormous. And that is really important to look at and understand and harness it. So that is the idea.

Well, look, I hope that it's hard to know when anybody's going to have share of mind. If I was a local mayor or regional authority, whatever, I have my hands full in this war now, whether I'm in the north or the south, or it doesn't matter where you are, everybody's got their hands full. So, it might be the case that right now, not a lot of people would have a bandwidth for you know Danny Brom reaches out and says Metiv has an idea for building resilience, and I might think, okay, well, whatever. But hopefully the day will come where people will really have that bandwidth and then you and your colleagues are going to be situated not only to help individual people who need therapy, which of course there will be, but to help a country, so to speak, recognize that it doesn't need therapy, that it just needs to heal.

But that we can heal together.

Yeah.

Togetherness is important, and not only as a slogan that together we will conquer.

Right, “biyachad n’netzeach,” which is on all the TV screens, “will win together.”

Yeah. And no one really believes that at this moment. That's one of the problems. If you don't listen to the people, then you can really miss what they need.

Well, maybe what we need to do is understand yachad n’netzeach, we're going to win together in a different way. And winning being, we're going to live together. We're going to survive this. We're going to make it. We will be resilient. And you and your colleagues are going to be at the helm of that.

But that's a hugely important message, I think, both for Israelis and for our listeners, many of whom are outside of Israel, to understand that a country that is very sad and brokenhearted is not necessarily a PTSD country, not necessarily a PTSD society. So, we have to be very careful about the language that we can be traumatized, but perhaps not clinically traumatized.

Every one of your listeners went through all kinds of things, and the first thing is not to you know “where's my psychologist?”

Right. It's where's my resilience?

Yeah. You look for your people who are close to you, or sometimes you just won't talk to anyone. That's also fine, as long as there is movement. And then that's what we need. We need to keep it moving in a sense that we're not afraid that the end of it, we'll all be post traumatic. No, in the end, we will come back and live with each other and go back to have culture and go back to be productive in our work. And we need transition. And that is our main challenge at this moment, how to do transitions.

Wow. It's a fascinating, for me at least, a fascinating lens through which to look on what we're going on here, the transition for soldiers who are coming out and going back in the transition for people stuck in these hotels who think they're going home but not sure they're going home. And the transition for a country that says, as you said before, maybe we're at the middle of this war, but maybe we're at the beginning of this war, who knows? And so, this is a fascinating and really, I think, very optimistic way of thinking about this country, even in the midst of the darkness that we all feel. And for what you've done for Israeli society for many, many years and what you've done for many individuals for many years and what you're now helping us think through as a society for the future, really very grateful to you for what you do and for telling us your story. And we hope you and Metiv and all of your colleagues will continue to have the enormous impact on Israel that you've had in the past. So, thank you again.

Thank you very much.


Impossible Takes Longer is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and at other booksellers.


Music credits: Medieval poem by Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Gvirol. Melody and performance by Shaked Jehuda and Eyal Gesundheit. Production by Eyal Gesundheit. To view a video of their performance, see this YouTube:


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Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
Israel from the Inside is for people who want to understand Israel with nuance, who believe that Israel is neither hopelessly flawed and illegitimate, nor beyond critique. If thoughtful analysis of Israel and its people interests you, welcome!