Stopping the Trauma Train IV


Last night, I traveled backwards across the dateline, having slipped behind the exotic curtain of Japanese culture for two eye-opening weeks.

The impetus for my journey was an invitation from the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research to participate in an interfaith roundtable on the topic of Warrior and Pacifist Traditions in the Three Abrahamic Religions and Buddhism.

Our circle was composed of about twenty faith leaders and scholars from around the world—Tunisia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Syria, Norway, Japan, Great Britain, Israel and Palestine—all engaged in some of the most pressing issues on the planet: ethnic violence, nuclear disarmament, post-war rebuilding, massive homelessness.

What was mine to contribute? God knows my decade of human rights work in Israel-Palestine has been a downhill struggle. What I had to share of hope was from a different quarter, a new voice of Judaism, not mine alone but that of a rapidly growing number of Diaspora Jews.

It is the voice of a new—and ancient—Jewish identity, one that harks back to the Patriarch Abraham and the Hebrew Prophets, for whom justice was inextricably interwoven with peace. It is the wisdom of ancient rabbis who knew that militarism and political zealotry were antithetical to the spirit and purpose of Judaism. And it is a Judaism that gratefully drinks in the teachings of Buddhism—mindfulness, non-violence, and forgiveness—as a vital reminder of our own tradition's wisdom of peace.

But this blog is about trauma, which visited our Tokyo meetings each day like a dark cloud. There is surely no shortage of injury in the world, but in our global circle last week, it was the Israel-Palestine deadlock that personified our human scars. Each day we witnessed a defiant outburst, an ironic retort, an agonized plea for recognition without succor or result. We sat immobilized by the pain.

Interlocking bodies of pain, I thought, two cultural trauma patterns that both cry out, each one blinded to the other by its own pain and desperate struggle to survive and be recognized.

How cheap it is to simply listen, to offer the other his or her human dignity! Yet for those of us who are traumatized, extending even this modicum of honor is not possible.

One of the scholars put it this way[1]:

The human family is on a journey, navigating epochal changes, the likes of which have not been seen for 10,000 years.

The question is: Do our religious traditions assist or hinder the human family at this most critical time? Do they persist in motivating humanity's tribal nature, or do they train us to cool our minds of anger and agitation, help us listen, recognize, forgive, and rediscover our connection?

Our faith traditions must move forward!

One thing I know: A new/ancient Judaism is emerging today that might push us across the dateline, help us to resist the regressive current pulling us back endlessly into our tribal narratives and the numbing, reactive trauma patterns that await us there.

The heart of our world, indeed the life of the world, is pushing us all forward. Let's leap into her waves.

[1] Joe Camilleri, Professor Emeritus, La Trobe University, Australia

Tirzah Firestone