Wounds into Wisdom: Healing Intergenerational Jewish Trauma

“Wounds into Wisdom is for anyone who has suffered trauma, either directly or in a family whose generational trauma is buried. It helps readers uncover suffering and use it to help others—the final stage of healing.” — Gloria Steinem

The lasting effects of individual trauma are now widely recognized. But what of the consequences of extreme trauma on an entire ethnic group? New research in neuroscience and clinical psychology demonstrates that even when they are hidden, trauma histories—from persecution and deportation to the horrors of the Holocaust—leave imprints on the minds and bodies of future generations.

Wounds Into Wisdom makes a compelling case that trauma legacies can be transformed and healed. Fusing contemporary neuroscience, psychology, and ancient Jewish wisdom and values, this work provides a roadmap for Jews, and all individuals and groups with trauma history, who wish to seize the power to change their lives. Gripping case studies and interviews with trauma survivors and their descendants—from Berlin to Shanghai, Cairo to Colorado—demonstrate what Viktor Frankl called, “the uniquely human potential to transform personal tragedy into triumph.”

As a rabbi and psychotherapist who has studied and counseled hundreds of Jewish families and individuals for over 30 years, Tirzah Firestone brings to life these real people who have surmounted their tragedies. From them we learn the many ways that past trauma shapes the present—from the timid young woman who discovers she has been repeating her lost grandmother’s exact words, to the Israeli war hero who has endured decades of terrifying nightmares.

From these moving testimonies Firestone distills seven principles, rich in Jewish wisdom, that mark the way to new freedom. Building on the work of acclaimed traumatologists such as Drs. Rachel Yehuda, Bessel van der Kolk, and Yael Danieli, Firestone shows how people can transform the residual effects of their families’ painful pasts and change their long-term futures. The brave characters in Wounds Into Wisdom remind us of our own human capacity to rise up after devastation and reclaim our innate wisdom and inner freedom.

Wounds Into Wisdom also awakens us to the impact of collective trauma in the world today, as entire populations are being dislocated by war, poverty, and climatic changes. The book provides a template for people everywhere to emerge from the wreckage of their tragedies and reshape their destinies. Relevant not only to the tragic past, but to the world of turmoil and displacement we live in today, Wounds into Wisdom is an essential book for our times.


Available at your favorite bookseller


What people are saying about Wounds into Wisdom

“An explosion of suffering, death and trauma has overtaken humanity during the past century and shows no signs of abating. Rabbi Tirzah Firestone speaks on every page of this deeply moving book with her heart and mind and from the deepest wellsprings of Jewish tradition to find sources of solace to transform wounds into wisdom. Her book spills over with empathy and compassion, forging a uniquely spiritual voice that heals and lifts our souls.” — Susannah Heschel, Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies, Dartmouth College

“Tirzah Firestone’s Wounds into Wisdom offers hope to those whose lives have been shattered by trauma. The question at the heart of this book is this: Can you emerge from tragedy wiser and more free? Her answer eloquently stated and illustrated by powerful stories and profound insight, is yes you can. If tragedy haunts your life or the lives of those who love—read this book; it has the potential to change everything.” — Rabbi Rami Shapiro, author of Minyan, and Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent

“The theory of intergenerational trauma posits that psychological legacies of horror, suffering, and loss can be unconsciously transmitted among generations of family. While the children and grandchildren may not have a direct experience of the initial ordeal, its effects can continue to impact their lives significantly; so much so that they carry the burden of an unnamed survivor’s guilt. The mentality of “never forget” morphs into a place of keeping the trauma alive. Rabbi and psychotherapist Firestone considers the suffering experienced by an entire ethnic group: specifically, Jews in the aftermath of the Holocaust as well as Jews caught in the violence of ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. Of her own life, the author remarks, .”..I comprehended just how a family’s ancestral trauma rumbles through history like a train, depositing its load, car after car, into our newborn skin.” In her experience, silence becomes weaponized, freezing spouses, children, and grandchildren in time, without redemption. Culling together a multiplicity of narratives, Firestone offers seven principles focused on facing and transforming family grief into a coherent, powerful sense of agency. VERDICT Combining religion and self-help, these timely reflections make for comforting reading. — Sandra Collins, Byzantine Catholic Seminary Lib., Pittsburgh

“This book is both a gift of wisdom and an opening of the heart. Representing years and years of feeling research, Rabbi and psychotherapist Tirzah Firestone lets us listen in to the powerful stories of people who have suffered trauma in their lives. She offers us the wisdom of a compassionate therapist whose understanding is broad and deep. But she also offers us the spiritual perspective of a rabbi who has found her way to the deeper currents of Jewish understanding. Running through Wounds Into Wisdom and binding it is an autobiographical account of her own family’s trauma. That account is powerful in itself but it is also empowering—we can feel how the author has herself lived through trauma, and has even found her way to become a great healer and teacher. The book is addressed primarily to the Jewish experience of trauma in the twentieth century. But I believe it would be of profound help to anyone seeking to navigate the path to healing from trauma—which I believe in some ways, is all of us.” — Rodger Kamenetz, author of The Jew in the Lotus

“If we are ever to transform conflict and bring peace to this wounded world, we will need to understand and address collective and intergenerational trauma. In this illuminating and inspiring book, Rabbi Tirzah Firestone interweaves deeply touching personal stories including her own with keen psychological insights to guide us on a journey of awakening and healing our traumas. Highly recommended!” — William Ury, co-author of Getting to Yes and author of Getting to Yes with Yourself

“A very important book. Rabbi Tirzah is a wounded healer. She uses the tale her own trauma in a Holocaust survivor family as a stepping-stone toward understanding survivor stories told by a wide variety of Jews, including many Israelis. But she then broadens the lens, showing how these very particularistic tales of personal struggle and healing may help people of many cultures to deal with legacies of exile and loss. A narrative of deep empathy and much wisdom.” — Professor Art Green, Founding Dean of Hebrew College, Boston and author of Judaism’s Ten Best Ideas, Radical Judaism, and numerous additional titles

“Wounds into Wisdom: Healing Intergenerational Jewish Trauma (Monkfish) by Rabbi Tirzah Firestone is written with empathy, combining research, Jewish teachings, psychological insights, her own family’s stories and those of other Holocaust survivor families.” — NY Jewish Weekly

“Tirzah Firestone is a compelling and genuinely fresh voice, revealing over and over again ‘resonant truths that hold meaning for today.’ I am moved by this book. And even when I disagree with her, Firestone makes me think in a broader way, as she will you.” — Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, author of Jewish Literacy and Jewish Wisdom

“Wounds Into Wisdom is a timely and moving book that speaks to this particular historical moment, when current events are triggering deeply buried trauma and traumatizing new populations. Firestone makes a clear and urgent case for the importance of this work and its application to different contexts, and grounding it in her own family’s story makes the book come alive.” — Judith Rosenbaum, PhD, Executive Director of Jewish Women’s Archive

“With tender compassion and luminous insight, Rabbi Tirzah unwraps the hidden layers of stories, wounds, and wisdom that characterize the global Jewish community. She deftly lifts the complex history of modern Judaism to the light, offering an opportunity for particular reconciliation and universal healing.” — Mirabai Starr, author of God of Love: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity & Islam, Caravan of No Despair: A Memoir of Loss & Transformation and Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics

“Brilliant, beautiful, and compels one to positive action. The people interviewed are so real and lovable…[Firestone’s] writing opens ones heart to healing and hope. This is a book I will read again for inspiration and specific principles to live a joyful, liberated life.” — Dr. Anita Sanchez, author of The Four Sacred Gifts: Indigenous Wisdom for Modern Times

“Drawing on remarkable, true stories and tantalizing psychological and scientific theories that trace trauma in previous generations to subsequent ones, Rabbi Tirzah Firestone makes a strong case that the experiences of past generations live on in us. She provides a convincing case in remarkably clear language. Wounds Into Wisdom is a powerful game-changer in how we will come to view trauma.” — Howard Schwartz, editor of Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism

 “Wounds to Wisdom is a book to share and spread. Rabbi Tirzah Firestone’s compassionate wisdom shines through every page as she leads her readers on a journey toward freedom and healing from communal trauma. Transformation no longer seems like a wishful aspiration, it is birthright we all have the power to claim.” — Rabbi Naomi Levy, author of Einstein and the Rabbi

“…both a labor of love as well as an intellectual tour de force…..One of the important points she makes here, drawing on the new science of epigenetics, is that trauma and its [effects] are felt not only by those who directly experience trauma, but are passed on to their children, and grandchildren. Rabbi Firestone teaches us how to listen, to ourselves and to others. Her book should be read by everyone who wishes personal healing and the healing of this traumatized world.” — Tikkun

“Wounds into Wisdom is a tour de force! Rabbi Firestone has woven together threads of truth about trauma that include her own family’s life-experience of trauma inherited from the Holocaust, the new science of the inherited effects of trauma on genetic material and on the brain, studies of the social impact of traumatic events on large groups of people, and the mystical traditions of Kabbalah about the wounded human soul. She has woven these threads into a shimmering shawl of healing.” — Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of The Shalom Center and author of Godwrestling—Round 2, among 23 other books on religious exploration and public policy

“One of the most valuable new books for 2019. Though it seems at first that it is aimed at health professionals and religious leaders, particularly of the Jewish faith, it has a much wider application. Someone in your family needs this book to help come to terms with the residual effects of complex trauma – trauma that is transmitted, sometimes within a particular ethnic group from generation to generation. Others need this book to understand the seemingly strange and often self-destructive behavior of loved ones, close friends, co-workers, and other victims of psychological trauma who suffer without even knowing why. Rabbi Firestone’s book is intellectually challenging, spiritually rich, infinitely patient, and filled with healing optimism. It offers understanding, strategies for overcoming trauma, and accessible case histories of a varied group of trauma survivors whose paths and personalities will encourage all who seek  recovery and renewal… A lively mind, a caring heart, and a love of Judaism’s profound soul make this a must have contribution to the literature of healing.” — Philip K. Jason, The traumas of our individual and collective pasts do not simply vanish, Phil Jason Reviews Books, May 26, 2019, also published in the June 2019 issues of Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Greater Naples), L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties), and The Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee).

“Wounds into Wisdom” fairly glows with the light that sometimes emerges from a charismatic teacher, but Rabbi Tirzah Firestone is also hard-headed, plainspoken and, above all, deeply courageous. This is not a touchy-feeling self-help book; rather, it is a stirring call to action.”- Jonathan Kirsch, Book Review: Facing Trauma, Personal and as a People, Jewish Journal, June 19, 2019

“There’s a new book, just coming out that I hope every Jew, everywhere, will read. It’s that important.” — Harriett Gross, The burdens of intergenerational Jewish trauma, Texas Jewish Post, July 3, 2019

 “We all fear trauma and take pains to avoid or bury it. As a result, trauma can lodge in the body or the unconscious, and, as Tirzah Firestone writes in this compelling book, can be passed unknowingly from generation to generation, ‘like a train depositing its load, car after car, into our newborn skin.’ The power of this book is in the stories she relates of people who’ve suffered extreme pain, faced it head-on, and found a path to healing. The stories soften our hearts, inspire gratitude and compassion for our fellow humans, and give us the tools to make sure the train of trauma goes no further.” — Sara Davidson, N.Y. Times best-selling author of The December Project, Loose Change, and Joan: 40 years of life, loss, and friendship with Joan Didion

“Not only can this book help Jewish people heal, it can also serve as a beacon for others who have some intergenerational trauma. Because of the wars going on in the world today as well as the issues regarding immigrants to various countries, there’s going to be a lot more intergenerational trauma in years to come. Some of us might be on the front lines of helping these people and most certainly all of us will be impacted for generations. Just as results of the Holocaust remain in all of us, so will the trauma being inflicted today. In addition to trying to stop the damage being done to people, we’d better come to terms with how to heal it and this book is key to doing that.” — Krysta Gibson, Book Review of Wounds into Wisdom, News Spirit Journal Online, June, 2019

“I strongly commend to your attention Wounds into Wisdom: Healing Intergenerational Jewish Trauma (Monkfish Press) by psychotherapist and rabbi, Tirzah Firestone. The many personal and collected narratives she shares compel the reader to reflect in new and helpful ways upon one’s own life, family trauma histories known, and those perhaps dimly perceived–even long after the volume is read. Her writing style is beautiful… Rabbi Tirzah Firestone’s Wounds into Wisdom is an important contribution not only for those affected and the field of psychology, it is also the newest entry in categories such as Jewish Healing, Jewish Cultural Healing, and Jewish Spiritual Healing. This volume will appear beside early works such as those by Rabbi Morris and Mrs. Tehillah Lichtenstein, founders of Jewish Science, Avraham Greenbaum’s The Wings of the Sun, and Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” — Rabbi Goldie Milgram, Book Review: Now You Can Limit the Power of Hidden Traumas, The Philadelphia Jewish Voice, June 3, 2019