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Dissertation Title:

Transforming Jewish Historical Trauma: Tales of Choice and Redemption


M. Tirzah Firestone Friedman

Date, Time & Place:

December 15, 2015 at 12:45 pm
Room A, Ladera Lane campus


Traumatic wounds do not simply disappear over time. The results of war, starvation, and racial abuses imprint themselves biologically and psychologically within individuals and entire cultures, carrying forward unwittingly to new generations. This dissertation studies the transgenerational effects of Jewish historical trauma in the wake of protracted anti-Semitic persecution culminating in the Nazi Holocaust. The author examines Jewish cultural trauma sequelae through the lenses of neuroscience, depth psychology, and autobiography, and proposes that a form of collective post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has eclipsed essential Jewish values such as the tradition’s longstanding commitments to justice, human dignity, and Tikkun Olam—repair of the world.

Part One lays out the problem of trauma’s impact on the Jewish culture beginning with a synopsis of anti-Jewish abuses in Europe and a psychological study of scapegoating. An analysis of PTSD characteristics such as hyperarousal, dissociation, and the compulsion to repetitive injury provide a backdrop for understanding the psychological phenomenon termed the Jewish cultural complex.

Part Two encompasses a search for Jewish survivors of cultural trauma who have defied normative responses such as racial bias, fear, hatred, and a desire for vengeance. To this end the author interviews Jews who are Holocaust survivors, have suffered from Israeli military violence, and have lost children to acts of terrorism. Ten narratives reveal common themes experienced on the journey of integrating and transforming Jewish historical trauma into wise, moral leadership.

Seven explicit steps include: harnessing the power of pain; compassionate critical inquiry; making a home with dissonance and finding kindred souls; resisting the call to fear, blame, and dehumanize; diffusing and redirecting Jewish chosenness; facing evil; and (re)claiming a new/ancient vision of Judaism. These steps provide a hopeful means by which Jews and others who have suffered from extreme cultural trauma can begin to correct distortions and return to the essential ethos within their traditions.


Parking is available on the Ladera Lane campus, therefore shuttle service is not available.

Please be mindful of students on campus in class and note that dining room service is not available for oral defense attendees

Thank you for your kind consideration

  • Program/Track/Year: Depth Psychology with Specialization in Community Psychology, Liberation Psychology, & Ecopsychology, Track P, 2010
  • Chair: Dr. Mary Watkins
  • Reader: Dr. Aaron Kipnis
  • External Reader: Dr. Carl Hammerschlag
  • Keywords: Anti-Semitism, Children Of Holocaust Survivors, Jewish Historical Trauma, Transgenerational Trauma, Cultural Trauma, Collective PTSD, C. G. Jung, Jewish Cultural Complex, Tikkun Olam, State Of Israel