By Judy Siegel-Itzkovich |
Although the suffering of many immigrants from Ethiopia in the past 30 years is well documented, treatment for their resulting psychological trauma has been minimal.
Psychotrauma certainly isn’t new to the Jewish People. Unspeakable, nightmarish experiences suffered by Holocaust survivors as long as 75 years ago remain fresh in their minds and have been passed on as trauma even to the second and third generations.
The painful experiences of Ethiopian Jewish immigrants are still vivid and raw up to three decades later.
Although many compared themselves to the ancient Israelites on the Exodus from Egypt, Ethiopian Jews weren’t running away; they were courageously pursuing their dream of the idyllic Jerusalem on which their parents had raised them. Yet murder, rape, illness, starvation, robbery and separation from loved ones during the prolonged passage through Sudan to Israel created bitter memories. Once they settled here, poverty, unjustified doubts about their Judaism, discrimination, changed roles and a government establishment often lacking compassion and cultural sensitivity have prolonged the suffering of many. A total of 135,000 Jews of Ethiopian origin – immigrants and their locally-born offspring – are living here and establishing their roots, but the in-between generation of newcomers is the most fragile.
Their cause was taken up by an unlikely team – Prof. Danny Brom, the Netherlands-born psychologist who founded the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma of Jerusalem’s Herzog Hospital, and 47-yearold Asher Mekunnet Rahamim, a social worker who left the Gondar region of Ethiopia at the age of 13 and as a social worker pioneered in organizing 40 Herzog psychotrauma groups of his compatriots. It remains the one non-profit organization systematically relieving the anguish of Ethiopian olim with help from professionals of the same background.
“The workshops are run the same way groups of Holocaust survivors have discussed their traumatic experiences,” said Brom, “and they are often discussed by the family at home. The discovery that they are not the only ones to have suffered from traumatic events eases their pain.” The groups, some of which were videoed, meet for about a dozen sessions for three hours at a time.
Academics began to pay attention to the problem, and a thick volume called Social, Cultural and Clinical Aspects of Ethiopian Immigrants in Israel was produced in Hebrew by the Jewish Agency and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Press. Written by BGU psychiatrist Prof. Eliezer Witztum and Beersheba psychiatrist and hypnotherapist Dr. Nimrod Grisaru, it was also translated into English.