In Response to “Therapy and the Jewish Left”: We Still Need Healing and We Still Need Each Other
by Lizzie Busch
Disclaimer: I am the daughter of a psychiatrist. I hope that this will not make me too biased in responding to Danya Lagos’ blog post “Therapy and the Jewish Left”.
When I initially read Lagos’ blog post, I reacted strongly against it. In large part, I was reacting to the basic feminist assertion that “the personal is political”. We cannot separate our political work from our personal feelings. Upon reading more carefully, I assume that Lagos wouldn’t disagree: their argument seems to be that the Jewish Left is focusing on trauma and care to the point that it becomes navel-gazing, and that navel-gazing is happening at the expense of true organizing and political work.
That may be true. My dad’s friend, the late psychiatrist Arnie Cooper, tells this joke:
Q: What’s the difference between the American Psychoanalytic Association and the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union?
A: Two generations.
I remember telling a friend this joke and her sad reaction: the way the Jewish community has turned from collectivism to a focus on individualism. I think this trend, related to some of the forces Lagos names, like assimilation and capitalism, is real, but merits further complication and examination. I do not want to throw the idea of healing out the window: healing as distinct from “therapy,” healing as an umbrella term including a number of different healing practices including therapy and beyond. If the Jewish community has turned from collectivism to individualism, healing can be part of the process to turn us back to collectivism. I believe that healing has the potential to be collective and political. Healing collective trauma and oppression does not merely “distract” us from political work; it can also motivate us and inform our strategies.
Lagos’ article reminded me of a debate within the larger social justice world that unfolded in reaction to a blog post by organizer B. Loewe. His post, “An End to Self Care”, called for activists to stop focusing on an individualized notion of self-care and start focusing on the movement. For him, building movements for social justice should be our way of doing self-care. Many artists, activists and organizers responded by saying it’s more complicated than such a movement-building v. care binary, especially when we are trying to be responsive to disabled people within our movements as well as value care work. I think the Jewish Left, too, is capable of holding a more complicated approach to movement-building. For folks who are interested, I encourage you to take a look at B. Loewe’s article as well as the many responses that came afterward.
I think that internal self-reflection is an important way to address the divisions within our own community. One of the responses to B. Loewe’s article that I appreciated the most, especially as a person with class privilege, was by Caroline Picker. Picker responds to Loewe’s post specifically with regard to people with class privilege, arguing that people with class privilege could do less self-care and make greater sacrifices for movements. I would complicate Lagos’ post in a similar way: who within the Jewish community is being treated with such care? Jews with class privilege who can pay to attend Jewish summer camps or even be members of synagogues? Poor and working-class Jews? Jews of color who are stopped by police while entering synagogue? I saw Lagos calling out a subset of organizations that might mainly serve white, Ashkenazi, class-privileged Jews. That is, I wonder if Lagos’ assertions would also apply to marginalized groups within the Jewish world. Are all Jews treated with such care in the well-resourced Jewish communal world?
As a person familiar with the processes of medicalization and pathologization, too, I did think it was interesting that to Lagos, the Jewish Left’s obsession with therapy is “pathological.” It is a “cultural malaise.” While this may have just been a rhetorical device for Lagos, I think it is helpful to be aware of how we are looking at the problems in our own community. Is the problem of navel-gazing within our community “curable”? What if we took the approach that we find in High Holidays liturgy, that our community is “missing the mark”? Rather than dwelling in shame, could we instead take action?
In defense of check-ins, telling our stories can also be an important part of the community- and relationship-building that is integral to even the most radical organizing. Looking at the gendered aspects of the contours of this debate is also revealing: how are we valuing “care work,” healing and talking about feelings, kinds of work that are traditionally done by women? Finally, movements for social justice are big. They need lots of people doing lots of different kinds of work. We can have healers, and we can also have organizers. We can talk about our feelings, and we can organize, just as we can love our community while also critiquing it.
Lizzie Busch grew up in New York City, lives in Brooklyn, and is on the Shalom Bayit Leadership Team at Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, organizing in support of domestic workers. In her spare time, Lizzie is pursuing a Master’s in Jewish Studies and a Master’s in Public Administration at NYU.