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Rachel Yehuda: Intergenerational Trauma and Healing



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In this episode of the 18Forty Podcast, we pivot to Intergenerational Divergence by talking to Rachel Yehuda, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience, about intergenerational trauma and intergenerational resilience.


In many ways, Oct. 7 reactivated a sense of Jewish trauma that many of us had never experienced in our lifetimes. And yet, it was a feeling that we somehow felt we were returning to as Jews. In this episode we discuss:


  • How does trauma get passed on across generations?
  • How do the Jewish holidays teach us to cultivate resilience from within trauma?
  • How can the Jewish community be more adept at handling traumatic events?
Tune in to hear a conversation about how, together, we find the courage to continue.Interview begins at 11:01.

Dr. Rachel Yehuda is a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience, the vice chair for veterans affairs in the psychiatry department, and the director of the traumatic stress studies division at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Dr. Yehuda also established and directs the Center for Psychedelic Psychotherapy and Trauma Research. Dr. Yehuda’s research on second-generation Holocaust survivors, showing the epigenetic effects of trauma across generations, has made her a seminal figure in the field of intergenerational trauma and resilience.


The Rabbi vs. the Jewish People” by David Bashevkin“Yonatan Adler: What Archeologists Find

David Bashevkin:
Hi, friends, just another reminder from our sponsors at Twillory. We love, love Twillory, and you can get all sorts of amazing gear from them, special for 18Forty listeners. $18 off all orders of $139 or more, open to any new customers only. Use the discount code 18Forty. That’s either 1840 or 18, F-O-R-T-Y. $18 off all orders of $139 or more, open to all new customers. Thank you so much to our friends and sponsors at Twillory.

Hi, friends, and welcome to the 18Forty Podcast, where each month we explore different topic balancing modern sensibilities with traditional sensitivities to give you new approaches to timeless Jewish ideas. I’m your host, David Bashevkin, and this month we’re exploring intergenerational divergence. Thank you so much to our series sponsors. Once again, our dearest friends, Sarala and Danny Turkel. I am so grateful for your friendship and sponsorship.

This podcast is part of a larger exploration of those big, juicy Jewish ideas, so be sure to check out That’s, where you can also find videos, articles, recommended readings, and weekly emails. We have spent the last series talking about mental health, and I’m so grateful to our sponsors, Andrew and Terri Herenstein, for their support, friendship, guidance throughout. This episode is almost the borderline that is now transitioning to our topic that we return to every year before Pesach, and that is intergenerational divergence where we explore families, parents, spouses, children, and how they navigate their differences, their divergences, the way that they individuate and separate from one another while still staying together, while still staying a cohesive whole.

Of course, I am so grateful to our series sponsors once again, Sarala and Danny Turkel. Their support year after year means the entire world to me, and I’m really so grateful to all of our sponsors because it’s really what helps us going and allow us to continue day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. We’re doing this now for our fourth year returning to intergenerational divergence, and I wanted to take a moment to talk about why we return to this topic each and every year specifically before Pesach. First and foremost, Pesach, Passover is the celebration of the formation of the Jewish family.

It is when in Jewish thought and also in Jewish law, we actually celebrate the formation of the Jewish people, not as a religion, but actually as a family. This is bolstered by so many fascinating sources, none of which we really have time to get into right now. But I’ll first just mention we have a weekly initiative called Reading Jewish History in the Parsha. We have an audio each and every week that you can get on the All Parsha app. That’s the OU’s weekly Parsha app, as well as a weekly writeup, an email that you can subscribe to reading Jewish history in the, reading Jewish history in the

If you go all the way back to our essay on Parshas Lech Lecha, it is all about the story of Pesach, the promise of Pesach, and the formation of the Jewish family. It is no coincidence that Meir Simcha ha-Kohen of Dvinsk in his commentary Meshech Chokhmahon on Parasha’s Bo actually points out that the sacrificial lamb, it’s called the pascal lamb, the Korban Pesach that is brought the seminal sacrifice that all of the Pesach service was about. He writes in Parsha’s Bo that the first Korban Pesach that the Jewish people brought, actually functioned not only as a Korban Pesach but as a Korban that used to be brought when we converted a Korban of gerus, of conversion.

Because Pesach is really when we transitioned and transformed into a Jewish people, a Jewish nation, and most of all a Jewish family. Part of family is not just what binds us, but it’s also the lens through which we see our differences. The closer we become, the more cohesive we become, the more our differences are accentuated. From a distance, all Jews may look the same. From a distance, all may look the same. All modern Orthodox Jews may look the same. All non-Orthodox Jews may look the same. When you get closer together and you really bind together as a family, you really see those differences. Within an actual family unit, siblings, one becomes a doctor, one becomes a lawyer, okay, you’re both professionals. But those distinctions become highlighted within the family unit and I think they’re so important to talk about. That is the second reason why I think it is so important to return to this topic each and every year, specifically before Pesach.

That is not because just the Jewish people as a whole are considered a family, but I think the family unit preserving and solidifying the family unit gets to the very heart of everything that we are trying to do in 18Forty where the winds of modernity that uprooted so much of that more insular shtetl life that the Jewish people were preserved and familiar with for centuries became uprooted with modernity. We had larger institutions, our geographic boundaries became so much wider in this global world. The institution that I think faced the most challenges because of modernity is actually the family unit itself. The family unit, which was the repository of Jewish wisdom, of Jewish tradition, that mimetic tradition that we talk about so often that preserves the feelings of Yiddishkeit. The sensibilities, the sensitivities of Yiddishkeit in many ways became uprooted because necessarily so because of modernity, we needed to build institutions, we needed schools, we needed major synagogues, we needed membership in national organizations that began to spring up all around the world.

But I think the unit that preserves Yiddishkeit in the most authentic, sincere, almost effortless way is the family unit itself. If 18Forty is about building bridges from old worlds into new worlds, it’s about helping people clarify what identity means in a modern world. It’s about building bridges between academic ideas and our lived experience and pop culture. But more than anything else, it is about centering the family in our lives and the potential that the family has as the holy of holies of our religious lives as the most important institution that even through all of the incredible institutions that modernity has brought us, that we have very much needed, that in many ways has saved Judaism.

Both in Israel and in America, the institution that is often overlooked but is so important to explore and understand, particularly because of so many of the differences that we’ve never really had to deal with in this way in the family unit, in the way that we diverge from one another, the way that we diverge sometimes from our communal identity, the way that we diverge from our institutional identity, what is so important is that family unit which really serves as the bridge of identity between our institutional lives and our individual lives.

It’s that most important bridge that sits at the heart of so much of our work at 18Forty, which is why I am so excited to introduce this episode. We are now beginning an exploration of intergenerational divergence and we have an incredible series lined up for this year. Of course, you can go back to our archives and explore the past episodes on intergenerational divergence that we’ve done in previous years. But today’s episode is really from a world-renowned scholar whose expertise is on a topic that unfortunately the Jewish community knows too much about in our history and in this very moment. That is intergenerational trauma, how trauma, how difficulty, how crisis, and most importantly, how resilience can be passed down from one generation to the other. This is not the first time that the larger Yehuda family is being mentioned on 18Forty.

We did an episode over a year ago where we interviewed an archeologist Dr. Yonatan Adler in an episode called What Archeologists Find. In my introduction to that episode, I discussed an article that was written about the Chazon Ish who was really one of the leaders of the Jewish people, one of the most renowned leaders of the Jewish people of the last century had an instrumental role in setting up the modern State of Israel as we understand it and how it is integrated in Halakhic observance. An article that appeared in tradition in 1981 entitled Hazon Ish on Textual Criticism and Halakah, which we discussed at length in the follow-up in the back and forth, was written by none other than Zvi A. Yehuda.

He grew up in the house of the Chazon Ish and would have these conversations with him. He wrote an article about the approach of the Hazon Ish to Textual Criticism and Halakah. If you go back and look at that article, and of course, we can link to it, there is a very brief note in that article and it says, “The following article is excerpt from a letter sent by Professor Yehuda to his daughter. Another part of that letter appeared in our summer 1979 issue.” That first article, which we didn’t mention in that original podcast is also absolutely eye-opening and fascinating and I want to mention it now because I’m sure most people don’t even know it exists. That article, which was in the summer 1979 issue in Tradition, that’s volume 18, the first issue was entitled Hazon Ish on the Future of the State of Israel.

That article also is appended with a note. “The following article is excerpted from a letter sent to his daughter by Professor Yehuda who teaches Bible and Talmud in the Cleveland College of Jewish Studies.” Professor Yehuda’s daughter, to which he sent this letter about the Chazon Ish’s views about the State of Israel and Halakhic criticism based on archeological finds. That daughter, of course, is today’s guest, and that is Dr. Rachel Yehuda, who is the professor of psychiatry and neuroscience of trauma at Mount Sinai.

She’s a recognized leader in the field of traumatic stress studies, PTSD, and intergenerational trauma. Of course, if you wait till the very end, because I couldn’t help myself, we talk about that letter that her father sent her from the Hazon Ish, but most of all, we talk about her incredible work exploring intergenerational trauma and resilience, how each generation and the crises and the difficulties that each generation has experienced and no generations and no community knows this like the Jewish community, quite sadly, even in this very, very moment, the traumas that we are still recovering from on October 7th.

Without further ado, here is our conversation on intergenerational trauma and resilience with Dr. Rachel Yehuda. I wanted to begin, your field of research is in intergenerational trauma, how different generations one of the next pass on, so to speak, trauma to the next generation, and how we build resilience around those traumas. I wanted to begin by just understanding a little bit more clearly what does it mean intergenerational trauma. Does that mean the experiences that I go through are somehow passed on through my genes to my children? What is the mechanism through which trauma is passed on from one generation to another?

Rachel Yehuda:
Let me just unpack some of what you just said. First of all, my expertise is not really an intergenerational trauma at all. I started out being a trauma researcher and I’m interested really in the effects of trauma. I started out working with Vietnam veterans and then wonder to myself whether what I was seeing in Vietnam veterans was what I could expect in other traumas. The big trauma when you’re my age in Jewish was the Holocaust. I mean, that seemed to be the biggest human suffering or tragedy that I could imagine.

David Bashevkin:
For sure.

Rachel Yehuda:
So I began to study Holocaust survivors just to see similarities and differences. In the course of doing that work, many children of Holocaust survivors identified themselves to me and said, “Who are really casualties of the holocaust? Us.” I found that notion very intriguing and decided to study that. Specifically, what do they mean by that? So we opened up a clinic for Holocaust survivors and a lot of Holocaust offspring called us. That’s really how this came to my attention.
We could have said, “No, sorry, this is just for your parents.” But we didn’t do that. We thought, let’s invite people to tell us what they mean by being affected by the Holocaust. That began a very big research program where first we found that there was more vulnerability to depression and PTSD and anxiety. Then as we were trying to investigate the biology of this, we started to see many biologic symbols or signs in Holocaust offspring as we would see in PTSD.

Intergenerational trauma is a term that I did not coin, but is a term that is very generic and it refers to the idea that offspring might inherit, but I’m putting inherit in quotes. The effects of trauma as they experienced their parents having effects of trauma. Some of that might have sunk in. It doesn’t need to necessarily be a biologic thing. Having a parent change as a result of a cataclysmic life event can change who they are and make them very different parents-

David Bashevkin:
For sure.

Rachel Yehuda:
… because of a trauma like that. But as we started to explore the molecular biology of trauma and got into epigenetic mechanisms, we began to see that there might be more to it than that. That work is still very much forming, but it seems to have been very validating for people who believe that the experiences their parents or even grandparents have had affect them also.

David Bashevkin:
This is something that obviously many in the Jewish community, it happens to be that I don’t have any grandparents or immediate relatives who went through the Holocaust, but I think Jews and any minority group that preserves memory and history like we do is going to have some after-effects of just the previous traumas that generations carry with them. I’m wondering if you could share a little bit about some of the broad effects that you noticed specifically in the Jewish communities you studied of what do the children experience when they have parents who are Holocaust survivors.

I remember I worked for an organization called JACS, which was Jewish alcoholics and substance abusers, and I remember they have different meetings for people who are struggling and their families with alcohol and drug abuse, and they had a separate meeting just for children of Holocaust survivors who were obviously coping with substance abuse. I’m wondering, not asking are they more predisposed to alcohol or drugs, but what is the effects of growing up with a parent who has trauma? How does that affect the child?

Rachel Yehuda:
I’m going to answer that question, but I will say two things before I give you that description that you’re looking for. One is that doesn’t have to be the Holocaust. The Holocaust is a very specific exemplar, but the Holocaust is not the only familial trauma that can occur in the family being displaced, having to flee refugees. I mean being in other war-torn experiences or even when something doesn’t happen to a group of people but is a profound trauma that occurs in the family that could also have effects.

The other thing I just want to make sure we talk about Jews, and that is primarily who I have studied in the context of this work, but there’s no reason to believe that this isn’t a universal phenomenon, and that’s a very important thing to say so that we can develop empathy for everybody based on the historical context in which they live.

Some of the biggest consumers of this information have, in fact, been the African American community or other people that have been displaced by war or have been involved in other traumas. So I just want to make a pitch for that. But I haven’t studied those groups. So I tend to talk a lot about what children of Holocaust survivors are like. Here too, we have to be careful because there’s not one way, it depends a lot, believe it or not, on the severity of PTSD symptoms in the parent. It depends on whether mother, father, or both parents were exposed and also the age at which the parent was exposed, all those things. But it looks something like this.

Adult children of Holocaust survivors are more finely attuned to the possibility of danger and threat. They see it before somebody who isn’t a Holocaust offspring will see it. They’re very attuned to the possibility that even though things are good now, that might not last. So they walk around with this inner dread that even though things are fine, they may not be fine tomorrow. That is a tremendous and profound burden.

David Bashevkin:
That term you used inner dread is a powerful term.

Rachel Yehuda:
Yeah. Does it resonate?

David Bashevkin:
It does resonate.

Rachel Yehuda:
You can’t even be cozy with the good. The way one offspring described it to me is, “The other shoe is going to drop, the rug is going to be pulled out from under me even though I now have this beautiful rug.” So that you can’t settle into a post-war feeling that everything is fine or that we’re done with that chapter and everything is good now. So that’s also an issue. The other thing was that because often parents were symptomatic, offspring had a choice, most of them became caretakers of their parents, not necessarily a role they volunteered for, but a role that they had to do.

I mean, they had to develop strategies for, let’s say, outbursts of anger that might’ve been very justified or might’ve been hyperreactions to what parents were going through, or they had to tread lightly in navigating areas that would lead to tremendous sadness or affect or crying or panic or hysteria. So they became very attuned to their parents and had to compensate a lot for maybe things that their parents weren’t up for. Many parents have life lessons that they prepare their children for, but the life lessons of as one Holocaust survivor put at University of Auschwitz are very different from the life lessons that somebody might prepare their child for in a normative suburban environment. They became consumers of a very different information, especially good at detecting fear and detecting threat.

A lot of Holocaust offspring also were very interested in not being victims themselves. A lot of them were interested in the martial arts or how they could protect themselves or strategies that they would have in case something happened. What would they do? It’s not necessarily a bad thing if you’re living in a time of adversity, but in a time that there is very little adversity, people can think that you’re being a little maybe paranoid or maybe a little bit over-suspicious or something like that.

These behaviors that offspring developed were really done in preparation in some way for the idea that what happened to their parents might happen to them. Many did not necessarily believe they would be spared what their parents had been spared. So they just prepared for these things. A lot of Holocaust offspring also became caretakers professionally, mental health workers is not an accident or even advocates, and lawyers very plugged into themes of social justice, very eager to notice and also try to resolve differences or sufferings that people have as a result of racial indignities or the things that their parents experience. That I think is a very profound idea that if you are raised in a home where you’re not a stranger to suffering, one thing that you might do is try to be part of that solution. So I think that’s also a very strong quality that we saw in Holocaust offspring.

I guess the biggest thing that we noticed was that many offspring seem to have some difficulties in interpersonal relationships, particularly when it came to ending them, that fear of being alone, fear of loss or separation, divorce, breakups weighed very heavily on offspring. So we certainly noticed that. A lot of times if you were Holocaust offspring and you did not choose to be in a relationship or married to another Holocaust offspring, there was a sense of maybe being torn between your identity as a child and the things you had to do for your parents who needed you and you knew it and your obligations to your new family. When somebody doesn’t have parents who had those needs, that might’ve caused some, I don’t know, conflict or challenge to navigate around.

David Bashevkin:
Obviously, the subject of your research, there’s a sadness to it, but reading through some of your writings, there is something deeply optimistic and quite powerful and uplifting. One could look at this notion of intergenerational trauma, and we look at our own community and you say, “When is the cycle going to end? If the children can inherit, then their children can inherit theirs.” There’s this concept in the laws of Shabbat called a Keli Sheni, which is when you pour hot water into a second cup as it’s still hot enough to really heat something up, and we keep on pouring our traumas into the next generation, in the sense, are we stuck in this?

I’m curious if you could talk a little bit as we move our conversation, not just to talk about the existence of trauma, but the possibility of resilience and the strength that emerges from trauma. How do you view that question of like when does the cycle end? Do we look for an end to it, or do we look to cultivate resilience from within trauma?

Rachel Yehuda:
Oh, that’s a great question. I love Keli Sheni as it applies to the effects of intergenerational trauma. I wish I could use it more broadly because it’s really a great metaphor for the fact that the effect doesn’t necessarily have to be compounded, it could be diminished. I’ll give you even another way to think about it. The way that I like to think about it is that if our parents or grandparents suffered because of the things that happened to them and they develop ways of getting through it, of surviving it, then what is passed to us are some of those survival and coping strategies so that what we retain is a form of ancestral wisdom, which again, it could be a mismatch between our current environments, but the intention I think is to prepare us for the worst. When the worst occurs, those gifts might help us a great deal.

They might help us reality test better, prepare for what is needed to do. I mean, who would you rather be in a battle with? Somebody who’s been in battle before or somebody who’s fighting a war for the first time, that kind of thing. I do view a lot of the effects as ancestral wisdom, and I also think the part of the reason that I see it that way is because it’s an inherently Jewish way of viewing it. I mean, when we think about our holidays, we’re about to enter Pesach pretty soon. Our holidays are really about commemorating and memorializing our national traumas, the traumas that we were able to survive and then overcome. So it’s not a religion where we want to put all those things out of our minds completely. We want to forget that we were slaves. We want to forget that we had harsh beginnings.

We actually want to remember them, but we want to remember them for the purpose of showing that we can survive them and that what we have now is the water from the Keli Sheni, no matter how bad it is, it’s not what it was. We are able to look at it from a vantage point. Sometimes there is suffering in the Jewish people or in our personal lives as we enter Pesach and sometimes things are good. So those are two very different moods. But in neither case do we want to forget. So there’s a difference between remembering a trauma and not being able to forget it or carrying it with you always. So what I think Judaism does brilliantly is it understands that we really are the sum total of our personal and collective histories, some of which are traumatic histories, and that we want to memorialize those things in a time and in a place, you know, a yahrzeit, that day, those 25 hours but not more.

We want to stay in morning for Shiva and then a lesser form for the 30 days for Shloshim. Maybe for the year to say Kaddish or not quite the year. But then we have a timetable that tells us that recovery will happen and is possible. What that means is that even if we have effects, they’re not static effects. These effects are going to morph. They’re going to change. So even if the effects of trauma seem very hard and overwhelming to carry with us at the time that the trauma is happening or immediately, thereafter, the burden should lessen and the tools that we have for coping with those traumas should help us actually do that in times of adversity.

I do think that research in general has provided a positive message, and that’s really how I have interpreted a lot of our biologic results. I mean, trauma is really bad, so we tend to think of the effects of trauma as bad too. But when you have something bad happen to you and your body reacts, a lot of what the body is doing is trying to help you get over something bad that has happened. So that part’s good. If we couldn’t react at all, if we didn’t have a repertoire of emotions, then that would be harder for us.

David Bashevkin:
How do you draw the line? There’s obviously a form of resilience and coping that is extraordinarily healthy, and then there is a form of reaction to trauma that is deeply unhealthy. Pathological can be paralyzing to a person. What have you noticed in the differences in the homes that have both experienced trauma but one allowed a home to be deeply resilient, resourceful, prepared for adversity, versus a home where maybe it’s nearly identical trauma or maybe it’s the level of trauma that changes. The homes that experienced the trauma and it is paralyzing and the children and now future generations did not inherit some of those coping skills. Are there best practices, so to speak, in homes that have experienced trauma that lead to one resilience and the other, God forbid, more mental health or unwellness issues?

Rachel Yehuda:
Listen, I think there are a lot of things that can be done to take the effects of trauma and work with them so that there’s a more positive outcome. One is to acknowledge that it happened. That is easier said than done, especially when it’s not a big historical event and it’s a private event. Our tendency is to not want to say it out loud, not want to disclose it, keep it quiet in some places in the Jewish community. Sometimes terrible things can be a shanda or things, even if they’re not your fault, that taint you. We have a lot of stigma in a culture that sometimes believes that you deserve what you get. You got to be able to talk about what happened and to know that this did not happen because you deserved it. It happened because bad things happen. Because even people can be very, very cruel to one another.

Again, being a victim does not mean that you are somehow to blame. Even though most trauma survivors do feel some shame or blame or take responsibility for what happened or that they might’ve been able to have a different outcome, or perhaps if they were more competent or more deserving, these things wouldn’t have happened. So these are all barriers to naming it, but when you have a shroud of secrecy around something, this doesn’t promote openness and good mental health. You have to be able to talk about it, and you have to also be able to talk about it in a way where it’s not currently happening, where you can contextualize it as something that happened in the past and know that you can recover from it.

So many Holocaust survivors told their children stories about what happened to them in the camps, but there was a very big difference between telling somebody something that was terrible but talking about it in a quiet, neutral voice the way I’m talking to you now or being in the moment and crying and panicking and not being able to catch your breath as if you’re reliving it.

So if you are reliving the past, instead of talking about it as it was in the past, I felt terrible then as opposed to I feel frightened now. Then those things make a very big difference in how a family member will internalize the effects of the trauma because you’re not teaching them that traumas can be in the past. You’re teaching them that traumas continue to haunt, and that makes a very big difference. The other thing that I think really was a big difference is whether people felt safe post-war or continue to feel unsafe. Now, some of it’s based on reality and some of it is just based on what you tell yourself. So there wasn’t a war for a long time. Jews did not experience overt antisemitism. Although look, an event like the October 7th has brought back a lot of feelings. If you grew up in a house where you were expecting October 7th every day, that was not going to be a peaceful existence for you.

I guess the last thing is whether or not you can make meaning of what happened in the home. So many Holocaust survivors became very big advocates of Israel, for example, and that was really born out of the ashes of Holocaust survivors. They found meaning in the Holocaust because there could be a Jewish homeland or they could contribute to memorials or speak in schools or do something positive as a result, not despite the Holocaust, but because of the Holocaust. I think that in families where you could make meaning and take something forward, there was a better reaction overall.

There was purpose. There was a to-do list. Now that doesn’t mean that people who make meaning didn’t suffer from PTSD, that does not mean that at all. They may have very well suffered from PTSD, but making meaning is one of the things that people can do to build that resilience that is needed. So I would say those four things.

David Bashevkin:
You mentioned in the middle the events of October 7th, which I very much wanted to hear. So many people have been describing that rightfully so as the largest massacre of Jews in one day since the Holocaust. And I have no doubt given your research and given your own identity, looking at the way that the Jewish community has responded post October 7th, there’s been a great deal of unity. Sometimes we see different cracks in that. There’s been a lot of questions among parents about, “How much should I share with my children about this? How should I share my own feelings about this?” I have a young child, he’s only seven, he knows some of the words associated with this. He knows there’s a war. But I’m curious from your vantage point, have you been examining the events and really the response of October 7th, not from a political lens or just a Jewish lens, but through the lens of your research, how have you understood and processed the reaction of the Jewish community in Israel and in the United States?

Rachel Yehuda:
I’ve been to Israel twice since October 7th and really very interested in looking at healing and possibilities for healing in mental health. I’ve had a chance to speak to a lot of people in Israel and also here. I’m in the United States. This has been devastating to people again because many felt that they were lulled into this false idea that there’s no more antisemitism and that this could never happen again. So even though what happened on October 7th was not of the scale of the Holocaust, it’s inconceivable that it happened that there was such a breach of security on the Jewish homeland, on Israeli soil, and it has brought a lot of vulnerability to the surface. America, I guess the focus has also been on the antisemitism that if it was covert before, I think many Jewish people, I know that this has been true for me, now see that many people that they thought were fully accepting of their Jewishness.

Maybe don’t think as much of Jews as perhaps you might’ve thought or are very, very quick to condemn or even take Hamas’ side, which is very painful to the point of negating some of the experiences that happened on October 7th. You have international organizations of trauma and women’s health that have failed to renounce these actions and a lot of Jewish people belong to those organizations and they’re horrified at the lack of support really. Because there’s a political correctness also looking at the Palestinian plight, looking at genocide wherever it might be, confusing collateral damage of an asymmetrical war with genocide. There’s a lot of nuances here that have been difficult and painful and a lot of fear.

Everyone has heard that the wondering about whether this is Germany in the 1930s and what to do about it, and people nervously looking at the election and really trying to figure out what’s what. So all of those reactions are normal. Then the question is what you do in the face of something like October 7th, and that’s where you start to have different views. I think for a while, certainly in the immediate aftermath, the idea of going to war was something that was broadly supported because somebody attacks you, you attack them back. Then as it becomes a longer war and it becomes more difficult war, and as the casualties mount up, you’re going to have different people react differently to this as the hostages are not brought home.

You’re going to have different people expressing different viewpoints. I think the only thing I can say about that is that it’s not random why you feel a certain way. It probably has a lot to do with your personal story or your parents’ personal story or your grandparents’ personal story. So the important thing is to understand that these narratives constitute how we feel today, how we carry things forward in our everyday lives.

Because we all have slightly different histories and slightly different adaptations, and we’ve ended up in slightly different ways, some of us better off than others, this is what’s going to contribute to the split in opinions. So I think that what’s happening now is an example of intergenerational trauma actually on every side of this, that the stakes are higher. This isn’t just about what happened on October 7th, it’s about what happened in this generation before then and previous generations before that, and all the way down the line.

We’re not reacting to what has just happened on October 7th. We are acting to events that have occurred well before then. That’s really when the conversation about intergenerational trauma becomes important. Because we do need to separate out what is too far in the past to deal with today versus the chunk we can bite off that is about what we can do today towards thinking about tomorrow.

David Bashevkin:
That is extraordinarily thoughtful and moving. We’re talking about intergenerational trauma and leaving aside the trauma component, I wanted to talk a little bit about your own intergenerational roots. The first time I ever interacted with a member of the Yehuda family, I was probably a high school kid, and read an article that was written by your father in Tradition magazine that we’ve actually discussed on this very podcast that spoke about his relationship to the Chazon Ish, Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz and spoke about one specific issue about the Chazon Ish’s relationship to manuscript evidence.

We don’t need to get into that article and some of the follow-ups that have been generated since then. It was very lively and we’ve discussed that in a previous series of 18Forty. But I would be remiss if I did not ask you if you felt comfortable sharing a little bit about your relationship with your father and more specifically his stories that he would tell. It seems extraordinarily close with the Chazon Ish who was one of the greatest leaders of the last 500 years. I mean, it’s not just 100 years. This is somebody who was in the pantheon, well, along with the Vilna Gaon. He’s in the pantheon of Jewish history and disorder of Halakhic status played an instrumental role in adopting the State of Israel to Halakah as of his points. It’s normally associated with the Haredi world, though your father, I understand he fought in the IDF in those early years. Can you tell me a little bit about what stories your father shared about his relationship with Chazon Ish with you, and how did they even come to be so close?

Rachel Yehuda:
Those are good questions. But first, I want to talk about the letter because that letter was actually written to me. When I was studying in Israel, I was in Michlala in Jerusalem, and something came up in one of my classes and I had a teacher, Rav Rakeffet. He said something, I wasn’t sure if I liked what he said or that I understood what he said.

So I just asked my father in the aerograms an innocent question about what I had learned. A few weeks later, I got back a 22-page typed letter with just a very scholarly answer, but also an answer that a father would write. I showed it to my teacher who called my father, wrote my father, and said, “I think you should publish this in commentary.” That is how that article got published. I thought that was an interesting story. But I think in our home, my father was not Haredi, but he was a Talmid Chakham and he studied with the best Talmidei Chakhamim.

David Bashevkin:
Torah scholars. Yes.

Rachel Yehuda:
He knew his stuff. How he came to the Chazon Ish was when he was a few years past bar mitzvah, his father brought him there to study. His father was very concerned that my father would learn Torah. He had gone to ask the Chazon Ish a question because that’s what people did then. When they had a question, they would go and ask the Chazon Ish, that’s the thing my father told me the most, that most of the days were just about people asking advice, not just Halakhic questions, but just what should I do?

My grandfather brought my father there and apparently, the Chazon Ish asked my father what he was learning and liked what he heard from my father and invited my father to stay with him. So my father ended up being with the Chazon Ish, I don’t think he actually slept there, but he was in the home every day for maybe a three or four-year period.

I don’t think the Chazon Ish would have approved of the army. That was part in the 22-page letter. It was really about the Chazon Ish’s feelings about the State of Israel and saying hallel. I think that was what prompted the question about saying Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut could have been and why and how. Really, it led to a discussion about how Halakha evolves or doesn’t and really focusing on the Talmudic question of what you do when you see a Sefer Torah what if it belonged to Moshe Rabbeinu?

David Bashevkin:

Rachel Yehuda:
If it’s not like the Sefer Torah that we have today-

David Bashevkin:
Would we use it?

Rachel Yehuda:
… would we use it? The answer is we wouldn’t. It’s really… It was a beautiful letter about how we have to be in the present. Because the Torah that we have now evolved with history and we don’t live in the past, we live here now. Just the importance of Rabbinic Judaism and the tradition. In a way, that was a contradiction to being more Haredi, not wanting to accept new trends and developments. How do you square that? Really, my father’s understanding of the Haredi movement is just maybe it takes some people longer to get to a place and that really trying to grapple with Halakha comes from the root, hello, you go forward.

It’s not meant to be static but meant to be dynamic. So these are the conversations that my father would reiterate that he had with the Chazon Ish about lots of things that came and about great rabbis that came to visit the Chazon Ish. For example, can you use a telephone on Shabbat electricity? As new things were coming-

David Bashevkin:

Rachel Yehuda:
… there were real questions and my father was there. My father was in it for all of these discussions. One great story he told was after a meeting with one of the chief rabbis, Chazon Ish had decided that a matter was a sour not permitted. After he left, my father said to the Chazon Ish, “Well, you could have permitted it on the basis of X, Y, and Z.” Chazon Ish famously said to him, “You think it’s so easy to permit something? Permitting is easy, prohibiting that takes real skill.” That was one story that my father told often. But I think what he emphasized was the Chazon Ish’s humanity, even though he was very strict guardian of Halakha, he was very kind and his rulings to individual people were basically bearing in mind what they could handle and tolerate at the time.

So growing up in a fairly modern Orthodox home with a Talmudic scholar father, I’d never got the idea that the Chazon Ish was a Haredi … Because he didn’t portray him like that. He portrayed him as rigorous in Talmudic scholarship, but so was my father. So that was all a surprise.

David Bashevkin:
That’s really incredible. When we did that episode, so many people reached out and pointed me in your direction. I cannot thank you enough for your time, insight, and wisdom. We always end our interviews with more rapid-fire questions. My first question, I’m curious, books for people looking to explore, especially in this moment with the surge of antisemitism and vulnerability that we are seeing. Are there books that you recommend if people want to get a better understanding of how different people react to trauma? Obviously, not a textbook for professionals. But is there a more popular book that you would recommend to somebody who is looking to process and understand how their reactions and intergenerational trauma may affect them?

Rachel Yehuda:
I think a lot of people have read The Body Keeps the Score and really like that book by Bessel van der Kolk. But the book that I think was written before then, which really captured me quite a lot was the book by Judy Herman called Trauma and Recovery. Even though that book is now about 35 years old or maybe more, that remains a fantastic volume. Those are not books written by Jewish people, so they’re not about antisemitism per se, but they’re about the trauma response. I think that they’re comforting to people who want to understand more about trauma.

David Bashevkin:
My next question, I’m always curious if somebody gave you a great deal of money and allowed you to take a sabbatical with no responsibilities whatsoever, go back to school, and just enter a totally different field of study, what do you think the subject and topic of your dissertation would be?

Rachel Yehuda:
The topic of my dissertation would be probably the effect of music on well-being.

David Bashevkin:
It’s so interesting. You are not the first person who is from the mental health field, I think, who has spoken about their love of music. I absolutely love that response. My last answer, I’m always curious about people’s sleep schedules. What time do you go to sleep at night and what time do you wake up in the morning?

Rachel Yehuda:
Well, I probably fall asleep somewhere between 10:00 and 11:00 and wake up between 5:00 and 6:00.

David Bashevkin:
That is a great answer. Dr. Rachel Yehuda, I cannot thank you enough for taking the time and joining us today. I am so incredibly grateful for your scholarship, your time. Thank you so much for joining.

Rachel Yehuda:
Thank you.

David Bashevkin:
I had a close friend growing up, and I remember his father was a little bit of a difficult person and was extraordinarily difficult, very accomplished, but a little bit of a difficult person. The first time that I ever was introduced to the very notion of intergenerational trauma was when my mother actually pulled me over and said, “You have to understand, he was raised by people who survived under extraordinarily traumatic circumstances, the horrors of the Holocaust. He was raised by Holocaust survivors.”

I never understood in that moment why that would affect somebody’s upbringing. I was a young kid. I didn’t yet understand my own upbringing would obviously shape the duration of my life, and each of us carries some of the pain, some of the experiences, some of the crises, and in some circumstances, some of the trauma from previous generations, some of the learned responses that we have, what makes us nervous, what gets us sweaty under the collar, our face flush.

Our triggers very often are inherited on what we learn of how do we respond, whether it’s emotional stress, financial stress, relationships, dating, issues that may emerge in a marriage. Each of us have difficulties or learned responses that are not entirely our own, but in some ways connect us to previous generations. What I find so remarkable about Dr. Yehuda’s work is that her focus is not just on the trauma, but specifically on the resilience and that it is not just the difficulties that we inherit, but the strength, the courage, the commitment, and the resilience to continue. I want to end by reading a little bit from an article from her own scholarship on resilience research because I found it so powerful because it makes a foundational distinction as we discussed between the trauma response and the resilience.

Just because somebody may have inherited some very real difficulties from their parents, it does not mean that they did not also inherit, learn, and find within themselves very real sources of strength and resilience. This is what she writes, “My own view is that trauma survivors who develop PTSD may be just as resilient as trauma survivors who don’t develop PTSD.” Meaning the fact that you may have some form of trauma does not necessarily mean that you did not also inherit that resilience.

When I first started to focus in this area, like many people, I thought of resilience as the opposite of psychopathology or PTSD, that trauma survivors could be split into two groups, those who had PTSD and those who were resilience. Then we, and she lists a whole bunch of very important scholars on this, began to make a distinction in the non-PTSD group between resistance. Survivors who did not develop psychopathology and recovery. Survivors who did develop PTSD or other symptoms, but who no longer had those symptoms.

This got me thinking that resistance depicted as never developing symptoms to adversity is not the same thing at all as having symptoms and bouncing back. I have to admit that the best description of resilience is one, and this is why I’m reading it because I love it because it’s a pop culture reference is one I heard on TV in connection with a Timex watch commercial. The watch was described as having the ability to take a licking and keep on ticking. I don’t remember those ads, but I’m sure many of our listeners do, and I love it.

So for an inanimate object, the quality of never breaking despite exposure is a good definition. But for a person, perhaps it is better to conceptualize resilience as a process of moving forward and not returning back. When a watch is dropped, it doesn’t improve, but people who are traumatized sometimes do actually end up in a better place than they started in many respects. In light of that, my current definition of resilience as it applies to people, would involve a reintegration of self that includes a conscious effort to move forward in an insightful, integrated positive manner as a result of lessons learned from an adverse experience.

The idea of moving forward is an important component of resilience for me. Because this notion recognizes that some of the most resilient people, at least those I know may have had or still have very severe PTSD that they struggle with every day. But they don’t succumb to its negative effects. To me, resilience involves an active decision like sobriety that must be frequently reconfirmed. That decision is to keep moving forward.

What a moving description. I really found it so moving because I think it is a testament not just to the individuals, many of which we know, many of which may be us. But it’s a testament to the Jewish people themselves. The ability and the commitment, the active decision to keep moving forward. Again, the idea of moving forward is an important component of resilience for me because this notion recognizes that some of the most resilient people, at least that I know may have had or still have very severe PTSD that they struggle with every single day, but they don’t succumb to its negative effects.

To me, resilience involves an active decision like sobriety that must be frequently reconfirmed. That decision is to keep moving forward and allow me to say, because I believe Dr. Yehuda said it almost explicitly herself that the same way that sobriety is reconfirmed at AA meetings the same way that people who have struggled with alcohol addiction and suffered from the very real effects of having an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and need to reconfirm it and go to meetings and show up and really work and remind themselves the importance of their sobriety, allow me to suggest that in many ways this is what the Jewish people do.

This is what we do at the Pesach Seder. This is what we do when we show up to shul. This is what we do when we learn Torah. We are reconfirming. We’re coming together as a family, acknowledging the fact that we hold as a community and as a family very real traumas. We have been through a great deal collectively in our history, very real traumas that we hold with us to this very day. Questions that people like… Nathan Englander has this famous essay called What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank that was originally published in The New Yorker.

It’s a fascinating article. It’s absolutely worth reading, and perhaps we will examine it further at a different time. But in that article, it talks about a group of Jews, group of friends, some orthodox, some not who come together and they talk about what would happen, God forbid, if people tried to wipe out the Jewish people. Is there somebody who we would call upon to hide us? Who would you call upon to hide you? Those types of conversations of dealing with that trauma is something that unfortunately many know of within the Jewish community, even for the serenity that many have felt, particularly in America that we have felt for many decades.

But I think over the past year that bubble has very much burst and a lot of those past traumas are starting to reemerge that we hold with us. But we come together each and every year at the Pesach Seder and we reconfirm that commitment to resilience in the words of Dr. Rachel Yehuda. That decision is to keep moving forward.

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