How do be a Jewish - friendly clinician
It’s scary being Jewish right now. I mean, Jews have been through a lot, from the Inquisition to pogroms to the Holocaust, to all sorts of hate crimes throughout the years.
I find myself increasingly nervous about being Jewish these days, let alone coming out as a Jew, here in San Diego, California. My last name, “Weissman,” often does my outing for me, but then, after people learn my name, comes the questions:
They ask, Are you “of Jewish extraction”? Are your parents Jewish? Then, come the assumptions of wealth and power and my relationship to Israel and Palestine.
All these questions and assumptions leave me wondering why I stepped outside my home to get a cup of coffee or try to buy a chair at the local furniture store. I am left wondering why others feel that my leaving the home means that I should expect, if not welcome, a barrage of questions from well-meaning or not so well-meaning, prying people.
I usually like connecting with others. Instead, I find myself pulling away and extra nervous about being out as a Jew these days.
This post is intended to help those who are not Jewish better understand what some of us feel. I hope it helps the average clinician practicing their craft know how to better support the Jews in their lives and the Jewish clients in their practice.
Here are some tips for making your office space Jewish-friendly:
1. Ask yourself: What symbols of religious observance or practice are on your walls?
a. If you have a Christmas tree, please know that not everyone will see your tree as pretty. Some will take a deep breath in and hold it for their entire session (or try to) knowing that this therapist will not be understanding of what it’s like to be Jewish in a supposedly secular world that is filled with symbols of Christianity. We know the tree was stolen from Paganism. Putting an angel on top of it or adorning it with, well, anything, can be a symbol of Christianity looming over us Jews (or other non-Christians), that can be painful to see / be near.
b. Same goes for Easter eggs and bunnies. Yes, they are cute but as Passover often comes at a similar time, it can be hard to look at the chocolates and think, I can’t eat those, it’s Passover and I can’t eat anything with corn in it, including corn syrup! To be Jewish person – friendly, look for Kosher for Passover treats and have them nearby or heck, don’t have any treats out at all. This is a therapy office, right? It can be a place to be vulnerable without chocolate. It stinks but it’s true.
Here are some other tips on working with or knowing Jewish – identified people:
1 Don’t freak out when you meet a Jew or Jewish person.
a. This is not the time to tell them all that you know about their religion.
i. I remember seeing a clinician once who, upon learning that I identified as Jewish, went on to tell me all that he knew about Bat and Bar Mitzvahs (a coming of age ritual for Jews) when all I wanted him to do was shut up and let me talk about my recent breakup. He might have been a great clinician but he wasn’t meeting me where I was and I was left frustrated and annoyed, plus sad (from the breakup and all).
b. This is the time to use their name when speaking with them, as in, “It’s nice to meet you, Adam” versus, “It’s nice to meet you. Did you know that you are the first Jewish person I’ve ever met?!” or, my current not so favorite, favorite, “It’s nice to meet you. Jews don’t really have horns, do they?” It’s better to go with the “It’s nice to meet you, Adam,” unless the person’s name isn’t Adam. Then, of course, substitute in that person’s name, please. :)
2 Admit there is hate going on in the world.
a. Ask your clients how they are affected by the shooting at an Indiana synagogue’s classroom.
b. Talk about the possible impact of intergenerational trauma on your clients’ lives.
c. Don’t let the silencing about this shooting and other hate crimes against Jews continue (e.g. toppling over Jewish headstones, a US president who fails to mention anti-Semitism when talking about the Holocaust on Holocaust Remembrance Day, swastikas being more common place, and other travesties of human kindness)
3 Do your own reading on Jewish history and herstory and theirstory. We are a small group of people who live (or have lived) all over the world. Our culture has been influenced by where we lived and live and is different for each subset of Judaism. We have different languages that we speak or once spoke (including Ladino and Yiddish). Not all of us follow all the rules. We question the rules. We don’t question the rules. We are a multiplicity of opinions all in one religion, herstory, culture, identity, and ethnicity.
4 Don’t continue to talk about hate against Jews if your client stops you. If this is not their issue or part of it, don’t continue to push it. Let your clients guide you.
5 Take a stand against hatred.
a. Go to a peace rally.
b. Have a “no hate speech” sign in your office.
c. Have Jewish magazines in your waiting room.
d. Read the Forward online.
e. Have a no discrimination sign up in your office and agree to only do business with those who do not discriminate.
f. Ask how you can support your local synagogue and volunteer there.
g. Attend a Jewish service at a synagogue.
h. Don’t organize events on the Jewish Sabbath (Friday night through Saturday night).
i. Get one consultation or several with me, Dr. Abi Weissman, on how to increase your cultural competency in working with Jewish people. You and your clients deserve to be well versed in these topics as we all fight for a better, more loving, kind, and peaceful world.
With these tips in hand, an openness to learning, and your sense of empathy, you will be better equipped to be the kind of therapist that I would be proud to send my family, blood and chosen, and/or the kind of person that I can’t wait to get to know.
Dr. Abi Weissman
If you need help with any of these concepts or suggestions, I’m glad to lend a hand. I offer consultations and presentations / trainings on Judaism and Jewish transgender cultural competence for individuals and groups. Please don’t hesitate to reach on out. You can call me at (619) 403-5578 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I would be glad to meet you where you are and work with you to better learn about Judaism.
As always, this post does not connote a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Abigail “Abi” Weissman or Waves, A Psychological Corporation. It is meant as general advice not specific to your situation. Please contact a licensed therapist, counselor, or psychologist to get care specific to your individual situation.