The Wandering Jew and the Sabra Complex | Avi Bauman

(Memorial lecture for Erel Shalit, 2.22.19)

Abstract: Israel was established amid a unique set of circumstances: the urgent need for a national revival in the aftermath of the Holocaust, inspired by the biblical call for the redemption of the soil, and the development of a new type of Jew – the Sabra. Existential pressures and rapid developments generated two cultural complexes in the new State, which I have termed the Wandering Jew and the Sabra. The split between the two, whether in the individual psyche or in the collective unconscious prevented the integration of the Self and the crystallization of a specifically Israeli-Jewish identity. Healing this split could only be achieved through an indirect or even circuitous search “in alien corn.”

“I slung a hoe over my shoulder and fancied myself a born-farmer. In Vienna, I had been a student, and school was my whole world!  I was forced to separate from my family and leave my dear mother behind in the perils of hell to and set myself to labor in a Hebrew village in the Land of Israel, my hoe rising and falling on the soil with a thud echoed by my heart.

A light sea-breeze wafts over my face, the sun rises and warms the cold morning air as I hum, “Earth, head up, earth, your name is Mother,” and the final word pulls at my heartstrings. Mother! Alive, beloved, loving Mother, how could I have left you to follow a different mother, she who is inert and mute and who may someday cover you too. With every thud of my hoe, every handful of dung I toss into the furrows, every rivulet that slakes the thirsty earth – I draw nearer to that hoped for the day when Mother Earth will provide shelter, food and rest for my mother…”

So wrote my father, whose German name, Otto was changed to Shaul when he arrived in Mandate Palestine in 1939 to become a pioneer in 1939.

The foundations for the future State of Israel were hastily established in the wake of persecutions in Arab lands and the European Holocaust in a land inhabited by a rival population.

These urgent beginnings, experienced by Jewish immigrants as a kind of redemption, formed the background of my generation.  Our cultural complexes, carried over from the past, included new elements which made it necessary to adopt a kind of emergency ego filled with hubris that masked humiliation. It would take a long time for the new Israelis to find an authentic identity and ultimately, a delineated “ego-self.”[1]

The emergency ego of the emerging Sabra culture was a strange amalgam of multiculturalism, the traumas of the Diaspora, defiant Zionism, and the need to change, to be renewed, in the fulfillment of a dream. According to Erich Neumann, it is the father who initiates cultural change and revolution, but it is also the father who perpetuates the culture and religious values he passes on to future generations.[2]

Let us consider the complex identity of the Jewish father during the Holocaust and the foundation of the State. Was he spiritual and creative or practical and down to earth? And another question, did the guiding impulse to immigrate and build the state come from the father, the creative transmitter of culture, or was there some deeper influence at work in the individual roots of this nation?  Alternatively, was the powerful drive to immigrate, to make Aliya, a veiled yearning to return to Mother Earth, to find a home and the roots which had been lacking in the Diaspora for the wandering Jew? And to what extent did these mechanisms develop in response to the national emergency?

Surely it was not an emergency for all the immigrants; some had come in search of a new Zionist ideology to release them from the complex of the wandering Jew, some in search of a primordial Jewish Self, and some were quite simply in search of a new home after the betrayal of their countries of origin.

Neumann, an immigrant himself, was at first unconscious of his search for a Great Father and a Jewish self. Although he had made Aliya to Palestine as a Jew in the process of individuation, it was only later that he came to sense a stirring of deeper issues. The father issue in a land fighting for independence was paradoxical because during the war the entire country was engaged in a struggle for liberation, in building and setting goals, embracing the father as a leader, a hero, a courageous man of faith. The father was a visionary, though not a wholly spiritual one, not a respected rabbi or Diaspora leader. He was a new father type, a military man of action, a hero like King David who could also play the trickster if necessary. A case in point is David Ben Gurion and the generals who surrounded him – the new fathers.

The pioneering songs of his day underscore the element of the building,[Anu banu artza] “We have come to our land to build and be rebuilt here”, and [ Nivneh artzenu] “Let us build our land, our homeland, for it is ours, ours, this land”. The father archetype engendered building, the future, and in turn, the all-inclusive, all- accepting Great Mother, so deeply longed for, opening the gates for her sons and daughters returning home to her, bearing the wounded of persecution.

And less consciously, perhaps, the father archetype was the Great Father God, who returned the nation to the land of its forefathers after centuries of wandering in the Diaspora and the trauma, said by some to be a punishment for their sins.

This, then, is the bewildering muddle of archetypes that engendered the complexes; high and mighty victims craving power and conquest, seeking religious justification for their every deed, with an undercurrent of anxiety and a looming diaspora complex: “We are the chosen people, and God will come to our rescue”; “We must be strong, we must and again be victims”; or “No matter what happens, we must never inflict on others the suffering that was inflicted on us.”

It is interesting to note how clients from various sectors of Israeli society are drawn to one or another of these archetypes: the Great Mother, represented by the land, the soil, or the Great Father and national revival in the homeland, or the secular socialist, with the values of the new Israeli Sabra. Since individual complexes and neuroses are bound up with those of the surrounding culture, which of these give rise to a sense of superiority and ego inflation? Alternately, what drives an individual to search for selfhood, attainable only through a difficult process of individuation, which according to Neumann, was hardly imaginable during the early yearly of Israel’s nationhood?

At this critical juncture, Neumann, whose very name means new man, sought a new identity, selfhood connected both to his Diaspora roots and the creative unconscious, and the continuum of the ego and the Self, what he termed the ego-self axis. His writings reveal an intense concern with dissociation after the traumas of the Holocaust and forced immigration. He cautions against the dangers of an ego split from earlier inclusivity, of psychic regression to the Great Mother[3] and of being overwhelmed by a sweeping Messianism.

Neumann’s immigration to Palestine and his search for the roots of Judaism became central to his later developmental theories. In an essay marking Freud’s centennial,[4] Neumann observed that a one-sided patriarchal emphasis and the neglect of the feminine in Judaism had produced an imbalance over the centuries. This inclination, he felt, was liable to result in an unconscious and uncritical identification with the earth archetype, the land, to the detriment of matriarchal consciousness, as evident today in Israel. Moreover, as he warned in “Mystical Man,” a lack of differentiation between the anima and the mother or Great Mother may, in times of peril and personal and or collective crisis, give rise to a “false” mysticism. This can manifest collectively as naive Messianism or as an archaic uroboric inundation of the unconscious[5] as opposed to a dynamic connection between ego and Self.

The core patterns and problems of the individual Israeli today are traceable to the seemingly discarded and forgotten cultural complexes of Israel’s founders; but what options are available in treating them? In answer, let me present the path I followed to my healing. Let me preface this by stating that politics often get in the way of the healing process and even aggravate the split in consciousness.  In the individual as in the nation, powerful unprocessed complexes perpetuate fixations and so long as we as individuals fail to wrestle with them, they continue to obstruct our journey to selfhood.

As a new culture was taking shape in Israel, successive waves of immigrants underwent a temporary devaluation of the father which in turn gave rise to a compensatory displacement of power and authority from the personal father to the founding fathers. In parallel, the devaluation of the father gave rise to a sense of inferiority and neglect. Among some immigrants, this resulted in complexes that were transmitted to the next generation, a phenomenon I have observed among my clients, as well as among new refugees who are outside the mainstream. This is true of ultra-Orthodox European immigrants who were discriminated against in the early days of the secular State and transmitted complexes to their descendants who wish in turn to impose their religious values on the collective. Likewise, for Jews from Arab lands, the religious traditions that were a vital component of their identity were carried over as a stronghold against “Ashkenazi secularism.”  Cultural complexes like these have come to characterize second and third generation Israelis,[6] causing them to overreact with aggression, a sense of injury, jealousy, guilt or blame which is often projected on enemies or social inferiors. The underlying split from the Self and its root in the collective unconscious blinds them to the spiritual meaning, compassion, and a sense higher purpose. This results in enervation, psychic, social, behavioral, or ethnic. The individual is unconscious of being controlled by a cultural complex.


The Wandering Jew

The first mention of the Wandering Jew appears in the chronicles of the monastery of Santa Maria Ferarri in Bologna where an encounter is said to have taken place in Armenia between certain monks and the Wandering Jew around 1223. The legend reappeared years later in the writings of several historians and was transmitted westward later in the century through the writings of the Benedictine monk known as Matthew Paris. [7]

One version of the legend recounts that as Jesus was being led to his crucifixion carrying the heavy cross on his shoulders he asked a certain Jew to let him rest a moment at his home, but the Jew drove him out and sent him to his fate. Jesus responded: I will in truth depart but you, O Jew, will wander the face of the earth until my return. According to one account, the Jew was a cobbler named Ahasuerus, in another, Ahasver, and in yet another, Cartaphilus, a porter at the estate of Pontius Pilate.

Today the Wandering Jew is always on the move, even in modern Israel, where Sabra soldiers may decide to emigrate back to the Diaspora, or a different type of Sabra, raised in “Greater Israel” in an ethos of Jews against the world may be drawn into a uroboric mysticism, to use Neumann’s her.

As Israeli therapists, we frequently meet these splits between the Wandering Jew and the Sabra in those who have not attained individuation or any sense of individuality, whether they identify politically with the left or the right, and whether they live as secular or religious Jews.

The Sabra

The Sabra, with his permanent roots in Israel, reverses the model of the Wandering Jew. In today’s terms, he negates the outside world, the Diaspora. I represent a generation of Sabras born immediately after the establishment of the State to parents who had fled the Holocaust. My parents arrived in Israel, imbued with the faith that they would become the “new Israelis.”

The generation of my parents had to give up their mother-tongue and their culture and adapt to their ancestral homeland quickly and superficially. But it was all the more difficult to adapt to a land that was fighting for its independence. We of the second generation were supposed to compensate for the families they lost in Europe, to embody the new, non-Diasporan Israeli, to restore their pride. We were cast as the future of Israel, devoted to the beloved homeland, willing to make sacrifices for it and never to leave. In short, we were supposed to be the new and improved version of Sabra. As such, we often became fixated in the archetype of the eternal youth, the puer, or alternately as the agedsex.[8] This may be illustrated by the course my own life has taken, my negotiations with Judaism, my obliviousness to my roots in the Diaspora, but not of my Europeanism, my contemporary European values.

היהודי הנודד, סגן כהן

My generation knew the Bible by heart. We were “romantically” drawn to it and the heroes of yore. We knew all about the Holocaust and the establishment of Israel; we knew it was imperative for us to be courageous, proud, and strong, peerless warriors and conquerors. But in time, we became dimly aware, in some implicit, unconscious way, that we were merely playing a role. And some of us realized that we had to train therapists because we needed therapy ourselves after the Sabra act of our youth the wars we had fought, and the need to heal our parents, to compensate, to carry the torch they passed to us.

As members of our generation, we needed to forge a link between our Judaism and our Israeli identity. Though we had some formal knowledge of life in the Diaspora, we were ignorant of what our parents had endured. All we knew was that we must never let it happen again.

My father wrote this to his mother as soon as he arrived in Palestine:” I have to throw everything out now and learn from the builders of the nation, especially David Ben Gurion whom everyone here reveres…I must learn about the desert and how to work the land,” an experience which in his journal writing merges the image of his mother with mother earth.

I will not go into all my reasons for becoming a psychologist, except to say that when I turned forty-five, ten years after being introduced to Jungian psychology, I realize that I had chosen the Jungian school out of a need to free myself from the powerful hold of the collective, to become individuated. My affinity for the Jungian approach allowed me to follow a symbolic model and to develop spiritually as a therapist. But while aware of the spiritual aspect of the psyche I still felt thoroughly Israeli. I was unconscious of the significance and meaning of Judaism in my personal life and of the distinction between Halakhic tradition and Jewish spirituality, which is what would come to interest me later in life.

Paradoxically my eyes were opened through Jung’s approach, notwithstanding his inherent Christianity and my ambivalence towards it. My interest in Judaism was ignited much later by a new understanding of my Self as more than the ego, as an amalgam of the psyche, as the site of a divine spark. I had discovered a psychological frame of reference for religious wisdom, for the image of God, for Judaism itself, my destination and destiny.

But the path to transformation was a circuitous one. First, the Wandering Jew in me had to “get thee from thy country” as a stranger, as an Other, to overcome my negative view of the Diaspora and Rabbinic Judaism which seemed to me to lack spirituality. Secondly, I had to take a distance to shed my Sabra pose and its attendant wounds I had to do this at a remove from my fellow Sabras. And to do so, I needed help. For me, help came from the First Nations of Canada and their belief that we are healed by returning to our ancestors, which in my case meant returning to Judaism in my way.

As I see it today, my unconscious Self, controlled by the Sabra complex developed a need to heal the traumatized people around me, the wounded Sabras, but also my Self and the festering split which had been transmitted to me by the previous generation. The choice to become a Jungian therapist had by no means been arbitrary. It was prompted rather by several synchronous events, by serendipity.

In the course of my doctoral research, I arrived at the subject of psychological development through a Jungian therapist I encountered just as I was about to begin my psychoanalytic training program with the eminent Dr.Hillel Klein. Klein, a Holocaust survivor and the director of the Eitanim Psychiatric Hospital, was a highly esteemed member of the psychoanalytic community, but when he became ill and traveled abroad, I put my psychoanalytic training on hold. While I “waited,” I happened to meet a Jungian therapist who had trained with Jung himself in Zurich and had recently immigrated to Israel.

My encounter with him allowed me to progress at my own pace and to make the right choice for myself. After a Jungian analysis, I joined the movement which had been deemed anti-Zionist and anti-psychoanalytic and at first sight, anti-Jewish too. The director of the psychoanalytic clinic where I began my internship reacted to my decision to become a Jungian with the words: “So, you have elected to follow the evil inclination, to join forces with the satanic adversary of ‘sacred’ psychoanalysis.”

But as time passed, it was the Jungian approach that helped me find my way to Judaism, not through Rabbinic laws and precepts, rituals and synagogues, but the legends and parables of Aggadic literature and later, through the greater Self with all the love in it. I remembered going to synagogue on Yom Kippur as a child, watching the people around me and asking my mother on our way home, “Why were they crying?” And she answered, “Because their mothers and fathers aren’t here, and they miss them.”  I sensed then that my mother was projecting her homesickness.

It was through Jung and later on through Neumann that I arrived at my purpose in life, to heal the split and relinquish my collective Israeliness, my mettlesome IDF identity. Neumann helped me find the intimate Hasidic union of opposites, to make room for the Shekhinah, the divine presence, the anima, and the innermost secret of the soul. The only way to heal the breach between the Wandering Jew I had experienced as entirely separate from the earth-bound pride of my Sabra identity was to undergo the difficult process of individuation to find the spiritual expression of my essential Jewish Self.

Then, after a strange set of circumstances and the influence of a friend, I set off for Northern Canada to participate in Vision Qwest, an eight-day workshop among the indigenous First Nations people.

It happened like this: those who signed up for the workshop were asked to bring along some object they wanted to get rid of. Without a second thought, I gave up the army reconnaissance stripes I carried in my kitbag during the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War. And then, as prescribed by their method, I fasted, sat in the sweat-lodge and invoked my ancestors, thanking them, asking for their blessings and forgiveness and praying to be reconnected with them. At some point during the long fast and the sweat-baths, I had a dream: in it, I was outside the First Temple when I encountered a wise old crone or symbol of the Shekhinah. I was in a horse-drawn chariot and with me was a wounded soldier. I asked her to heal. The old woman looked at me and said, “Don’t keep oiling the chariot wheels, block the spokes with clay and that way you’ll slow you down and connect with the earth. You will no longer be a Sabra soldier fighting continuous wars, a hero on wheels in perpetual motion. As you move more slowly thanks to the clay, the earth out of which all of humanity was created, you will begin to heal… let the wounded Sabra take time to connect with his soul.”

At the end of the experience, I made a vow to do act as a Jew in real life, and because I had discovered the power of fasting and the meaning of Yom Kippur, I returned home released from the anxieties of the previous generation, my eternal youth complex, and my neurotic identity. I had become more Jewish and less Israeli.

Sometime later, though not immediately, I understood what was missing in Jung’s theories what Neumann brought to Judaism, and realized that and neither of them could serve as father figures for me, Jung because he was not Jewish and Neumann, the European Jew with interest in Judaism, because although lived in Israel he never became an Israeli.

My process reflected the process of my generation, the return to Judaism in a spiritual way, imbued with its eternal values, yet not succumbing to uroboric mysticism[9], the upsurge of vehement Judaism, of “chosen-ness,” a racist denial of human rights to others.

As a second-generation therapist, I understood that so long as the children of refugees and immigrants remain ambivalent toward their parents’ places of origin, they can never properly connect to their roots. Rejecting one’s roots is a rejection of the facilitating father, the root of Self, which limits the process of individuation. My therapeutic approach focuses on preserving the divine spark within the human soul and spirit.

I have also learned the significance of Israeliness: the value of working the land, of sharing a sense of home, of confidence to fight for what is important, of belonging and of a particular kind of loyalty. Israeliness has developed my own need and readiness to make sacrifices, to feel pride in achievement without bravado, the shadow side of heroism.[10] I have learned about land reclamation, about building something out of nothing, about physical work as opposed to bookish isolation, about real life as a citizen in a country of my own.

And through Judaism with its vast shadow, I have come to a fuller understanding of humanity, of spirit, of being a mensch, of the commandment “thou shalt not kill,” and “love thy neighbor as thyself,” love of the Self[11] and the treasures of the Jewish bookshelf.

Judaism balances Israeliness and Israeliness adds a dimension of belonging, of renewal and a departure from the Diaspora mentality of life among the nations. Moreover, I understand how the Diaspora trickster has become the Israeli trickster, a part of myself that I must let go.

I have also learned how to care for the other, the wounded outsider, the unwanted refugee, and the outcast, for immigrants who deny their roots and cultural backgrounds, with whom we as Israelis must connect to help them.

What is the right approach with these clients and what problems do they bring to therapy? How do Jewish or Israeli splits and complexes manifest?

Of course, the wound experienced by immigrants and their sense of alienation is common to all ethnic groups and minorities everywhere. In my childhood the Diaspora was reflected in the figures of strange peddlers and hawkers, the Baba Yagas and lunatics I would see at the central bus station side by side with other outcasts. I have worked with clients who abhor theirbackground and yearn to be real Israelis or at least to appear to be. But they can only find their place in society by healing the breach within themselves.

And a few points about Neumann the European, the German who spoke broken Hebrew and whom I never fully accepted because I sensed that his energy and interest remained invested with Jung, in a desire for recognition from non-Jews, a complex he shared with Freud; this, alongside his Diasporan deference and subservience, his Wandering Jew complex in stark contrast to Jung’s “racism” and arrogance.

By now, it has become clear to me that spiritual Judaism arising from the Self has the power to heal and integrate the Sabra complex with that of the Wandering Jew. Through understanding and compassion, it is possible to contribute something ineffable from the seat of the collective Self that binds us all together with the Kabbalistic term for primordial man as Neumann uses it, Adam Kadmon.

Translation from Hebrew: Betsi Rozenberg

[1] The axis, which connects the functioning conscious self with the depths of unique identity.

[2] E. Neumann, the Origins and History of Consciousness, killing the father.

[3] Neumann, Mystical Man, Crisis, and Renewal.

[4] “In Honor of the Centenary of Freud’s Birth,” Journal of Analytical Psychology vol.2, 1956.

[5] Arising from the pre-conscious stage of the undifferentiated psyche.

[6] “Cultural complex” is a term coined by Henderson and a concept developed by Tom Singer.

[7] Wikipedia

[8] A. Baumann: The Torch Bearers: Puer as second generation reviver of Holocaust survivors.

[9] A type of mysticism described by Neumann in “Mystical Man” (1948) as regressive, which does not occur through the process of individuation.

[10] E. Shalit, the Hero and His Shadow.

[11] Rosenzweig, the Star of Redemption.

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