By BERNIE BELLAN Before I sat down to write this story abot Dr. Solly Dreman, I researched how many times I was able to find his name in past issues of The Jewish Post and how well-known the name Dreman was - and still is, in Winnipeg.
I mention this here because I was fascinated to read that, in 1980, as a matter of fact, Dr. Dreman gave a talk on the same subject as he did last Tuesday - at the old YMHA. (That talk was titled “Israeli victims of terrorism and its effects on family behaviour”.)
When I discovered that 35 years ago Dr. Solly Dreman was discussing the psychological effects of terrorism in Israel, I wondered whether, 35 years hence, Dr. Dreman (or perhaps more likely, someone else) will be giving a talk on exactly the same subject.
The setting this time around though was not the auditorium of the old Y, it was Temple Shalom. Also sponsoring Dr. Dreman’s talk were: Winnipeg Friends of Israel (about whom I have more to say on page 17); Canadian Associates of Ben Gurion University; and to a much smaller extent, The Jewish Post & News.
In welcoming the more than 120 individuals who showed up on a cold Tuesday night, Yolanda Papini-Pollock, who has been the driving force behind Winnipeg Friends of Israel, noted that “Dr. Solly Dreman has become an expert on the psychological effects of war and terrorism because he has lived through them.” (Dreman made aliyah to Israel in 1964.)
Prior to Dr. Dreman’s talk, two other individuals spoke: Michelle Strain, who is involved with the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Manitoba; and Edith Kimelman, a Holocaust survivor and retired educator.
Because Edith Kimelman was able to bring a personal perspective to the experiences of a victim of war, it is worth noting some of her remarks.
She began by noting that she arrived in Canada in 1949 at the age of 14.
Only six years old when the German army invaded Poland in 1939, Edith related the horror of seeing her own father’s bullet-riddled body in a field near her family’s hometown. (He had been taken away by the Nazis.) Not long after, Edith revealed, her own mother was also “so severely beaten that it led to her eventual death.”
Like so many other Holocaust survivors, Edith has relived the nightmare of living under Nazi occupation all her life.
“When I had my own children I lived in constant fear that something terrible would happen to them,” she admitted.
“I was left scarred for life… There is a constant fear of the unknown,” Edith said.
Further, “I find it very difficult to speak about the Shoah as I grow older,” she continued. “But, I’m proud that I survived and that my children will survive me,” she concluded.
Following Edith Kimelman’s remarks, Winnipeg psychiatrist Dr. Will Fleisher introduced Solly Dreman. Dr. Fleisher noted that Solly Dreman had graduated with a degree in Commerce from the University of Manitoba in the early 1960s before deciding to make aliyah. (You can read more about the entire Dreman family on page 4.)
Once in Israel, Dreman entered into the study of psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
In 1971 he received his Masters degree in psychology, and in 1975 he received his Ph.D. in psychology,. Solly Dreman was also a Fulbright Scholar at the Langley Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute at the Medical School at the University of California in San Francisco in 1976-77.
Dr. Fleisher went on to note that Dr. Dreman has received “training in a variety of psychotherapies and was a professor in behavioural sciences at Ben Gurion University.”
In addition to his academic work, Dr. Fleisher added, Dr. Dreman “has done extensive work with clients” and is the former head of the “Centre of Family Intervention and Treatment” at Ben Gurion University.
Dr. Dreman began his remarks by referring to an incident that happened in Tel Aviv on January 1st of this year.
“At 2:45 pm at a popular bar in Tel Aviv a terrorist went on a shooting spree” (killing two and wounding seven others).
“Five days later, he was still on the loose,” Dr. Dreman continued. “The city was gripped by helplessness…Parents were faced with the dilemma of having to decide whether to send their children to school.”
The population of Tel Aviv was engulfed in feelings of “anxiety, chaos, and helplessness,” he said.
Noting the pervasive effects of trauma Dr. Dreman explained that many veterans of the Yom Kippur war are still suffering from post traumatic stress disorder 45 years after the original events.
In comparing the effects of war and terrorism, Dr. Dreman noted that “terrorism can often result in severe and debilitating trauma that is not confined to a specific geographic location or time dimension in contrast to war.”
What are some of the general effects of terrorism?
According to Dr. Dreman, they typically include: a withdrawal from social events and visiting public places; keeping children from playing in public places; and an avoidance of confronting the victims of terrorism. (Individuals will cross a street in order to avoid having to encounter victims of terrorism.)
By the same token, victims of terrorist attacks themselves often experience feelings of guilt, Dr. Dreman noted.
Referring specifically to the role of the media in heightening public anxiety following terrorist incidents – or even prior to their occurring, Dr. Dreman was especially harsh in his criticism of how much media add to “overkill” by “constantly bombarding the public with repeated broadcasts of horrific events” that “exacerbate the situation.”
In explaining to the audience some of the inferences that he has drawn as a result of more than 40 years he has spent working with victims of war and terrorism, Dr. Dreman chose to focus on two specific case studies that, he suggested, would illustrate some of the incipient effects of life-altering events, such as being the victim of a terrorist attack.
Both case studies dealt with families. In the one case it was a mother and children who lost their father when he was blown up by an explosion in a Jerusalem appliance store; in the second case it was two brothers, 9 and 11, who were left orphaned when terrorists attacked a bus in which they and their parents were riding.
Dr. Dreman and his cotherapist Dr. Esther Cohen of the Hebrew University felt at the time that they had adequately dealt with the trauma precipitated at the time of the traumatic events but the ten-year follow up they conducted showed that this indeed was not the case.
Unfortunately, “there are only two things certain in life,” Dr. Dreman observed: “Death and uncertainty.”
Thus, as much as he had thought that the therapies that he had provided had helped the survivors in both cases to cope with the aftereffects of the terrorist incidents, that proved to be far from the case.
“Ten years later it (the trauma) came to the surface,” he said, in both families’ cases. In the case of the two orphan boys, one resorted to becoming a robber – a form of behaviour that, Dr. Dreman suggested, was deliberate.
“Being caught and punished for a crime expiates guilt over surviving,” he suggested.
“Loss of control,” he added, is a typical result of trauma.
In fact, Dr. Dreman admitted, despite what he thought had been successful therapy in the case of the two boys, “we failed in dealing with them.”
The results of the treatment of the members of the other family, although also mixed, proved more successful in the long run. Here, too, though, it was a very long and protracted process that saw many failures along the way.
In the case of the widow of the man who was blown up by the bomb in the appliance store, Dr. Dreman said that for quite a long time after the incident, she “forgot about her own personal life” and refused to have any social interaction except with her own children.
As well, “she was angry at her husband over leaving her.”
During the course of therapy the mother was persuaded “to demonstrate grief in order to get the children to exhibit grief.”
Still, one of the typical results of the trauma as a result of a terrorist incident is overprotectiveness on the part of parents.
The mother in this case had to be convinced to “let the children’s lives return to normal”, Dr. Dreman noted. For instance, he had to persuade her “to let the children travel by themselves” – something, he suggested, that is often one of the most difficult things for parents to do.
So, too, it is necessary to instill a “sense of empowerment” in victims – in order to overcome the feelings of “helplessness” that are all too common in such cases.
The two children of the man who was blown up also exhibited extreme anxiety around the time that they were to be inducted into the army. The boy, whose name was Ari, actually “became anorexic just prior to army service.” For Dr. Dreman, this was a sign of “unresolved intrapsychic issues.”
Working with teachers in schools attended by children of terrorist victims, Dr. Dreman also emphasized the importance of attempting to restore some sense of order in their lives. “Get them into a routine,” he suggested.
But, contrary to what most people might think, Dr. Dreman warned that children “should not be ventilating their emotions all the time.”
“Ventilation and expression of strong emotions should be done gradually in order to avoid overwhelming anxiety and trauma which could result in severe psychological after affects,” he said.
“Allow them to express their emotions, but make them do their schoolwork. Finally, and in what might have come as a surprise to members of the audience, Dr. Dreman added: “Don’t send the kid immediately to a shrink!”
As far as how trauma as a result either of war or a terrorist attack can be exacerbated by the government, the media, and social networks, Dr. Dreman was critical of certain aspects of the roles played by all three.
The government, he says, although well intentioned, often contributes to the social isolation of widows of soldiers killed in action, he suggested. How is that? you might wonder.
Because the government is exceedingly generous in the granting of pension benefits to war widows or, as was the case of the widow of the man killed by the terrorist bomb in Jerusalem, to widows of terrorist victims. There is an economic disincentive to those women remarrying. In fact, while the widow of the terrorist victim did remarry a year and a half after being widowed, she divorced that man three year later.
Why? Because her new husband was not able to provide her with as much of an income as she had been receiving when she was a widow and, for purely economic reasons, she decided to become single again.
The media should not keep repeating minute after minute events that have occured but also they should not wait overly long periods to report on such events as people will then be uncertain about what actually has transpired and this could cause severe anxiety
As usual, the optimum would be “somewhere in the middle,” he concluded. Perhaps repeating the details of a terrorist event “every four hours” might be “optimal”, Dr. Dreman thought.
Finally, the role of social media in exacerbating anxieties on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was referenced by Dr. Dreman. He took note of one of the phenomena of what is now known as the “intifada of knives”, as young Palestinians are urged to kill Jews on social media.
“One young woman had a fight with her parents - then she went out to kill a Jew,” he said. Yet, trying to control that kind of impulse is not easy, Dr. Dreman observed. “Human behavior does not follow the rules of chemistry or physics since it is multidimensional and often unpredictable.”
In conclusion though, Dr. Dreman noted that, in the current situation of random knifings and car rammings, while Israelis may be angry at Palestinians, the level of animosity is not equal between the two sides.
“Their hate is greater than our hate,” he concluded; “they wake up in the morning wanting to kill Jews.”