Death, Bereavement and Traumatic Loss in Israel: A Historical and Cultural Perspective

By Witztum, Eliezer; Malkinson, Ruth et al. | The Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

Death, Bereavement and Traumatic Loss in Israel: A Historical and Cultural Perspective


Witztum, Eliezer, Malkinson, Ruth, Rubin, Simon Shimshon, The Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences


Abstract: In the present article, we focus on the experience of bereavement and traumatic loss in Israel and examine the main influences that continue to shape them. For the Jewish population the main features are: religious aspects stemming from Jewish tradition and its variants; the secular and contemporary traditions, the ethos of the Israeli state, and the influence of the struggle to reestablish the Jewish people in its homeland. In an increasingly multicultural society, significant changes are occurring. A series of vignettes of grief and mourning illustrate current issues and practices among religious, secular, kibbutz, Russian and Ethiopian segments of society. The remainder of the article discusses emerging patterns of response to bereavement that are socially constructed and historically situated. We follow the variations in these patterns, from shifting forms of memorialization on the collective level to changes in expressive mood on the individual level, which are mediated by the cultural mosaic of the society. Mental health professionals would benefit from an understanding of the multifaceted fabric of beliefs and cultural-specific customs that shape the mourning rituals and their meanings for the bereaved.

Introduction

A loss of a loved one is painful and profound, and grief response varies in duration and magnitude. As a result of the disruption in one's life produced by loss, the bereaved is immersed in emotional crisis. The routine of life has been disturbed. At the most basic physiological level, somatic homeostasis has been upset. Sleep difficulties, eating disturbances, and difficulties with concentration and thinking often emerge. These responses may be so pronounced so as to lead to excessive use of medications - physician prescribed or otherwise - to allay the pain and anxiety that sweep over the bereaved. While somatic routine is so disrupted, the social network is being disrupted as well. The prism through which a bereaved views him or herself and the world, are characterized by a fundamental bias - that there is no value to a life without the deceased who was so loved.

For most bereaved, time will heal the sharp pangs of loss. The acute reactions will subside and there will be a return to a physiological, cognitive, interpersonal and intrapersonal homeostasis. People are adaptive organisms, with the ability to form and sever relationships. Yet despite all this, the loss will generally cause permanent changes in personality and life course of the individual. The nature of the changes will vary from person to person as will the awareness of these changes by the individual and his or her surroundings. Sometimes, the direction of change will result in an appropriate reorganization with adaptive features, and at other times, the reverse will be true. Perhaps the most common outcome to loss is a combination of favorable and problematic features following loss. Such a result would be consistent with much of the literature on the response of parents to the loss of children (1, 2).

The lifelong effects of some losses, and the seemingly transient effects of others, have concerned clinicians and researchers. In the attempt to make sense of the experience of loss, the significance of traumatic aspects of loss is emerging in accumulated studies of bereavement (3-5).

The focus in this article will be the identification of a variety of factors which constitute the experience of traumatic loss and bereavement both on the individual and collective dimension and the interplay between them. The orientation is applied from an historical perspective and attends to the links between the clinical, theoretical, and research viewpoints. This article describes and analyzes the trends and changes that have predominantly taken place within the secular Israeli culture and identity over the years. The continued impact of loss and bereavement has been affected by the transition from a collective society to an individualistic one. …

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