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Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce

How my Jewish Heritage has inspired my work as a psychologist

16 December 2020 | by Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce

At the time of writing, we have just come to the end of the eighth day of Hannukah, the Jewish festival of lights. First instituted in 165 BC to represent triumph over adversity after the Seleucid king invaded Judea and tried to Hellenise the Jews, it is a story of the few overcoming the many, which allowed my forebears to continue living according to their faith.

Like many Jewish people living in the UK, my family came to this country to flee oppression and to find a safe haven.

In November 1938, the British government agreed to accept unaccompanied children from Nazi Europe if homes could be found for them.

My mother was one of the 10,000 children who came on their own on the Kindertransport, which was the name of the mission to rescue children under the age of seventeen.

Growing up, I was unaware that my mother was born in Germany or that she was a refugee. It was only when my older brother discovered her passport that the truth emerged.

I wondered why she hadn’t disclosed this information before but, many years later, when we watched a documentary together about the Kindertransport (“Into the Arms of Strangers”) she realised it would have been too painful to start this conversation which would kindle disturbing memories.

I became very interested in people’s stories, especially their accounts of survival in adversity.

My mother used to talk about her great sense of gratitude to the British people and her determination to give something back.

Social justice became crucial to me as well as the importance of not being a bystander when someone is being treated unfairly.

I also learned to be aware of secrets in families and would try to sensitise people to the adverse effects of secrets on others.

Some of the Jewish values that have guided me are similar to those of other communities such as the Golden Rule, doing kindness and behaving with integrity.

This idea of helping others traverses people of different backgrounds, cultures and faiths.

This was impressed on me by the example of those outstanding individuals in this country who supported my mother and the others who came over on the Kindertransport by taking them into their homes and helping them rebuild their lives.

Many of the people who gave their support were not Jewish and had no ulterior motive for doing so; they were motivated by pure altruism.

Their shining example has inspired me to try to emulate their deed which I have endeavoured to do in my career as a psychologist.

This is something which is particularly relevant to the Hannukah festival which is the story of overcoming adversity against overwhelming odds, by shining a light into the darkness.

Hanna Isaacson is an Associate Fellow of the BPS and member of the Division of Clinical Psychology.

She works as a Clinical Psychologist Couple and Family Therapist in the North London area and much of her work focusses on assisting clients with relational trauma.


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