I Don't Know How You Do It

Therapy in a War Zone: Navigating Terror and Trauma in Israel, with Lisa Fliegel

December 05, 2023 Jessica Fein Season 1 Episode 47
I Don't Know How You Do It
Therapy in a War Zone: Navigating Terror and Trauma in Israel, with Lisa Fliegel
Show Notes Transcript

Since October 7, many of us have been glued to our screens, scouring every bit of news out of Israel. Today's guest, Trauma Therapist Lisa Fliegel, knew that if she stayed home in Boston, she'd be filled with anxiety. Instead, three hours after news of the Hamas massacre reached her, she booked a plane ticket to Israel.

Lisa spent a full month with the survivors of the October 7 attack who have relocated to a hotel in Eilat. There, Lisa spent time with children and adult survivors, counseled other therapists, and created a therapeutic milieu out of the hotel lobby.

Lisa  is a trauma specialist with extensive experience in providing support to individuals coping with significant psychological trauma. With dual citizenship and having served in the Israel Defense Forces, Lisa's connection to Israel runs deep. She lived on Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava desert for 20 years and has a strong commitment to social justice and social change. Lisa is a special clinical consultant to the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute a grassroots non-profit that serves survivors of victims of homicide. She is an author and journalist. Her book-in-progress "Bulletproof Therapist: My clinical adventures in Israel/Palestine, Northern Ireland, and Inner-City Boston is waiting to hatch amid various missile attacks, gunfire and social upheaval. 

In this episode, you'll:

  • Find out why you don't need to be the best therapist (or the best mother, or the best anything else)
  • Discover how to be a student when people teach us what they need
  • Learn what to do when there's nothing to be done
  • Understand why we need to recognize when other people make a meaningful impact
  • Uncover the profound effects of shame on trauma survivors and learn what the difference is between tragedy and trauma
  • Learn how being fully present can profoundly impact trauma support and activism efforts.

Learn more about Lisa:
Bulletproof Therapist
Lisa's Blog

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Music credit: Limitless by Bells


Jessica Fein: Welcome. I'm Jessica Fein and this is the “I Don't Know How You Do It” podcast, where we talk to people whose lives seem unimaginable from the outside and dive into how they're able to do things that look undoable.I'm so glad you're joining me on this journey, and I hope you enjoy the conversation. 

I am so glad you are here for today's episode. Like so many of us, I've been glued to the news since the Hamas massacre in Israel on October 7th. I've been obsessed with the hostage situation and trying to wrap my head around not only what life feels like for the hostages, but also what it must feel like for their families. Today's guest, Lisa Fliegel, will tell us. 

Lisa is a trauma specialist who's worked throughout her [00:01:00] life with people coping with the raw wounds of significant psychological trauma. Three hours after the news of the October 7th Hamas attack reached her, Lisa bought a plane ticket to Israel.

When her friends in the left wing Zionist youth movement, Hashomer Hatzair, asked her to come to a lot to be with evacuees from Kibbutzim and small towns near the Gaza border, she did not think twice. Lisa has dual citizenship, served in the Israeli Defense Forces, and lived on Kibbutz Ketora in the Aravah Desert for 20 years.

One of Lisa's tasks was to provide clinical supervision for other caregivers in Eilat, which usually has around 60, 000 residents, but with the arrival of tens of thousands of Israelis who fled the war zone and are being housed in tourist hotels, it's population has essentially doubled.

Lisa's book in progress, “Bulletproof Therapist. My clinical adventures in Israel-Palestine, Northern Ireland, and Inner City Boston” is as she puts it, waiting to hatch amid [00:02:00] various missile attacks, gunfire and social upheaval. It is my honor to bring you, Lisa Fliegel.

Welcome, Lisa. It  is such an honor to have you on the show. 

Lisa Fliegel:Thank you. 

Jessica Fein: I have to tell you, I read an article about you and just put it down and said, I need to meet her. And lo and behold, here we are not very long after that. So thank you for giving us this time. Three hours after you heard about the October 7th Hamas attack, you bought a plane ticket to Israel.

What was going through your heart and your head at that point?

Lisa Fliegel: I knew I wouldn't be able to tolerate the amount of worry and anxiety I felt. For me, as for many people, activism is my therapy. And for me, being a mental health trauma specialist is activism. It's my [00:03:00] profession, but it's also my way of trying to repair the world.

Jessica Fein: You were going at the request of friends from Hashomer Hatzair. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Can you share with us what it means, what it translates to?

Lisa Fliegel: So Hashomer Hatzair is the youth guard. It's a hundred year old youth movement. And they are in the secular realm of Zionist youth movements, and many of the kibbutzim on the Gaza envelope were founded by Hashomer Hatzair, and they have lifelong relationships with their kibbutzim.

They also have a strong commitment to social justice. And to social change and they started the centers for social justice in Israel, which does community organizing and civic leadership training and coexistence training. So they’re after my own heart, you know, the leaders of the movement are [00:04:00] people that I've known since before they were born.

So, I can step back a little bit and tell you that I had an aunt, Tante Zenia. Her father and uncle were the founders of the Bund in Poland, and they ended up in the Warsaw Ghetto. And in the legacy of Hashomer Hatzair, when Jews were moved into the Warsaw Ghetto, They recreated the infrastructure of Jewish cultural life and made it as sustainable as possible for the Jewish community to thrive in any way, shape, or form.

And they were the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. This is the legacy of this youth movement. I bought my plane ticket without any plans. I said, yes, before I had any idea what it was they wanted me to do. When they asked me to come, they said, we need you to come for at least two weeks, at the very least 10 days.

And I said, I'll come for [00:05:00] 10 days. And I got off the phone and I said, what kind of jerk am I? Am I going to go for 10 days? Of course I'll go for a month. And I immediately changed my ticket and called them back and told them, and that was that when I was at the airport in Boston leaving, I thought to myself, how am I going to manage?

This is so overwhelming. This is so illusory that something like this could happen, and I'm going to be with the people who survived this. Who am I? In Boston, I work with people who lost loved ones to homicide. And I remembered a friend of mine once said to me before I got that job, it's the same thing you've always done, just more.

So I said to myself, this is the same thing I've always done, just more. And I'll know what to do when I get there. I just said to myself, you know what, at a certain point, I just need to be me. I'll [00:06:00] just be myself and figure it out. And that's what happened, and that's what really worked, and it worked for everybody else, too.

Jessica Fein: You lived, by the way, in Israel for 20 years, and you have dual citizenship. When the plane landed, when you got off the plane, how did the country feel different to you?

Lisa Fliegel: First of all, getting on the plane was a very intense experience. Even before I got to the airport, I was already in it, because once people knew I was going, Everybody called, can you bring this package to my son who's a lone soldier?

Can you deliver this to my uncle who isn't feeling well? Other people, you know, what's the Hamas, what's the kibbutz, where is Gaza? And it was really 24 seven immersion and also talking every day to my people that I'm close with who are being shelled with rockets and their sons [00:07:00] are going to reserve duty and they're trying to figure out where they can stay that's safe.

So the minute this happened, even though I was geographically here. I was pretty much there, the democracy protest movement, which I was very involved with within 20 minutes of the incursion shifted their entire network of resources to create a civilian service center in Tel Aviv's convention center. A huge operation and mobilized unbelievably.

And they were sending out lists of donations that they needed. So I took that list and I distributed it to people who wanted to do something. And I ended up bringing six suitcases of donations, which people who know me know that I'm like a trauma savant. I'm really good at working with trauma, but I'm not very good at packing.

But my friends came and packed the suitcases for me and other friends brought [00:08:00] me to the airport and other friend met me at the airport to make sure I didn't trip over myself and hit my head and, you know, wouldn't be able to go. But when I got to Logan airport, there was an Israeli American task force group and they had 55 suitcases.

They, I'm sure, spoke to airport security ahead of time and to El Al ahead of time because they came up to us long line and it was all Israelis, like no one else was going to Israel. And many people were already stacked up with donations, as was I, and everybody was anxious. You could just see that none of us knew what we were heading into, but we all knew we had to go and there were younger men and they were the most anxious.

And I went up to them and I said, yeah, this is really intense because I know that they're going to land and they're going to go directly to reserve duty. And they were like, yeah, this is intense. So [00:09:00] these Israeli American task force people said. Look, we have 55 suitcases. Any of you that can take another piece of luggage, we'd like you to take it.

And this is the opposite, right, of what we experienc. Did anyone give you something to take? You know, did you pack it by yourself? Was it with you the whole time? And here they are like in broad daylight, you know, violating every code of preparing to go to Israel. And there was one suitcase that said sutures.

And I said, I have to bring that suitcase. I have to. And they said, no, you have too much already. It's okay. We don't want you taking anything else. And I went through security and then I was up at the counter. And they were still struggling to find people. And I said, please, please give me the sutures. I want the sutures, but they insisted on not giving it to me.

And I had this huge purple duffel bag, which was filled [00:10:00] with tactical military equipment, which a friend of mine had ordered for his daughter's boyfriend, whose platoon arrived at reserve duty. And there was no equipment for them. And so this girl's father had ordered it all from an army store in Salem, New Hampshire, because you can get a lot of military equipment in New Hampshire.

And the guy behind the counter said, you realize you're going to have to pay overage. And I said, yeah, sure. I get it. And then this 26 year old lovely manager said, nobody is paying overweight today. Oh, wow. And I said, It's going to be okay. Afterwards, when we were heading toward the plane and I saw the manager again, I just took his hands in mine and I said, you have a flight full of very anxious, nervous people, and you are a blessing to [00:11:00] us.

And I want to thank you for what you're doing for us. Because I wanted him to understand that in a situation in which you have activated, we call it activated, when your trauma is activated and you do something soothing and understanding that recognizes people's need, you're doing something very important and it shouldn't be taken for granted.

And that part of my job, the whole trip from getting on the plane. Was to acknowledge and reinforce the people who are doing what was necessary, who might not even know they're doing it and to thank them for it so that they would remember and feel good about continuing to do it. 

Jessica Fein: You go on the plane, presumably nobody's sleeping on that plane ride, I think. Right? The plane lands and then what? 

Lisa Fliegel: Well, what was incredible is that I was most nervous, not about being struck by a missile because I don't have a normal fear instinct to begin with, [00:12:00] but I was worried about how I was going to get six bags off the conveyor belt and get them myself outside to the reception area.

And my friend had said to me, Oh, the country's different now. Everybody's helping everybody. It's going to be really easy. And I just couldn't believe her, but people helped me. I had two big, heavy carts. And another guy had a big heavy cart himself, and he said, do you want my help? And so we each had a cart in our left hand and together with both our right hands, we held the other cart and I went right through.

And then right from there, the friend who had ordered the tactical equipment met me and took the duffel bag. And then my friend Miriam and I drove directly to the Tel Aviv Expo to drop off the donations at the Brothers and Sisters in Arms [00:13:00] Center and Women Against Violence. The whole protest movement had this compound where every inch of it was just filled with donations.

All organized by category and then separate donations for soldiers and donations for children and donations for families and food donations and game donations. It was all completely streamlined. Everybody had this amazing sense of purpose. And when my friend and I handed over the suitcase to the brothers and sisters in arms, and they opened them and they said, this stuff is amazing. There are paratroopers who in 45 minutes are going to receive this and they're going to be so happy. It was just a moment where I said, when you can do something in a situation where there's nothing to be done, that's what sustains you, I felt not just joy at having been able to do [00:14:00] something, but really pride, I felt this great sense of pride that these civilians.

Within 20 minutes, mobilize their network of half a million people that were on WhatsApp groups and email lists, and they figured out what was needed. They set up a research center with 20 volunteers with laptops who spent 24 seven scouring social media for information about people who were still trapped in their rooms.

Because there were still terrorists running around and people who were missing and they scrubbed every inch of the internet and found information. And then they deployed themselves. They said, we're not waiting for the army. And they went and they rescued 1200 people, you know, the big trauma, the biggest trauma of October 7th is that every Israeli always [00:15:00] knew the army would be there. The army would come and the army did not come. They did not come some places. They didn't get there for 20 hours. Some places it took them three days and the brothers and sisters in arms said, we're not waiting for them.

They just went in and rescued the people. This was the beginning of my trip. It was like my good luck charm that I was with the right people and I was doing the right thing. And I was just grateful. You know, it's just like. People would say thank you to me and I'd be like, what are you thanking me for?

This is just an honor for me. And if I was in the States, I would be having a nervous breakdown. I wouldn't be able to manage. 

Jessica Fein: So the next place you went was the Red Sea Hotel in Eilat.

Lisa Fliegel: Well, before that, I went to a vigil for the families of the hostages in Tel Aviv. It was very, very [00:16:00] moving because there were people lining two city blocks holding pictures of every single hostage.

The families were in the defense ministry. And they were coming out of a meeting and we had all been prepared to be completely silent, like an honor guard for them. And then we marched with them from the Kiryat to the Tel Aviv museum. And then I went to a lot and I met the families. And was with them for an entire month embedded in their world.

Jessica Fein: This hotel, if I'm understanding correctly, had the members from Kibbutz near Oz. Yes. And these are the survivors of this massacre. 

Lisa Fliegel: 185 people were murdered and 74 were kidnapped. 

Jessica Fein: And their homes are burnt to the ground and destroyed. And you walk in, how do you begin to connect with people who are [00:17:00] in the midst of such intense trauma?

Lisa Fliegel: The first thing I took in the impression of the physical space and saw that this physical space of the hotel had very intentionally and mindfully been set up. The psychologist Winnicott talks about providing a container, that we can't solve everything for a child, but it's our job to provide a container, so that they're not overwhelmed by it, and they're not flooded.

The physical space of the hotel, when you walked in on the left hand side, there was the near us situation room. They call it a situation room, but it was just a table and one for Kibbutz Kerim Shalom, which was also in that hotel. And then in front, there was a table that the army was at. And then when you walked further down, there was a memorial table that had the list of the [00:18:00] people who had been killed and had memorial candles and a memorial book you could sign. And then above that, there was a bulletin board with the information of the active funerals that were taking place. And then there was an electronic bulletin board. And every day I took pictures of the electronic bulletin board because the electronic bulletin board was the storyteller of the place I was at.

It would say, if you need an orthopedist, go behind the hotel spa from two to three on Wednesdays. And if you need a dentist, go behind the divers club four to six on Wednesdays. And if you're going to the funeral of this member who was killed. Please talk to the liaison, Tali, and there are no longer plane tickets available because we've used up our budgeted plane tickets.

But if you are grieving family, [00:19:00] speak to, you know, Debbie and she will arrange your tickets for you. So it was the regular mundane day to day life, but it was also the trauma and the logistics of how you manage. How you manage to honor and carry out the normal rituals of death, burial, and grieving when you can't bury your loved ones in your own cemetery because it's a closed military zone.

And how do you sit shiva when your house has been burned to the ground and you're in a hotel. And all of these things. We're worked out behind the memorial table. There was a table where the leadership of the kibbutz sat all day with their laptops, they had a printer and they were in the business of trying to figure out how to continue running a kibbutz.

And then you had the lobby, which was [00:20:00] bright and airy and spotless. The manager of that hotel, I hugged him and said to him, you are an amazing human being because there was never a speck of dust on the floor anywhere. Those people were 24 seven that dining room. There was just an abundance of food and the people serving the food were warm and supportive.

And the people behind the bar were loving and they got to know the children. So I looked at it and I remembered my training in the adolescent unit at McLean hospital. And the theory of the optimal treatment for adolescents is milieu treatment. Is you create a therapeutic community. And I looked at this hotel lobby and I said, this is my therapeutic milieu for the next month.

And that means that everything I observe and everything I hear and [00:21:00] everything I feel and everything I notice has a clinical significance. And everything I respond to, or don't respond to, has clinical meaning. And how do I do that? How do I do that? First of all, I was there to supervise and train. And people would say, what do I say to a kid who I sit next to?

How do I talk to them about what happened to them? And I said to them, why do you think you need to say anything? The number one thing you need to do is to be present. Being present is the first intervention. These people, their notion of safety and trust and healthy attachment hasn't just been violated.

It's been decimated. Every system that was supposed to protect them failed them. And so it is utter and complete arrogance to think you can even begin to have [00:22:00] a real conversation with somebody. And the way you gain their trust is just by being present. And the second thing, I would observe people, if I would see someone who looked particularly upset or troubled, I would bring them a glass of water.

And I would simply say, it's very important that you drink water because that is the first intervention in trauma. The cortisol in our brains overwhelms our system as a trauma reaction and dehydrates us. And so the first thing you need to do in a trauma situation is give people water. And every single time the person would look up at me in surprise and say, thank you.

I didn't even know I needed that, but I do. That is how the trust developed. Because I would talk to people after getting to know them, they would one day look at me and I'd point to the chair next to me and they would sit down and they would start to tell me their story. Inevitably, I would say, well, [00:23:00] have you spoken to anyone?

And they would say, oh, you mean a therapist. And I would say, yeah, and they would say, oh, yeah, but they can't help me. They can't help me. And I would say, oh, why not? And they would say, well, they really want to and their heart is in the right place. But they weren't there and they just don't know. And they were never prepared to deal with something like this before.

And then I would say to them, well, what would they say if they had been prepared? And they would begin to tell me more of their story, and they would talk for two hours. I never said I was a therapist. I wasn't wearing an ID tag. All the clinicians wore ID tags. I didn't. I just am not an ID tag kind of gal.

But they knew that I was there to listen to them. And I just felt so blessed. And I always told them that they were very courageous to tell me their [00:24:00] story. And that I'm very honored that they trusted me to hear their story. And that it meant a lot to me. And they would beam with pride, you know, so much of trauma is a sense of shame and humiliation.

When I'm training people, I say, what's the difference between a trauma and a tragedy, right? Bad stuff happens. One person's house burns down. And it's a tragedy, another person's house burns down and it's a trauma. Why? Because one person is very wealthy and they can go stay in a hotel and they can rebuild a new house and they have a community of friends who are also wealthy, who lend them clothes and lend them toys and they're resourced.

And another person just lost their son to homicide and moved houses to escape the danger. And then the house they moved into burns down. And they don't have money and they don't have resources and they don't have a place to stay. So that's a trauma for them. So [00:25:00] what characterizes a trauma as opposed to a tragedy is the sense of helplessness, is a sense of hopelessness, is the sense that the world we know will never exist again, that the rules and frameworks and structures that gave our lives meaning and order have all been destroyed.

It's the sense of powerlessness. And when we feel powerless, we feel ashamed. We feel ashamed that we could not save our kibbutz. We could not protect our children. We could not prevent our mothers from being kidnapped. The gentleman I was just talking about, he said, I worked in landscaping and I was on my hands and knees with those Thai workers.

And every blade of grass on my kibbutz, I planted with them. And now it is all burnt. It is all destroyed. How can I live a life of meaning now? [00:26:00] It's all lost. And I said to him, and what happened when you came to a lot? He said, when we came to a lot, we had nothing. We were barefoot. Some of us whose houses were still standing in three minutes to grab whatever we could, but we had nothing.

And hundreds of people were waiting for us with tears in their eyes, sealed with guilt. That somehow they should have protected us. Somehow they allowed this to happen to us. And because they felt this enormous guilt and grief for what had happened to us, they had everything you could imagine. They had food, they had clothes, they had computers, they had toys for the children.

And they wrapped their arms around us. And they went, and we went, and I knew that something could be salvaged. And I felt like it was nothing short of a miracle that I was sitting there and hearing that story. The other thing that [00:27:00] was amazing about this man, as I asked him, you know, everyone had their experience of being in what was supposed to be the safe room.

And as everyone knows, the safe rooms are safe for missiles because they're reinforced, but the doors did not have proper locks on them. And so everyone had this story of holding the door shut. You know, there was one member of the kibbutz that the Hamas terrorists dynamited the door handle. And his hands were blown off, you know, so everyone had this story, but this man in particular, he said the terrorist didn't come to his house.

And I said, well, what did your children do while you were in there? He has three children. And he said, well, I had a toy sword and a toy hatchet and a toy laser, like a Star Wars laser. And I gave them to my children and they fought. And I said to him, do you realize that you are the best father in the world?

[00:28:00] Because the story your children will tell themselves about that day will always be a story of being heroes and fighting because your instinct told you to give them the feeling that they could protect themselves and each other. And he said, really, are you sure? And I said, listen, I'm a trauma specialist. I know. You have to believe me. I'm an authority on this. And he said, okay, and he just beamed with pride and I just felt like it was such a blessed moment. 

It's such a blessing if you can let people teach you what they need. And we all think we have to come in with some notion and some expertise, some superpower. But really. We just have to be present, and if we're present, the person will teach us what they need. And then our only job is to be a good student. [00:29:00] 

Jessica Fein: Let's talk about those kids. So his kids survived, and there are, how many kids were there at the hotel from the kibbutz?

Lisa Fliegel: You know, I don't know the exact number. I'm not good at stuff like that. I just zoom in. 

Jessica Fein: So zooming into the experience of the kids there, what is the day to day? What is it like for them now?

Lisa Fliegel: So that's the magic and the mystery of these Hashomer Hatzair people, because on October 9th, they said, we've got to roll out and get there. And by October 10th, they had deployed to 10 hotels where there were evacuees.

And they just immediately did their youth movement thing, youth activities, youth frameworks, helping set up the nursery. When I got there on October 21st, above the divers club, there's these classrooms. One was a kibbutz kindergarten and the other one was an exact replica of a kibbutz [00:30:00] nursery. The school aged kids had a daily schedule.

And they had managed to get 15, 20 staffs between the ages of 19 and 42, who were the counselors for these kids, the nature preserve center, which has a mini auditorium, you know, they would watch a movie, they would take the kids snorkeling and they did their youth movement activities with them every day, every day started at like, Eight o'clock in the morning at the hotel with breakfast, nine o'clock, taking the kids to their activities, lunch, afternoon activities, meanings, planning, training sessions.

One of the coordinators was having a difficult time when I got there and they asked me to talk to her. And my first question was, what time do you go to sleep at night? And she said, well, I should be asleep by 12:30. And I said, and what [00:31:00] time do you usually get to bed? And she said about two in the morning.

And I said, okay, so we're going to get you to sleep by 12:30. I developed a new therapeutic modality, which I call DJ trauma, because there was never enough time. You never finished even the story of the man that I talked to that day. You never finished. And so I would think of a song that represented this theme of our conversation.

So for this coordinator, who's just a rock star, you know, completely devoted, brilliant, intuitive. Every night I would send her a message at 11:30. You're going to sleep in an hour and here's your lullaby. And then other staff members saying, I want to get a song too. How come I don't get a song? It became a thing.

The man that I told the story about, he had tattoos up and down his [00:32:00] arms. And he said, these are tribal tattoos. And the only thing that has meaning to me now is tribes. And I don't even know what the meaning of these symbols are, but I know that's what important to me. And so on my last day there, I sent him a song from Sweet Honey in the Rock.

It's all about belonging to your tribe. And he just beamed with happiness. I didn't have 20 sessions with him. I didn't sit with him in an office. I didn't write anything down. I didn't have a progress note. I didn't bill an insurance company. Nobody in the world knows I did it. You know, I didn't get paid nothing, you know, there was no framework, but there was that theme that his anchor of resilience.

Was the notion of the tribe and his tattoos on his arm were a constant that he had his tattoos were still there after October 7th and my [00:33:00] ability to remember that and reflect back to him with a Sweet Honey in the Rock song that's a celebration of tribe just meant the world to him. I don't think I ever said to anybody, I'm a therapist, but I had, they called it my observation post in the lobby, and in Hebrew the word is tatspit, and I'd sit in my tatspit, which was like a cane chair with a cushion, and when things happened, I'd respond to them.

When people needed me, they'd find their way to me. But the family I worked with the most had a four and a half year old daughter that was having a very difficult time, and I'm not going to tell that whole story now, but what I will say is that the mother's brother had been murdered on Kibbutz Kitzufim, and the father's brother, sister in law, and nieces were hostages.

And the grandmother was also there, and she [00:34:00] was one of the leaders and organizers of the hostage activists movement. And last week, the aunt and the three year old twins were released. I was watching it and these two twin three year olds with these beautiful faces and they look like their cousin. It's just crazy.

When I was in Israel, when I was in Eilat, I never watched the news. One weekend I was in my hotel cause I didn't live in the same hotel as them and they had newspapers and I picked one up and I was like, Oh, you know, I should read the newspaper and I opened it and every single story was an interview with the people I was working with.

And I said, I don't need to read this. So I put some in my suitcase and brought them back with me. You know, someday I'll look at them. But right now, every day I watch the news and I scrutinize those videos. And I watch the interviews with people that I know, [00:35:00] people who I love. Freud says that therapy, psychoanalysis is about love and work.

That's what I did for a month. I just loved and I worked, I learned that from working with traumatized teenage girls in inner city, Boston, and then Chelsea, whose lives were so chaotic and filled with such persistent ongoing trauma. I created a program. I had a team, a brilliant team that I worked with, and we would work on every single problem these girls had.

We would leave no stone unturned. And sometimes, rarely, it would really be impossible. And in those situations, I would say to a girl, Sometimes, all I can do is love you. But loving someone is the most amazing thing you can do. It's the most powerful, nurturing, [00:36:00] healing thing. And so when I would say, sometimes all I can do is love you, it was a little tongue in cheek because I was saying, all I can do for you is the most important, wonderful thing.

Again, we go back to Winnicott who says, you don't have to be the best mother. You just have to be a good enough mother. You don't have to be the best trauma therapist, you just have to be good enough to them. 

Jessica Fein: Your book is called The Bulletproof Therapist. First of all, you gotta get that out there because I need to read it.

Lisa Fliegel: Yes, if the world could just stop having urgent emergencies. 

Jessica Fein: How did you become bulletproof? 

Lisa Fliegel: Well, my mother was a visionary leader in the welfare rights movement in the United States in the 60s and 70s. She worked to unify the welfare laws in the state, and she was very [00:37:00] prominent in the civil rights movement. Mothers for Adequate Welfare, very grassroots. Our house was a hut bed of activism. And she passed away when I was 12, a week after my 12th birthday. And I was left with a legacy that I was supposed to bring an end to all of human suffering by the time I was 30. And I failed to do that. So every year after 30, I've been trying to compensate for that failure.

Jessica Fein: I think I was raised with a similar expectation. I was conceived as a result of a war that was happening in Israel. And my parents thought, well, we 

better have a child so she can, you know, save the Jewish people. So for sure, I failed at that.

Lisa Fliegel: Right. And our parents knew each other. 

Jessica Fein: And our parents knew each other, which is just so remarkable.

Lisa Fliegel: The only thing I'm ever afraid of is disappointing my mother. And so that's what makes me a bulletproof. I had a boss once who said to me, can't you just ever do what I asked [00:38:00] you to do? And I looked at him and I looked up at the sky and I said, actually, I can't. Because I only have one boss and that's my mother, and she's up there in the heavens.

And if I don't meet her expectation, she's going to throw a bolt of lightning and strike me down. I said, I feel sorry. I'm sorry. I apologize. But that's the truth. So when you have that, not even a sense of mission and an imperative of mission, you can't even notice. You know, if there are bullets whizzing by my last day in the Nero's hotel, just to make sure I held on to the experience was the only day there were two missiles that fell in a lot and the entire hotel shook.

And I was like, I better get to the bomb shelter because the kids are probably having anxiety attack. Do you ever get scared personally, not for other people, but for yourself? I'm afraid of math. [00:39:00] And I'm afraid of parallel parking. All right. Yeah. Those are my fears. 

Jessica Fein: Your book follows your journey to make meaning of the true impact of trauma on people, neighborhoods, communities and countries.

How in the world can you make meaning of this kind of intense trauma? 

Lisa Fliegel: I love that question because that's my life’s journey. That's my quest. And I think the meaning that this trauma is bringing to the lives of many, many Israelis is who are we? What is our identity? What kind of country do we want to be?

And how do we rebuild our country so that we really can take care of each other and that we really can be united? In building, not dividing, not destroying, not putting down, but really be united [00:40:00] for each other. And how are we going to find a diplomatic solution? Because bombing Gaza and decimating apartment blocks and causing all that destruction isn't saving Israel.

And it isn't going to destroy Hamas because Hamas is an idea. Hamas is a reaction. Hamas is a sense of entitlement to destroy. It's a desire to have power over, and you don't destroy that by killing the leaders because you're causing more people to feel that way. So what is growing out of the ashes, kibbutzim, kibbutzim, we're losing their sense of community.

Their sense of collectiveness, they were privatizing, they were shutting down. And so many resources are being put in to helping the kibbutzim remake themselves and [00:41:00] reinvigorate themselves. It's just brilliant. Nir Oz is going to be in an apartment complex and Nir Yitzchak is going to be in the guest hotel of Kibbutz Eilat, but they're going as a community.

I think it’s unbelievable, you know, insurmountable trauma and grief and devastation, but at the same time, what every human being in Israel who wasn't assaulted or taken hostage on that day. Every single person is doing something for someone. So who am I? You know, who am I to feel helpless in a situation like this?

I have no right to feel helpless. I am required to find resources within myself to figure it out. I can't be hopeless. I can't say I don't know what to do. You know, there were very, very hard days there. Very hard days, but I would say to myself, of course, it's hard. Of course, it's [00:42:00] hard. This is a terrible situation and no one can know what to do.

And we just have to every day try to figure it out. One kid at a time, one mother at a time. Every night at dinner, every night in the near us hotel, Yam Suf, a kid would break a plate every night, sometimes two or three plates. They had small sweaty hands and the plates were big and they had a lot on their mind.

And every time a kid would break a plate, I would bend down and start picking up the shards of the plate and I would shoo people away because the kids were barefoot. Kids were running around barefoot and a waiter would say to me, Oh, don't do that. You don't need to do that. You know, they're going to come and sweep it up.

And I would say, but the shards are here now and they're barefoot now. So when he gets here with the broom. I will get up and leave, but until then, it is my job to create safety. The first stage, the first response to acute [00:43:00] trauma is safety and stabilization. So you can follow and implement all the theory, all the literature on trauma, if you just keep it in the back of your mind.

You'll know what to do when a plate breaks in the dining room. 

Jessica Fein: Lisa, thank you so much for who you are and thank you for what you do and for sharing this with us. It's been really incredible talking to you.

Lisa Fliegel: Well, Jessica, thank you so much. You asked great questions, and it gave me a chance to try to sum up in my mind something that I think is unsumupable.

Jessica Fein: Here are my takeaways from the conversation with Lisa. Number one, when you do something in a situation where there's nothing to be done, it doesn't only sustain others, it sustains you too. Number two, when you acknowledge and thank somebody who's making a difference. Even if they don't know they're making a difference, they'll remember and continue doing it.

Number three, you gain people's trust by simply being present. If we're present, people will teach us what they need. We [00:44:00] just need to be good students. Number four, you don't need to be the best, you just need to be good enough. Number five, sometimes all you can do is love somebody, but that's also the most powerful healing thing you can do.

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