Thursday, March 06, 2008

Separation Anxiety

Probably like the rest of you, at the vacation's end, I'm happy to be getting home. I look forward to getting back to work, sleeping in my own bed, making my own coffee.

Except when I leave Israel. Then I'm sad. As I pack up, sad. On the way to the airport, ditto. I look out the car window and see the land of Israel (green once a year, this time of year), feel the love of family and friends coursing through me, and I know I can't come back "soon" not soon enough. It takes me a week to recover emotionally, sometimes more.

Okay, a story.

I'm teaching research to doctoral students and while in Israel last week, on Page 2 of the Jerusalem Post, lucked upon a really great teaching study on post traumatic stress.

Journalists love to quote "the research" which is why you really have to read what they say very skeptically, very critically. They're journalists, not researchers, and they're looking to sensationalize whatever it is that is very likely not sensational.

You've heard about lying with statistics? There are so many ways to pervert research findings to sell newspapers. You don't even have to use the statistics.

Anyway, back to the story. I teach on-line. And even though I'm on vacation and had told the dean about my trip months before show time, he couldn't see why I couldn't teach the class from Israel. But you should know, and the dean does not, that to teach on-line you need really fast internet and a powerful computer, which is why half of my students don't even "show up" in the virtual classroom while I'm in Chicago. I can hear them (audio's less tricky) but the little window of video that's supposed to represent each human in the virtual classroom only rolls for about sixty percent of the class. But okay, I won't tell.

Just in case I had some technical difficulties, in case things didn't go so well at my end of the world, I put a group assignment up on the class blog so that class would go on, with or without me. The assignment described Professor Shrifra Shragi’s research at Ben Gurion University.

I lifted Dr. Shragi's findings and methodology for teaching purposes from Page 2 of last Wednesday’s Jerusalem Post and asked students to work together to answer my mundane researchy questions.
What do you think is the research question? What are the hypotheses? What kinds of statistics do you think the investigator used, etc., etc.
Let me tell you about the study (as much as we know, and remember, perhaps that's nothing at all).

Professor Shragi had an interest in post traumatic stress and the variables that might mitigate it. She found three natural groups of teenagers living in different places in Israel. The first group lives in the north of the country and experienced rocket and missile fire during the Second Lebanon War two years ago. That war lasted a little over a month. The sample of teens in the north of Israel heard or saw continuous military bombardment of their homes, fields, or cities during that month only.

The second and third groups of teens both live in the west of Israel bordering the Palestinian territory of Gaza. They're either in (a) the city of Sederot, or (b) nearby kibbutzim, rural communal farms where they share meals, rotate jobs, and produce the livelihood of the kibbutz as a cohesive unit, as one big communal "family."

The context of violence in the west of Israel (where the second and third groups live) is different from that of the north (where the first group lives). People who live near Gaza, either in the cities of Sederot or Ashkelon, or on the kibbutzim, are targets of Hamas missile fire that is on-going since 2006, since the Palestinians gained control of the territory of Gaza.

The Israelis evacuated Gaza for peace in 2006, leaving homes, synagogues, kibbutzim (some very lucrative farms, well-irrigated and lush, we used to visit), and other livelihoods. They left for peace, to give Palestinians a go at self-rule. The Palestinians subsequently elected the terrorist organization Hamas to govern themselves.

Hamas, as a terrorist organziation among other things, avows to push the Israelis (Jews) out of all of Israel. Russian missiles are delivered to Hama by land and by sea, either via Egypt or the ports. Hamas conducts a war of attrition, tries to wear down the Israeli people by pitching missiles at them, sometimes 40 to 50 in a day. Israelis consider the very modest death toll nothing short of miraculous, divine intervention. But living with this is wearying and it will not let up. Why should it? The logic on the part of the enemy is good. If the Israelis are miserable enough, perhaps they’ll leave the western cities and towns, too.

It would be like the fourth of July every day in America. Except when the fireworks land on your roof, you lose your house.

Thus Dr. Shragi's interest in post traumatic stress fits in nicely for this population. She's got her sample and a control. It's brilliant and her findings are fresh and important.

What are they?

Teens who live in Israeli kibbutzim, the communal towns, indicate that their sense of identity and purpose helps them get through their anxiety and fear of missile fire. Knowing who they are, why they're there, buffers the effects of trauma.

Identity and purpose.

Okay, so I really like this study.

I taught the class, and after my lecture, I had the students work with one another on the assignment while I took a break to get a glass of water and gaze at my brother-in-law's (the Chef's) fish tank. He's done a great job. The Chef and I chatted awhile about politics and what to do about Gaza, and then I returned to the "class room" at his high-speed computer.

"Any questions?" I ask.

"Uh, Dr. ____," says the spokesperson of the group. "We DO have a question. We’re not quite sure how to ask, or if it’s appropriate to ask or what. Like, it's a personal question. But is that okay to ask you a personal question?"

"Sure," I say, "Shoot."

"It seems like such a dangerous place, Israel! Aren’t you afraid? Why are you there!? And are you coming home soon?"

"Oh," I say. "Why am I here? Isn't it dangerous? Well, no, I don't think so." And without skipping a beat, "Let's say it's got everything to do with identity and purpose."

copyright 2008, therapydoc


Leora said...

Nice story.

Jack said...

I understand. Every time I leave Israel I feel sad for a week or two.

Batya said...

I think it would be more accurate to have put the word "peace" in quotation marks or write it in italics. That's because it was a "theory," a wish, not real. Obviously, considering all that's going on. There was no peace in the deal, just ... Ok, I'll keep the politics in my own blogs.

therapydoc said...

You don't have to, Batya.

For those of you interested, the link to her very well-written blog is