From the Death of Klinghoffer to The City Without Jews


Whenever the Jewish people are targeted historically, the risk spreads to vulnerable others.




History repeats itself once again. On last Friday, I wrote about how an article I wrote for Psychiatric Times over 13 years ago has resonated with the recent calls of “evil” in the invasions of Israel and Ukraine. Now, my 9 years old Psychiatric Times article on the mental health damage of the Metropolitan Opera presenting the opera “The Death of Klinghoffer,” Klinghoffer being a crippled Jewish man killed by terrorists, seems to resonate with a local presentation yesterday of a movie titled “The City Without Jews.” Common to both are genocidal risks to the Jewish people, but the resonance to others is even broader. Whenever the Jewish people are targeted historically, the risk spreads to vulnerable others.

Certainly, clinically we know that any specific trauma can also be a psychological trigger to other traumas. The Klinghoffer opera by the well-known new music composer John Adams was presented at what turned out to be the beginning of the decade old rise of anti-Semitism in the United States and world.

There were many other protests about the opera, including from family members. Although the Met movie of the opera was cancelled, the live opera went on as scheduled.

Locally, the process has had a similar trajectory and outcome. A panel discussion about this relatively newly discovered 1924 lost silent movie, which included a new musical score, was cancelled, but the movie was shown despite the Jewish community asking for it to be cancelled. Perhaps that could be considered an anti-Semitic decision in itself.

Once my wife and I saw scenes in a preview, we decided to not attend anyways. It was too psychologically painful. No mental health professionals were consulted as far as I know.

Besides the value of hearing a new musical score, the initial marketing of the movie was that it was touted today as a prediction of the Holocaust to come, and thereby a warning for our time. With the invasion of Israel, that warning no longer seemed needed. Really proved the point.

A classical music conductor we knew well said that the art was important enough that the Klinghoffer opera should go on. When both are at risk and in conflict, what is more important, art or mental health? Then there is the influence of money. What would be lost if either production was completely cancelled?

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry, and is now in retirement and refirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.

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