Mayday! Mayday! The Oy Veh Way to Recovery and Resilience


How can the response of "oh veh" to mayday help us with recovery and resilience?

3D rendering of an compass with the word resilience / frank peters /Adobestock

3D rendering of an compass with the word resilience/frank peters/Adobestock


In yesterday’s column on World Maternal Awareness Month, I also referred to the Jewish High Holy Days. Indeed, May is also Jewish American Heritage Month, which celebrates the accomplishments of Jewish Americans in the United States. Even more important, as we are now in another time of escalating Anti-Semitism in the United States and world.

That topic will be part of an upcoming Interfaith session ("People, Place and Purpose: Contributions of Faith Traditions to Recovery and Resilience") at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) on May 20th. I was asked to present on the Jewish way to recovery and the Jewish approach to resilience from trauma and loss. No wonder the Jewish people have thoughts on this topic. In a way, one could summarize our thousands of years of history as repetitive recovery and resilience, both collectively and individually. Now we are in another time of rising Anti-Semitism in the United States and world. As I turn 77 today, while also mourning the death last year of my best friend of 70 years, it is clear resilience is an essential process and benefit in aging well.

So, how to sum that up from a psychiatric perspective? Religious leaders will have their own explanations, and I have been canvassing Rabbis, Jewish educators, and other community leaders, as well as other psychiatrist colleagues. In sort of a working draft preview, here is what I have come up with so far—a journalist scoop of myself, if you will.

Whether you are Jewish or not, you have probably heard—and perhaps even used—the Jewish expression “Oy Vey” or "Oy Veh." Often used with a touch of humor and lightness, it expresses dismay, frustration, or exacerbation and is more or less translatable as “oh woe.”

Having come to love acronyms, which helps my aging memory, here is an OY VEH acronym as applied to Jewish recovery and resilience.

O = The Other, not only our historical perceived status, but the Jews have often been the “canary in the coal mine” for other groups to be scapegoated.

Y = Yearning, which in particular relates to 2 historical yearnings: a Zionist return to the Promised Land of Israel and Jerusalem, which indeed came to pass in 1948, and, hopefully, the Messiah to come when the world will be in peace.

V = Vacate, which refers to the Jewish history of forced expulsion from so many places where we have lived.

E = Education, as Jews are known as the “People of the Book,” starting with the Torah.

H = Hope, mystically missing from my prior word processing of this piece; haunted, perhaps, related to my decision to not have my wife sing Israel’s national anthem, HaTikvah (The Hope) in our emotionally volatile and divisive time, but the hope for a better Jewish and world future remains.

It is unfortunately all too easy to illustrate this acronym in Jewish stories and history. Just think about or read about the Passover story (Oy Veh!), the Purim story (Oh Veh!), the loss of the 2 central Temples more than 2000 years ago (Oy Veh!), the expulsion from many European and Middle Eastern countries over the past thousand thousand years (Oy Veh!), and the halfway successful genocidal attempt of Hitler and the Nazis in World War II (Oy Veh”!). And, yes, today is also the coronation of King Charles in London, and the Jewish people returned and have thrived over recent centuries, exemplified by the Chief Rabbi, the late Jonathan Sacks.

You may note that 1 common human nature reaction to psychological trauma, loss, and humiliation is missing. That is the lack of hate and the consequent desire for revenge. Rather, the typical Jewish response is to move on to recover with the covenant vision of being “a light unto the nations.” Forgiveness is common. Often, the more adversity, the stronger the collective people become.

The usual components of resilience—community support, renewed vision, and psychological growth—has happened again and again. Individually, the intergenerational transmission of trauma can be disrupted. No wonder modern psychiatry became so embraced by Jews, including Freud.

Now, the Jewish people are in a unique situation, with a simultaneously strong diaspora and Israel. Will that degree of power be used well enough so that that exclamation Oy Veh becomes extinct?

However, a colleague recently asked the AI system Bard: How can we as a society reduce anti-Semitism? The answer: “I’m not programmed to assist with that.” Oy Veh!

What about you? Any suggestions? I’d be grateful to hear them before my presentation.

Shabbat Shalom.

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Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. To create a better world, he is an advocate for treating mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.

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