"Sulha was completed, relieving all the resentful legacy,
and the gloomy burdens of hatred and revenge.
Peace was restored for future generations." - Elias Jabbour

Summary Report

Dan Booth Cohen
"Peace Begins in the Soul"
at Brit Tzedek v'Shalom National Conference,
February 21, 2005


Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, held its annual national convention at Temple Israel of New York City on February 19- 21, 2005. I led a workshop titled, “Peace Begins in the Soul” to demonstrate Systemic Constellations as a tool for reconciliation within families and between members of conflicting ethnic groups.

I have a lifelong interest in the question, “How can Jews live as Jews without having enemies that want to kill us?” My father, the late Henry Cohen of New York, was a foot soldier in the U.S. Army in World War II. In January, 1946 he became Director of Camp Foehrenwald, the second largest United Nations resettlement camp for Jewish Concentration Camp survivors. Among the residents were two survivors of my grandmother’s family. This experience placed him in the vortex between the remnants of Eastern European Jewry and emergent post-war Zionism.

Although my parents were not observant Jews, both of them were concerned, often to the point of obsession, with the survival of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. Throughout my childhood, the fear that the Arabs would finish what the Nazis started hung over me like the Sword of Damocles. My internal dialogue, especially in the silent minutes preceding sleep, told of dying tormented and anguished at the hands of a uniformed murderer; my dreams played out scenes from documentary films about Concentration Camps.

Sixty years after the liberation of the Nazi Concentration Camps Jews are still threatened by enemies that want to kill them. The Jewish State of Israel has been at war since its inception. Despite a recent thaw between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, the combatants remain at each other’s throats with new explosions and shootings reported nearly every day. The American Jewish community substantially subsidizes the defense of Israel through $9 billion in annual aid and a unified political constituency that forces every elected official in the United States to adhere to the so-called “Doctrine of Balance.”

When bullets fly, bombs detonate, negotiations fail, dialogue groups implode, noble organizations fall into vicious internal conflicts or individuals become enveloped by darkness, some archaic wounding is repeated.

Eva Madelung, a German psychotherapist born in 1931, writes:

“It's been more than 50 years since the Nazi regime ended, yet the task of coming to terms with those fateful years is far from over. The after-effects can be observed in Systemic Constellation work over and over again, often with dismaying clarity. The fates of those people who experienced the Nazi regime continue to affect their family systems today.”

Peace begins when the wounds that bleed from one generation to next are healed and put into the past. In Constellation work the soul is not something people have, it is something larger that has us. The American Jews are committed in their love for Israel. We are grateful custodians of the hope of 2,000 years to be a free nation in our land. Do we dare look at what is required to make peace with the enemies that want to kill us?

Systemic Constellations can be used in service of healing the buried wounds that remain alive in the American descendents of European Jews. These wounds, which can be expressed as emotional, physical and relationship difficulties on a personal level, also express themselves in the political realm. Constellation work is a means to bridge between the personal and political spheres.

The need for such insight was revealed once more before I even stepped into the building. On Saturday evening, at the start of the conference, a well-dressed man in his 50s stood on the sidewalk handing a flyer to each participant. It read,

“Doesn’t trying to appease a group like the PLO who are Arab Nazis whose goal is still to try and murder every Jew in Israel, make them see Jews as weak and easy targets?”

This confusion between Nazi and Arab, victim and perpetrator, the guilty and the innocent, the weak easy target and the most militarized population in human history, becomes strikingly clear in the micro-field of a Constellation. If one carries unconscious rage on behalf of victims of the Nazi Holocaust, it is a near certainty that the rage will express onto living people generations removed from the original crime. Labeling the opponents “Arab Nazis” gives license to commit murder and atrocities against them in good conscience.

The Constellation

By prior arrangement, a client had agreed to work on her personal issue in front of the group. She met three criteria: 1) she had a direct familial connection either to the Holocaust or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.; 2) she had a serious personal issue that was deeply troubling to her and that she would be willing to shift; 3) she was willing to work on her personal issue in front of the group.

The woman who agreed to work had lived in Israel. Her ex-husband was the son of Holocaust survivors. One of their children was filled with rage. Unfortunately, there was a driving snowstorm the morning of the workshop and the client was unable to travel from Rockland County to join us.

I was therefore in the unenviable position of the director of a dance performance who steps in front of the curtain before the show and asks who has brought toe shoes?

Unlike the dance director, who can presume that the audience knows what dance is, the workshop participants, with a few exceptions, did not know what a Constellation was.

We have all eaten strange foods that gave us dysentery, attended parties that turned into multi-level marketing sales events, and kissed people whom we later came to regret ever meeting. My offer to demonstrate an unknown therapeutic intervention that would point to a solution to one person’s most serious personal issue and cast light on the insoluble issue of peace for the Jews made some people uncomfortable.

The room itself seemed to be rebelling or asserting a challenge against the work. The windows were opened to let air circulate, but with the air came the drowning loud rat-a-tat of a close-by jackhammer. People drifted in; others walked out.

Throughout this exchange, the seats remained full. There is common agreement that the existing tools are woefully insufficient, and a dawning awareness that, in the words of Sun Ra, “Once you’ve done everything that’s possible, there’s nothing left but the impossible.” The external noise, porous door and general squirming felt like a fitting background metaphor from which to begin.

I offered a brief introduction, presenting two quotations from Otto Rank.

The first reflected on the ambiguity of the term soul:

To know psychology, one has to know its object: the soul. But given its peculiar nature, psychology finds itself in a unique position: it must provide the object of its study - a scientific concept of the soul. The soul as we know it from antiquity in folk belief, religion, and mythology, does not exist for scientific psychology, yet research goes on as if it did. Ironically, psychology purports to determine the validity of the soul concept, but its research only confirms that there is no soul.

See Soul for an expanded discussion.

The second spelled out why people attended a conference of a Jewish peace group, subtitled, “From Gaza to Negotiations” might understandably be reluctant to reveal the hidden wounds in their soul.

We must distinguish between two facets of psychology: that of self knowledge and that of knowledge of others. The first is psychology of self-awareness, and the second is psychology as a means, tool or 'technique' to control others. Deep down, we don't want to observe ourselves and increase self-knowledge. First of all, the search for self-knowledge is not an original part of our nature; second it is painful, and finally it doesn't always help but often is disturbing. Knowledge of others can be put to use; too often, self-knowledge proves a hindrance.

I asked if there was anyone in the circle who satisfied the three criteria. A woman volunteered that her grandparents had immediate relatives who died in the Holocaust; she had a serious relationship problem with her adopted daughter; and she was willing to serve as a client in the process.

The interview was brief. In the interest of confidentiality, I will omit certain details. She and her husband had adopted a young girl from Russia who was now 21. From the start, their relationship had been strained, often combative. The client was clearly distraught over the enmity that characterized their relationship and anxious about the young woman’s prospects for having a relatively healthy and content adult life. “She’s the angriest person I know. I’m frightened to be with her a lot of the time.”

The client’s mother had a successful career; she was cold and distant. For a surrogate, she had been substantially raised by an African-African nursemaid in the manner that was common in families of means in generations past. They were still close. This woman was now a prominent official in her church. The client had married and had two miscarriages before deciding to adopt. The marriage endured.

I inquired what was it that she would most want to change if she could. Her answer was, “I would just like us to be friends.”

I disclosed that while the issue was serious in terms of the parent-child relationship, I was uncertain how it related to the topic of the Brit Tzedek conference and our purpose of shedding light on the role of American Jews in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In any event, having begun, my focus was on being in service to the members of her system. The client responded by saying, “I see the connection. It’s like I’m living with a terrorist in my midst. I actually say that sometimes.”

After sitting with the issue for a few moments, I asked her to select two representatives from the group: one for herself and the other for her daughter. I then showed her how to setup a Constellation and gave the representatives instructions on what to do.

The two representatives were setup back-to-back, about 3 feet apart and askew. The representative for the daughter disclosed that she was uncomfortable participating in this way, so I replaced her. After several minutes, the representatives became tuned into the emergent information field.

Clearly, the two of them were estranged from each other. Their attention was focused elsewhere. How was the adopted daughter feeling? She said she felt very sad and alone. And the adopted mother's representative? She reported feeling pained at trying to love someone who could not receive. She wanted to take care, but could not reach through. The client confirmed with a nod that the portrayal of her and her daughter was accurate.

I brought in a woman to stand facing the adopted daughter and two women to stand facing the adoptive mother. Both the original representatives felt relieved.

What became clear was that the daughter was greatly burdened by the circumstances of her birth, her abandonment by her parents and some grave events that had caused enormous suffering in her family of origin. We did not know anything of the details of her family background, and could not speculate. However, our knowledge of Russian history tells us 40 million Russians died as a result of the Communist forced collectivization, the two World Wars, and Stalin’s reign of terror and its aftermath. This burden was too great to bear. The daughter expressed its as hostile and disturbed behavior.

The adoptive mother had taken on the responsibility of caring for a child whose own mother could not do so. However the task proved to be much more demanding than she had imagined and she was not fully available because she, too, was drawn away to some distant source of suffering. The exact facts and circumstances were not important and I did not inquire about them. What was evident was that the daughter’s burdens were too great and the adoptive mother’s resources were too little. They could not hold on to each other in love. Instead their meeting was a collision between “too much” and “too little.” The result was a hostile state of enmity with each person turned away towards the original source of their strength.

The client observing this scene was deeply moved. I was cautious not to interfere with her processing of the information by either offering too much interpretation or soliciting her comments. It is enough to see the expression on her face and body language to know that something is touching her in a deep way.

The Constellation changed at this point from being very still and silent, to slightly more active and verbal. My role as facilitator is to read the field using a combination of intuition and experience. Between each of the actions described below there was a long space of time, several minutes in some cases. The movements of the soul are always slow. Constellations allow empty time for the images to be perceived and absorbed.

I told the representative for the daughter that the woman I had placed in front of her was her mother, her Russian birth mother. They faced each other for some time, connecting deeply with love, grief and pain. Tears welled.

Representatives in a Constellation repeat words suggested to them by the facilitator. This is not role-playing or psychodrama. The words are meant to verbalize reality, e.g., “You died and I lived.” The words are used in two stages, first to cement the image of the current reality, and second, to offer another image that represents healing within the system and the possibility of a future existence on different footing from the past.

The (birth) mother said to the daughter, “I couldn’t hold on to you. It was too hard for me. I lost everything.”

The daughter told her, “I missed you so much. There was no one to love me.”

I brought in a representative for the Russian father to stand besides the mother.

The daughter told them, “I see you now. You will always be my mother and father.”

The mother volunteered that she wanted to touch her daughter, but felt she had lost the right to do so. Nevertheless, they faced each other with love.

I told the representative for the client that the two women standing before her were her mother and the African-American woman who had cared for her.

I observed that V., the nursemaid, must have also carried a deep burden of suffering from her family’s experience of American slavery. Imagine how much was lost, how the family was torn apart and scattered. How many must have died? And yet, when that Black woman working as a servant in a White family’s house was handed that baby…she just loved that baby. Through all her pain, she just loved the baby and took care of it as best she could. What a great gift that was. When the client had been unable to have children of their own, she decided to take good care of another mother’s child. But what she took on was so much more difficult than what she bargained for.

The client’s representative said to her mother, “Thank you for giving me life. I will do something good with it.” And to V.: “Thank you for loving me and taking such good care of me.”

She bowed deeply to them both and they embraced.

The client’s representative went to where the daughter and her parents were standing. She told the parents, “I see you now. I see how much you suffered. Thank you for your daughter. I will always love her and take care of her as best I can.” The parents accepted the acknowledgment and indicated their approval, tacitly thanking the client for taking care of their child.

At this point, with the daughter reconciled to her parents and the adopted mother cognizant of the larger systemic forces that weighed down on the girl, I brought the actual client into the Constellation. Once she had tuned into the field, the representative for the client sat down. The client repeated the seeing, acknowledging and honoring the parents.

The client brought the daughter to meet her mother and surrogate mother, V. She said, “This is my mother. This is V. She is my best friend.”

The daughter felt strong, loved and supported. The client saw that her role was as caregiver. She was not her daughter’s mother, even if she was the only mother she had. Warmth flowed between them and they embraced for a long time.

I said, “Let’s leave it here.”

When we sat down the room was still and hushed with awe. Even the jackhammer noise was silence, though no one recalled it stopping. It was a lot to absorb, even for me.

I suggested to the client to let the image be in the body for several days without adding discussion, commentary or analysis. The healing occurs in the body, not the mind. She need not change anything immediately. After a few months, it is very likely that her relationship with her daughter will change.


It is a strange phenomenon, but we see it often repeated in Constellations. When someone in the family system is excluded, someone else, a child born into the family later on, takes their place.

Each family system is different. At a minimum, there are seven: the individual, two parents and four grandparents. Siblings of all three generations are also a part. Under special circumstances, other people become part of the system as well. For Jewish American families, the perpetrators of murders against Jews also belong to the system. It cannot be intellectually justified or explained. When the perpetrator is not acknowledged and given a place in the system, someone in a subsequent generation becomes a perpetrator. Excluding the perpetrators creates perpetrator energy in the family system.

Including and acknowledging the perpetrators does not mean forgiving them or excusing their crimes. To the contrary, their guilt cannot be reduced, absolved or washed away. What is means is seeing the Nazi murders as human beings; full human beings who committed terrible crimes and who had parents, lovers, and children. They, like their victims, were caught up in something greater than themselves. They suffered too.

When the terrorist in our midst is a Palestinian suicide bomber, we can deploy the armed forces to destroy their family’s house or entire village. We can invade foreign countries. We can construct a security fence to wall ourselves off from the danger. We can install a murderous warriorr as the Prime Minister of the Jewish State and then make a speech calling him, “Our best hope for peace.”

When the terrorist in our midst is our child, lover or even ourself, the Israeli Defense Forces won’t defend us. Some people fight to the end. Others are called to look for a peaceful solution.

If the American Jewish community relinquishes the belief that outrage changes the fate of the dead for the better we can transform the blind love that creates and perpetuates suffering into a love that heals. If this occurs, our political leaders and policy makers we have latitude to forge a true peace.

Jews can live as Jews without having enemies that want to kill us when we acknowledge and accept that the Palestinians have the same dignity, the same honor, the same rights as the Israelis. A Palestinian life is exactly equal in value to a Jewish life. Their tears carry the exact same measure of grief. Their mothers love their children exactly as much. Their fathers want only what we want. Their children are just as frightened.

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