Most Holocaust survivors living today were children or adolescents during the Holocaust. Their worldview was shaped by trauma at a critical time in their development. Growing up with intense trauma teaches us that the world is not safe. Holocaust survivors saw the world as traumatic, war, deprivation, starvation, torture, murder, and their behaviors were survival, combat, flight or freezing.
It is estimated that 70% of adults have been exposed to at least one traumatic event in their lifetime, although the intense trauma of the Holocaust is certainly an outlier. A person-centered trauma-based therapy (PCTI) approach takes these elements into account and educates providers who work with and support aging populations on ways to create a meaningful life.
On June 10, Sharon Glassberg (MCC), clinical therapist at the Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Southern Arizona (JFCS), shared the work done in Tucson with Holocaust survivors and their families at the annual Aging + Action conference organized by the National Council on Aging. JFCS in southern Arizona was part of a national effort administered by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) to develop innovations in PCTI care for Holocaust survivors. With co-presenters Naomi Jones (Ph.D. Jewish Family Service of Atlantic and Cape May Counties, NJ) and Shelley Rood Wernick (MBA, Managing Director, Center on Aging and Trauma, Jewish Federations of North America), Glassberg presented the impacts of trauma on older people and their caregivers, and how agencies can implement person-centered and trauma-informed care not only for Holocaust survivors, but also for other aging populations affected by trauma. The annual Aging + Action conference is a forum for dialogue and an opportunity for presenters to share ideas and policy solutions that serve aging people. This year there were over 150 presentations and 1,300 virtual participants.
In southern Arizona today, there are approximately 70 Holocaust survivors. The well-being of this population is still affected by the traumas of their childhood. “The effects of the trauma don’t stop because the experience did,” Glassberg said. “As we get older, what we might have kept hidden in our subconscious suddenly has time and space to emerge. The kids grew up, the jobs ended with retirement, what the world is telling us is that these are our golden years to enjoy; However, for those who have focused on rebuilding their entire lives, without dwelling on the past, the extra time and space is often fertile ground for the trauma to resurface.
Glassberg is a Clinical Therapist / Wellness and Support Specialist for Jewish Children and Family Services in Southern Arizona. For most of her life, she was involved in the Jewish community. Her early roles in community building included working as a camp counselor, religious school teacher, and youth group counselor. She later worked with the Southern Arizona Jewish Federation as director of Jewish education and as director of Tucson Hebrew High, a supplementary religious secondary education program. During this time, she realized how Jewish teenagers struggled with their identities, goals, family and friendships, among others. In order to help them in a meaningful way that goes beyond their classroom learning, Glassberg earned a Masters in Consulting while working full time. His interests have spanned from working with adolescents and young adults to working with the aging population of our community, most notably the population of Holocaust survivors here in Tucson.
JFCS uses a person-centered, trauma-informed approach in our services. A PCTI approach changes the way we think from understanding, honoring and accepting, from “What’s the matter with you?” “To” What happened to you? »PCTI is really accepting that each of us is perfectly developed given the experiences we have had.
As part of the JFNA-funded grant, JFCS organized a community art project with the goal of fostering a useful life. The project resulted in a large-scale mosaic of shattered glass created by the survivors themselves and each featuring the signatures and birthplaces of the survivors fused together on the Stars of David. It was created for the commemoration of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, which is believed to be the start of the Holocaust. The coin is a living legacy for the survivors and also served to bring together survivors from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. This project provided the opportunity not only to interact together, but to create a work of art that recognizes and honors them, gives them a sense of belonging to this world, both individually and collectively.
Glassberg’s presentation highlighted how agencies can support Holocaust survivors and other members of the aging population affected by trauma by understanding the links between traumatic childhood experiences and aging and the benefits of approaches. person-centered and trauma-informed in therapy and community services.
Sharon Glassberg, MCC, is a Clinical Therapist and Wellness Support Specialist for Southern Arizona JFCS. In her recent work, she has focused on providing trauma-informed care for older people, including Holocaust survivors. She is an active member of the Jewish community in Tucson.
Victoria Moses is the grants writer for JFCS Southern Arizona. She has a background in anthropology and obtained her doctorate. from the University of Arizona in 2020.