Hadassah-Brandeis Institute

Chronic PsychoSemitism: New Treatment Available

Dec. 7, 2015

By Ellen Golub

You'd think I would have gotten over it sooner. I read a few stories by Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem when I was 10 about a dysfunctional married couple and then, OMG: a lifetime of flashbacks! It didn't help that my parents were divorcing at the time. I asked them if I could see a psychiatrist. "What — and have it go on your permanent record?"

So I limped through latency, with the shrewish carping of Sheyne Sheyndel ringing in my ears; I agonized about the foolish decisions made by her luftmensch (airhead) husband, Menachem Mendel. There was a patina of courtesy between them, but the geshrei (shrieking) of that woman — is it any wonder I developed tinnitus?

Stories from the Tanach (Bible) tormented me, too. What kind of father even thinks about sacrificing his son? What kind of God knocks off whole cities (S'dom) and planets (Noach) and punishes until the 10th generation? Some guy named Shlumiel gets zapped for picking up sticks on the Sabbath — yikes! Adonijah hangs from a tree by his hair — who knew long hair was so dangerous?

"Look, they're just stories, El." My dad tried to minimize the collateral damage of my Jewish education.

But in the real world, there were worse stories, like my grandmother's first-person account of a pogrom she attended. Or that of my cousins in Israel, whose Holocaust tales made Halloween a mere stalk in the park by comparison. PLO and PFLP were just assortments of alphabet letters, until they became the menacing specters of my young adulthood auguring high panic mode. My college psych professor nailed it. "Signal anxiety," he lectured, the deployment of emergency defenses in support of the ego.

So finally — as so many Jewish stories achieve their commentary — I found myself on the psychoanalyst's couch, breathlessly recounting the tales that so haunted my imagination. I frequently revisited the Ur trauma, Sholem Aleichem's Menachem Mendel and Sheyne Sheyndel and their sour pickle of a marriage... their hapless misery, their life's limitations, the shviger's (mother-in-law) grating and useless advic... "Oy, Dr. Mahmish (precisely)!"

"You know," the shrink interjected, "You are suffering from a disorder that affects more than 80% of Jews worldwide. There's so much new research and just an extraordinary outpouring of anecdotal complaint... I expect the next DSM will list it as a new diagnostic category."

I sucked in my breath, preparing myself for the worst. Was I some permutation of a borderline personality? Did I — and 80% of world Jewry — host bipolar or tripolar, or some other arctic bacillus? I steeled myself for the decree. And in a still small voice, Dr. Mahmish delivered it. "You know, you are classically psychosemitic."

His raised hand promised an immediate explanation. "You suffer from an emotional condition that, in its simplest terms, is a kind of cultural vertigo. You could probably become asymptomatic, were the messiah to arrive immediately. But for now... "

I sat bolt upright and faced the doctor. "I beg your pardon!!?" My diagnosis pierced my consciousness.

"Look," Dr. Mahmish peered at me over tortoise shell glasses. "You typically experience manic outbursts, psycho-linguisitic dissonance, and an absurd obsession with all manner of characters and texts, correct? Your pintele Yid is at odds with your diaspora self. Let me translate from the Latin: 'You're attempting to dance with one tuches (behind) at two weddings.' "

Beginning to sweat and feeling my heart beat wildly, I careened to the punch line of my diagnosis. "But, Dr. Mahmish. Am I terminal? Is there a cure?"

"Life is terminal," Mahmish opined, anecdotally. "There are no guarantees. Buh-utt... "

"But what?" Hope flickered faintly.

"But... many patients find remission in revisiting the original symptom, in your case that Sholem Aleichem story you always talk about." His two index fingers touched tip to tip, pointing toward me like a divining rod.

Suddenly I knew what I must do. I must bring Sheyne Sheyndel and Menachem Mendel back to life and help them. I would feel better if I just made things right for these two struggling souls.

And so I did. I wrote them into a novel of my own and gave them what Sholem Aleichem couldn't: a happy life, a thriving family, riches and satisfactions beyond measure. Oh yeah, and I gave them some Prozac.

I can't emphasize how well I feel since doing this. So if you're feeling PsychoSemitic, save yourself the angst and the Benjamins ($100 bills). Get to Amazon and buy my new novel. Read it. Think profoundly. Laugh liberally. This book may just tamp down those pesky — some say scorching — PsychoSemitic sparks. Dr. Mahmish now recommends it to all his patients as the most copacetic treatment yet for the most recalcitrant and unremitting PsychoSemitic symptoms... and it’s a great way to celebrate Jewish Book Month.

Ellen Golub was born in Chelm, the illegitimate child of an itinerant wedding jester and Mela Tonen, a descendent of the Talmudic sage, Bruria. At 3, Golub could recite the entire Torah by heart. At 5, she became the first female student admitted to the Mir Yeshiva, and quickly became known as The Beyz Mir, a fierce proponent of the second Hebrew letter.

After viewing the movie "Yentl," Golub became convinced that life as a female Talmud scholar would be more rigorous than advertised. She abruptly left the Yeshiva world and fled to America where she went into treatment with Edward Hopper. Her analysis convinced her that if she really wanted a happy ending, she would have to become a fiction writer. So she lit out for the Apple store and never looked back. "PsychoSemitic" is Golub's answer to the Jewish question. And yes, she is available for weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, and book groups.