In the non-Jewish world, Family Constellations are beautifully linear. You stand in an orderly lineup of one generation behind the another. You don’t speak unless told what to say. You wait for the facilitator to tell you what to do next. And if the facilitator says you feel something and you disagree, you do NOT argue. Very Yekkishe (Yiddish for German-orderliness)–everyone in his “platz” (place).

This is as it should be, as Bert Hellinger and my other Family Constellations teachers have largely been German. Even when Hellinger facilitates Family Constellations in Israel for Holocaust survivors (Rachel Weeping for her Children), everyone seems to obediently follow the script.

Linear vs Exploded View

Trouble is, when a Jew facilitates Family Constellations for Jews, the fake orderliness blows apart. And no one prepares you….

Trouble is, when a Jew facilitates Family Constellations for Jews, the fake orderliness blows apart. And no one prepares you….

Take my first time student-facilitating a Family Constellation for “Leah”–my class’s only other Jew. Here’s Leah’s Father– stooped and crumpled on the floor, loosely surrounded by a mess of family members. Across the room, Leah’s Mother and all her line are livid about something and strewn about in a disheveled mass. Leah’s screaming that I should not work on the mother’s side of the family, but the father’s side. There’s no calm anywhere and no obvious direction to turn. I look up helplessly at my teacher.

“I don’t know where to go with this,” I admit.

“Sit down,” she replies. It was the only merciful thing to do. She takes over and later invites me to sit by her in front of the class.  “Any questions?” she asks me.

“Yes,” I said. Everyone in my Seattle Family Constellations class knew I was going back to Israel, so I was frank. “For those of us who are going to do a lot of Jewish Family Constellations, are they different from normal–I mean non-Jewish–Constellations?”

“Yes,” she said. “Every Family Constellation I have facilitated for “Leah” has taken 2 1/2 hours [a “normal” Family Constellation takes half that time]. In an Irish Family Constellation,” she continued, “The father would just leave. In the Jewish Family Constellations, they don’t leave each other. They just get entangled.”

In the Jewish Family Constellations, they don’t leave each other. They just get entangled.

Kol Yisrael Areivim

That was the key. That’s why things are SO complicated in Jewish Family Constellations. Kol Yisrael areivim zeh l’zeh. Each Jew is responsible for each other.

Now you may argue that you know of a Jewish family in which the father left the family. But Family Constellations show an entirely different picture of a Jewish family’s norm.

Connecting Independently to the Spiritual World

Family Constellations highlight another difference between Jews and the “normal” world: we connect independently to the spiritual world. (I include, as Jews, conversion students who are not yet Jewish.) You see, in my Seattle class, we were taught to stand close to the rep who needs to say something, and we will feel what needs to be said.  We then tell the representative what to say.

When I tell this to my Jewish Family Constellation participants here in Israel, they get indignant. Here are excerpts from a letter I wrote to my teacher, in which I am curious how Jewish Family Constellations differ from “normal” constellations and what this tells us about ourselves as Jews:

Wind-Up Toy

First, I hardly have to do any facilitating. I don’t even open with a warm-up exercise to open their hearts, like your ringing your crystal bowl.  I just say something like, “Let’s see what’s in X’s heart. X, how do you feel now? and How would you like to feel by the end of this constellation?” and let things roll. Everybody in the Family Constellation automatically knows exactly what to do–even if it is their first time seeing a Constellation. They know what to speak–and, amazingly, they come up with the same statements that we have learned from you–on their own! If I suggest a statement that doesn’t resonate with their situation, they will express their disagreement LOUD and CLEAR. And then they come up with a deadly accurate statement that I could never have come up with. When I tell them I was taught that the facilitator had to come up with the “statements,” they look at me like I’m crazy and ask loudly, “Why?!” They already know exactly what to say and don’t want someone interfering with their abilities to reveal the truth.
All I have to do is set up the constellation like some wind-up toy and sit back and watch. Of course sometimes I add people or suggest a break-through somewhere. But when I do, I tell people why I am doing it as if we are all learning general principles (which we are).
And so my facilitating Jewish constellations is a little more relaxed than facilitating in Learning Circle.  Even when, like a few weeks ago, I had to facilitate a constellation not only in Hebrew/English but also French! Things just seem to take their course to a very powerful, moving, and loving place.

Relating to Grandparents & Great-Grandparents

A second difference is the Jewish Client’s strong connection to relatives further back. I recently facilitated a Family Constellation for the Whole Health Forum outside Jerusalem. We did a beautifully linear constellation. Each representative going back 4 generations, plus the Homeland, had all made peace with each other in turn, including the Client’s representative.  All looked well when I invited the Client to take her place in the Constellation. We had 10 minutes left. I was starting to feel relaxed because the conference had only given me an hour and 15 minutes to work and, as you know, this is half the time we really need, and it really looked like we were going to make the deadline!
Suddenly the Client became hostile. She would not even LOOK at her Mom’s rep, with whom her rep had already made peace. Something went unexpectedly wrong. But what?
I thought quickly–something is out of alignment. “Do you have anything to tell your grandmother?” I asked the Client. Boy, did she! She could not deal with her Mom until she had stepped back a generation and given her grandmother a piece of her mind!  We even had to let her communicate with her great-grandmother for a moment. Fortunately, things were worked out and, with about 3 minutes left in the session, the Client completed a beautiful constellation with her Mom’s rep.

Cousins Three-Times Removed

A third difference is how far from the direct family line we Jews are emotionally connected. Last week I facilitated my own constellation. The Family Constellation showed that I was influenced by relatives in a “side” line whom I never knew about: my great-grandmother’s siblings who had apparently lost children in the Holocaust. Not only was I unaware that my great-grandmother had siblings, but I didn’t know we had lost relatives in the Holocaust. The word Holocaust was never mentioned in my home growing up and as far as I knew, we were an intact family: both my mother’s parents were US-born; both my father’s parents grew up in the US; and all their siblings were in the US. I had never suspected anything among my great-grandparents’ forgotten siblings.
When you debriefed my facilitating X’s constellation last fall, I began to understand how all Jews are responsible for each other. I am only now, through facilitating constellations here in Israel, able to see some of the extent of this responsibility.
What happens when a Family Constellation turns “entangled” into “loving and responsive”? Just a few minutes after our post-constellation ice cream party, I became aware of people standing behind me for the first time. Not just anyone, but a large and continuously supportive family. This took me by surprise because I had done 6 constellations already and although I have felt more grateful after the first constellation, the others had not affected me in any positive way.  Maybe they brought up more anger and feelings of being misunderstood–but that’s about all.
Now before last week’s constellation, whenever I would think of my family, I would want to grab an emotional crash helmet. In my family of birth, I never knew when I was going to be attacked for being who I am. I never knew when most of my family would make up some narrative about me instead of seeing the precious gold I was mining in this lifetime of connection. Once I felt the strength and power of the amazing family and ancestors that now back me, I realized how marginalized my family had always seemed to me. Sort of like a washed out sidewalk-chalk-portrait after a rain….and it was all I could do to try to get them to help me sometimes, only to watch their backs as they ran away from anything I needed them for. Now, power, power, power is all I feel from them!
I am curious about who these perished people were. Yes, we had dealt with some of those who perished in the pogroms in a constellation with you this past fall–but there were more people who had experienced pogroms and of course the Holocaust who made their presence known last week. I am willing to love them also and call them my own–now that I know they exist somewhere. I don’t feel lost looking for someone I don’t know anymore!
What is open now is more willingness to heal in any direction possible.  I hope to delve deeper into what it means to be a healed person and, more importantly for the Jewish people, what it means to be a healed Jew.