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Member Profile: Ilene Serlin, Ph.D.

Why I came to AJP


I was born the same year as Israel and have always felt close. My first trip was in 1962; I was so inspired by the idealism of building a “perfect democracy” and safe haven for the Jews that I joined Habonim, a Socialist youth group. In 1986, I had the opportunity to teach in Netanya through the Lesley University campus. As I was leading a training group, one woman ran out of the group, triggered by a group event. I later came to understand that she was a well-known example of someone who had inadvertently smothered her own daughter while staving off a terrorist attack on her house, and then I began to understand the prevalence of trauma in Israel. I began to work with outstanding trauma centers in Israel, learning that almost everyone in Israel carried trauma and intergenerational trauma, and that Israel unfortunately had become expert at helping people cope with trauma.

My interest in trauma work expanded to other countries, including five years of working with Syrian refugees in Jordan. I traveled yearly to meet with students in Istanbul and China, using the arts to communicate across cultures.

As I learned more about cultural humility, I also learned more about my own family history. I knew that my maternal grandparents fled the pogroms in the Ukraine and learned that my paternal grandparents’ families had been sent to Auschwitz and Treblinka. I visited Kemenetz Podolsky in the Ukraine and Bialystok in Poland, feeling the power and the need of “Never Again.”

In 2022 I was on an APA listserve for Indigenous Psychology when I encountered a post aggressively urging members to join BDS. I responded with what I thought was a reasoned note and received a sickening amount of hostility in return. After six months of trying to communicate and feeling poisoned by the interactions, I left the listserve. Later I understood that the sender of the emails, Lara Sheehi, was active in Division 39 (Psychoanalysis) of APA and responsible for an incident of bullying Israeli students in a graduate program at George Washington University. When Dr. Sheehi, who with her husband had recently published a book about decolonizing psychoanalysis, became president of Division 39, I became increasingly worried about the canceling of Jewish culture and the concomitant rise of antisemitism in universities and around the world. I contacted Julie Ancis, who had organized the group Psychologists Against Antisemitism, and was glad for the solidarity provided by the group. During that time, I also received quite a few emails from graduate students and colleagues saying they were feeling isolated in their settings and afraid to identify as Jews.

When my two proposals on antisemitism were rejected for APA’s 2021 conference, I decided to submit many for the 2022 conference. Seven proposals were accepted. Combined with other activities during the conference, we raised the visibility of Jewish culture, history and the rise of antisemitism, while establishing collaboration with other ethnic minority groups.

Through organizing these proposals, I understood the importance of leveraging power through the governance structures of APA. Although my days in governance are long past (I was President of Div. 32 and Council Rep, Chair of CODAPAR and on the Membership Board in the 90s), I was delighted to be invited to help form a new organization called Association of Jewish Psychologists. The core group was composed of a number of highly experienced and effective members of APA, all of whom were dedicated to research, education, training and advocacy about Jewish culture and combating antisemitism.

I am proud to be part of this group now that has already demonstrated power and skill in advocating for Jews, yet we are just beginning.

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