Primal Scream Judaism
Temima Fruchter

It strikes me as strange every time my father blows the shofar. Because he does. Annually. For an entire Orthodox congregation full of people. He stands there and tekiyaas and teruaaahs to the awed silences and hushed "ooh"s and "aah"s and "oy"s of the congregants, my teeny Jewish equivalent of growing up the would-have-been daughter of John Lennon or Elvis and standing charmed and simultaneously totally possessive and snobbish, among a crowd of his most adoring fans.

It strikes me as strange because my father - as my father - is solely responsible for every tiny, in-danger-of-extinction moment of silent calm amidst the generally manic, run-amok whole that is me. In other words, terms to describe my father range from "gentle" to "stoic" to "saintly" to "harmless." Quiet. Eternally kind. Generous. Sleepy. Unfazed. Completely and totally unfazed. It strikes me as strange because then, there he is: my father, on a soundstage bimah, a dada-esque dead animal part between his lips, creating some of the most jarring and superhuman noises createable. My bran-eating father. My unassuming, benevolent-smile father.


Gone wild.

The first time I heard about primal scream therapy was from my friend, Shoshanna, for whom eighties pop culture and the Georges (that would be Boy and Michael, respectively) are somewhat of a religion. In a classic educational moment one sunny summer's day, Shoshanna called me from my here-and-now lo fi indie reverie to make sure I had my regular dose of eighties pop trivia (she must have sensed that my then-fixation on Sigur Ros was somehow unsubstantiated, putting me dangerously close to the edge of Purchasing Hip Glasses and Taking Myself Too Seriously. She wasn't too far off.) She was bopping along (as much as one can) to "Shout" by Tears for Fears next to me in the front seat of her car, and she asked me if I knew where the band's name and the song title originated. I told her I didn't, though I imagined it had something to do with the, er, catchy rhyme. She told me about primal scream therapy then, how Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith created a glam-kitsch-make-me-cry teenage boy band out of fringe-psych-theory obsession.

I went home and, curious, investigated further. Primal scream therapy was discovered and popularized by psychologist Arthur Janov in the early sixties. One of his patients in group therapy brought to the group an idea he had seen an actor execute, a sort of regressive "mommy! daddy!" invocation. Janov apparently asked him to try it for the group, and the performative antics soon turned into actual crying, which then became a long-lasting and almost hypnotic fit. Janov tried this again with a different patient, and found that when people performed tantrums, or let all shame go in order to produce the kinds of screams that might potentially curdle blood, those screams would ultimately turn real, and primal (for an example, check out John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band, made while he was a student of Janov's). It was a way of purging. It was a way to Get At Significant Things.

There is something immediately and definitely primal scream-esque about the practice of blowing shofar in general. If one of the main properties of the therapy is the initial insincerity of the crying leading to something ultimately and deeply real, isn't this exactly what shofar is about? One blip out of the whole Jewish calendar when there is random Extreme Mandated Wailing. There are the three sounds of the shofar, intended to mimic three crying or wailing styles, and there is the almost inane frequency with which the thing is blown over the course of the day.

And then there is my father.

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October 2003

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Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

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The Prohetic Justice of Johnny Cash
Samuel Hayim Brody

Season of Revision
Jay Michaelson

Primal Scream Judaism
Temima Fruchter

More than This
Dan Friedman

Josh's Dinner
Josh Ring

Our 390 Back Pages

David Stromberg

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From previous issues:

Abraham Mezrich

Yom Kippur
Sara Seinberg

Like a Candle in the Wind
Bex Schwartz