|The Sinai Centrum|
|By Roland S. Süssmann|
One of the special features of the Dutch Jewish community is that it has its own, strictly kosher, Jewish psychiatric hospital. The Sinai Centrum is located in the Amsterdam suburb of Amstelveen. It is the only Jewish center in Europe for the treatment of every sort of mental illness, specializing in the traumas of Shoah survivors and the second generation. The Sinai Centrum is a combined clinic, outpatient hospital and a place where day care is provided.
In Amstelveen there is another psychiatric center for in-patients. The Sinai Centrum has just opened its doors in a new, ultra-modern building, inaugurated by a member of the Royal Family on June 15, 2008. Just over half the patients are Dutch Jews, there are a few from England, while the rest are non-Jews including Dutch soldiers who have returned traumatized from Iraq or Afghanistan.
The question that needs to be asked is why have a Jewish psychiatric asylum? A Jewish medical center has existed for just over a hundred years for the community’s mentally sick. This came about because in Holland, as in many other European countries, hospitals were set up and maintained by the various religious communities. In Holland, on account of the large size of the Jewish community until the Shoah, Jewish hospitals were common practice. However, at the time the mentally sick were not treated in town, but rather at medical centers in the country. Thus before the war, the Jewish psychiatric hospital was about one hundred kilometers from Amsterdam, in Apeldoorn, in the province of Gelderland, and had 1,400 persons, both patients and staff. In a single night all the inmates of this hospital were deported, first to the Dutch holding and concentration camp of Westerbork, then to Auschwitz, where they were murdered upon arrival.
Following the Shoah a small number of Jews returned to Holland, but there was no Jewish medical center to welcome them. In 1960 the city of Amersfoort offered the community land so that it could set up a new Jewish hospital. In the first instance this allowed management to care for Jews, and then to increase their experience in the treatment of Shoah-related psycho-traumas. It is interesting that today most of the Sinai Centrum’s Jewish patients have the origin of their sickness in the Shoah, and this applies not just to the first and second generations, but also in some cases to the third generation. What is special about this institution is the mix of patients, Shoah survivors, who are the victims, and soldiers back from the Balkans, Iraq or Afghanistan, who were often the “executioners”. As part of group therapy, encounters between these two types of patient, whose traumas have totally opposite origins, are frequently a source of tension, but at the same time an opportunity for each to discover the others’ world, which in some cases is one of the elements that help promote a cure. Thus, a victim finds out what a killer is and vice versa. As against soldiers who return traumatized and are often beset with drug and alcoholism problems, Shoah victims have other symptoms and are not usually faced with this sort of problem.
In this connection it is interesting to note that there is no faculty that teaches this particular aspect of psychiatry. However, the doctors who work at the Sinai Centrum have been trained by their predecessors within the institution itself. The “Jewish” training of the staff is carried out in the same way. Each new employee receives a short course on Jewish customs, while the doctors take a basic course in Jewish medical ethics. Furthermore, during the year staff receive information the whole time.
Today the clinic has two hundred patients, who are there for short stays, and about 3,000 who pass through for single-day or outpatient treatment.
A visitor to the Sinai Centrum will certainly be impressed by this one of a kind and very special institution. Apart from its décor and modernity, the entire set up and decorations are in carefully researched colors schemes to create a calm, serene atmosphere.
However, what is most striking is that everything is done to ensure respect for the mental patients being treated there, and allow them, as far as possible, to feel like full members of “normal” society.