Healing Though Reflection
Touro LAS Grad Gabriel Hoffnung Looks to Help the Orthodox Community Find Peace
Living in contemporary society carries with it the burden of reconciling one’s inherited history and tradition with surging advances in how we communicate. It’s a modern, kinetic world with myriad of ancient beliefs and customs. That dichotomy can be a hard thing for a person of faith to balance in their daily life, and members of the Orthodox Jewish community are no exception. Gabriel Hoffnung, a graduate of Touro’s Lander School of Arts & Sciences’ psychology program (and current Yeshiva University Ferkauf student), believes that guidance from therapeutic counseling helps patients live a practical life, as well as one that’s spiritually fulfilling.
“In the community that I live in and grew up in, religion plays a very important role in people’s lives,” explains the Monsey, New York native and current Staten Island resident. “The relationship between the individual members of a faith-based community and their religion is something very profound and important and also can be very difficult at times. That definitely seems to be a reason why people will sometimes run into problems.”
Hoffnung distinguishes this from crises of faith, which he says are usually mediated directly by rabbis and leaders of the synagogue rather than a clinical doctor. His own attraction to the field started at an early age. His uncle was (and remains) a practicing psychologist in Israel, and would share anecdotes from his experience with Gabriel. “It did seem to me a very interesting occupation, both in terms of the theoretical value of what he was doing and just practically how he was really helping people,” he says.
As Hoffnung matured and began encountering his own internal questioning, the desire to emulate his uncle’s line of work grew more certain. “I’d definitely say that a lot of my personal experience is surely going to play a role in how I perceive things and where I want to see myself go professionally and how I’d help people,” he offers. “I wouldn’t say difficulties, so much as musings. Thinking about them and trying to develop my own perspective has certainly lent itself to influencing my outlook and perspective from a professional standpoint.”
He’s also quick to clarify that if someone does seek counseling to resolve an untenable quandary, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. “An individual has to know there’s nothing wrong with having difficulties and running into questions and problems. That’s a natural part of what makes a person’s religious experience and relationship to that real.” At the end of the day, whether one’s an Orthodox Jew or non-denominationally agnostic, the goal of psychological treatment is to ease pain and confusion and head toward a happier life. “On a basic level, I’d just simply like to help people,” Hoffnung says. “That would be a tremendous growth experience. If I have a chance to push my community forward, I’d like to help heighten awareness of the fact that it’s good and healthy to have that introspection, and that’s something that’s only helping a person, not to the contrary.”