Immigrant childhood inspires support group

Immigrant childhood inspires support group

Eva Silver’s survivor parents inform her work as an analyst

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Eva Silver said, “The immigrant experience is in the core of my being. It’s who I am.”
Eva Silver said, “The immigrant experience is in the core of my being. It’s who I am.”

Eva Silver has plenty of professional expertise as a psychoanalyst, but it is personal experience that led her to create a support group for immigrants.

In recent months, she noticed how many immigrants from different countries she was meeting while exercising in Montclair. “I met a woman from Ecuador who was telling me about the issues she is having with her teenage son, and then three or four people from different countries told me their concerns. They all wanted to talk,” she said. 

She could relate. Her own parents met in a labor camp in Siberia after escaping the Nazis in Poland. They eventually made it to the United States, but not before losing their parents and siblings. Eva was born just one year after they arrived in the States.

“I knew my mother was haunted by unspeakable memories, and that she was alone with them,” said Silver. “As a child, I often wished that she had people in her life she could talk to about what she had gone through and what she was going through in her new life. I felt certain that it would have been helpful to her — and also to me.” 

Now dean and director of admissions at the Academy of Clinical and Applied Psychoanalysis in Livingston, Silver drew on her childhood wish for her mother in forming a support group for immigrants and their children to share their experiences. 

The next session of this ongoing discussion group is Sunday, Dec. 6, 2-3:30 p.m. at the ACAP offices in Livingston.

After the first session, held on Oct. 30, Silver knew she’d hit on something much needed. It attracted more than 30 people from 18 different countries, including Israel, Russia, Lebanon, Iraq, Ecuador, Cuba, Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Taiwan, Syria, Armenia, Brazil, South Africa, and Macedonia. 

At that meeting, four panelists, from, respectively, Syria, Macedonia, South Africa, and Armenia, shared their own stories of coming to this country.

“The first feeling in the group was, ‘Oh, my God, look how different everyone is.’ But by the end of 90 minutes, our group found they have so much in common,” said Silver.

They discovered that many of the immigrants had faced similar issues, from overcoming language barriers and accents, to missing food from home, to parents not understanding the American ways of their children, according to Silver. 

They described how living with two cultures often gave them a sense of not belonging anywhere.

Asked if the group would be able to handle the issues facing Syrian refugees, should they make their way to New Jersey, Silver said yes. 

“They will not be that different from other immigrants, especially those running from something,” Silver said. “Very few go to a different country because things were so great at home.” She acknowledged that “every group thinks they have their own special qualities, and the tendency is to want to hold onto the specialness of their particular misery.” 

But, she added, “the predominant feeling in the group is that their experiences may differ, but their emotional concerns — these they share.”

Silver knows how to work with immigrants because of her professional training. But, she added, “The immigrant experience is in the core of my being. It’s who I am. It’s how I see the world.”

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