Target Health Blog

Jerusalem Syndrome

March 20, 2017


A bizarre mental illness that affects people visiting Israel is called Jerusalem Syndrome.

The city of Jerusalem in Israel. Source: Avraham Graicer, copyright holder, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons license, Wikipedia

There are a lot of events, that can make a visitor feel dazed and confused, when traveling--delayed flights, missing luggage, clumps of tasteless airline food. But for some people who travel can actually induce a rare psychosis--especially if their destination is 1) ___. Tourists afflicted with the condition called Jerusalem Syndrome“ have been found wandering in the Judean desert wrapped in hotel bed sheets or camped in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, convinced they will soon be birthing the infant Jesus.


Jerusalem Syndrome has been described by foreign visitors over the last few hundred years. Because he was the first to promote treatment and research for this disease, Dr. Bar-El who works at Kfar Shaul Hospital in Jerusalem is considered the father of Jerusalem 2) ___. Bar-El says that there are three categories of tourists who get Jerusalem fever. The first is individual visitors to Israel, who were already mentally ill in their countries of origin. They come to Jerusalem with psychotic ideas that they feel they must act upon in the Holy 3) ___. The second group--the largest one - consists of pilgrims who arrive with deep religious convictions. In some cases, they belong to fringe groups rather than regular churches. They believe they must do specific things to bring about major events like the coming of the Messiah, the appearance of the anti-Christ, the war of Armageddon, or the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The third group is the REAL Jerusalem Syndrome. It affects completely sane tourists without any psychiatric or drug abuse history. They arrive with normal tour groups and suddenly they develop what Bar-El called a specific imperative psychotic reaction. In all cases, the same clinical picture emerges. It begins with generalized 4) ___ and nervousness and then the tourist feels an imperative need to visit the holy places. First, he/she undertakes a series of purification rituals like shaving all body hair, cutting nails and washing over and over before donning white clothes. Most often, such a tourist, removes the white sheets from the hotel room. Then (s)he begins to cry or to sing Biblical or religious songs in a very loud voice. The next step is an actual visit to the holy places, most often from the life of Jesus. The afflicted tourist begins to deliver a sermon--which is frequently a confused oration, exhorting humanity to change their behavior by becoming calmer, purer, and less sophisticated or worldly.


Dr. Bar-El, said that from a 5) ___ point of view, the most interesting aspect is that in addition to this curious psychotic reaction, the patient doesn't see strange things or hear voices, and recalls everything that happens. They know who they are; they don't lose their own identity, and the illness passes completely in five to seven days. Sometimes, the afflicted visitor is on a package tour of the Mediterranean which includes Greece, Egypt and Israel. They may be completely sane in Greece, develop Jerusalem Syndrome in Israel, it passes in five days, and then they continues on with the group to Egypt. From a religious point of view, the Syndrome seems to favor Protestants, who account for 97% of all cases. Their current religious practices aren't very important; the essential element seems to be an ultra-orthodox upbringing where the 6) ___ was the book of choice for family reading and problem solving. Several theologians who are fascinated by Jerusalem Syndrome speculate that Catholics have intermediaries like the Virgin Mary and saints. They also have other geographical locales that are important to them, like the Vatican, which is presided over by the 7) ___. But for Protestants, the only personification in the Bible is Jesus Christ, and the Holy Land is the only place where they can go to follow his life. Hence, they are very focused on Jesus and this sets the stage for the advent of the strange, temporary Holy Land aberration. Although the whole problem of Jerusalem Syndrome may seem like a benign curiosity, it is taken very seriously in Israel where everyone involved in security, tourism, or health and welfare is on the lookout for afflicted visitors. In an average year, about 40 tourists require hospitalization for psychiatric illness. Most are from the first two groups, who had severe problems before they arrived in Israel. A few--perhaps 3 or 4--develop true Jerusalem Syndrome.


Dr. Bar-El said that a woman was picked up by the police for kicking and hitting people at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, proclaiming, I am the Prophetess of the Olive Tree, “ and “I am very powerful, and I will announce the coming of Christ. She was in a very anxious state, and she insisted she had to remain outdoors, under the influence of the sun and the moon so that her branches could grow green, which was a sign of the immediate return of Jesus. If she was moved inside, under a roof, her branches would grow black, and that would be a sign of the anti-Christ. Besides these claims and her aggressive behavior, everything else about the Olive Tree Prophetess was completely normal. Another seemingly normal man was a teacher from Denmark. Apparently, every year he comes to Jerusalem because only there can he dialogue with the Virgin Mary. Lourdes and other miraculous sites have not had the same effect on him. Bar-El talked about a memorable case which actually led to one of the first instances of collaboration between Palestinian and Israeli police. The Palestinians found a man without clothes, money or ID, and, after interrogation, they figured out he wasn't a security risk. They had no idea what to do with him, so they contacted an Israeli officer. The Israeli asked only one question: Is the guy really completely nude? No, answered the Palestinian, he is wearing an animal skin. Oh, said the Israeli, you've got another John the Baptist. It was the sixth John the Baptist the Israelis had run into. As in the Bible, John the Baptist conducted days of purification between Jerusalem and Galilee before ending up at the Jordan River to baptize Jesus and/or the first Christians. Part of the trek was through 8) ___ territory. John the Baptist heads the Jerusalem Syndrome list for Christian men. Christian women prefer the Virgin Mary. For Jews of both genders, the identification is generally with the Messiah.


At one point, Dr. Bar-El decided to perform a classical experiment. He put two would-be Messiahs in a room together to see if one would prevail. The experiment was a dismal failure because after the meeting each said, I am the real Messiah. He's an impostor. Dr. Gregory Katz, a Russian psychiatrist, works in the units where Jerusalem Syndrome patients are brought and treated. According to Dr. Katz, who works with Jerusalem Syndrome patients, they are basically unremarkable. Their treatment can include anything from melatonin for jet-lag to minor tranquilizers to anti-psychotic drugs. Dr. Katz says that his Jerusalem hospital is equipped to treat tourists in many different languages, although no one in the unit has mastered Norwegian. He explained that the age of the afflicted, ranges from l8 to 70, and the mean age is 35. Most of the patients have higher education and not all of them are connected to religious institutions, although many are. A very timely medical health issue is that Jerusalem Syndrome poses an economic problem for Israel. Some people who fall ill, come from countries where medical insurance is provided for all citizens and they are covered for their treatment. However, tourists from the U.S.A., often don't have any 9) ___ coverage. The Israeli government must pay for their treatment, their hospital stay and then, if they are long-term patients who were ill before they arrived in Israel, the government must also provide a psychiatric escort to return them home. This has placed a drain on Israeli resources.


No one is certain about exactly what causes Jerusalem Syndrome. It has been posited that it can be very jarring for a serious Bible student to arrive in modern-day Israel where, instead of prophets in sandals, he hears businessmen discussing profits on cell phones. Another theory is that Jerusalem has always been a huge backdrop for delivering messianic messages and visitors can get temporarily carried away by the dramatic historic setting. For the moment, there are no clear 10) ___ and the emphasis is on rapid and effective diagnosis and treatment. Source: Psychology Today (Judith Fein)


ANSWERS: 1) Jerusalem; 2) Syndrome; 3) Land; 4) anxiety; 5) psychiatric; 6) Bible; 7) Pope; 8) Palestinian; 9) medical; 10) answers

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