Acupuncturist travels to Middle East to treat trauma

On a healing mission to Israel last month, Carla Cassler noticed something about the people she met. “When you’re in Israel,” she said, “every conversation is related in some way to some kind of trauma.”

Acupuncturist Carla Cassler (right) and one of the members of her healing team, Efi Ben-David photos/diana fried

The El Cerrito acupuncturist, along with eight colleagues, journeyed across Israel and the West Bank to do something about it. Traveling under the auspices of Acupuncturists Without Borders, they trained practitioners and treated patients with an alternative remedy for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Cassler, who is married to Rabbi Dean Kertesz, the rabbi at Richmond’s Temple Beth Hillel, said her team trained 50 Israeli and Palestinian doctors and practitioners in a five-needle protocol for treating trauma. Developed by the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, it involves the insertion of five acupuncture needles in each ear.

“The ear is a microcosm of the whole body,” Cassler said. “You could treat the entire body with points on the ear. It’s safe and simple. The points reflex to the brain and to other regulatory centers of the body. You can calm the nervous system very quickly using certain acupuncture points related to the autonomic nervous system.”

Founded in 2005, Acupun-cturists Without Borders  has gone on mercy missions to post-Katrina New Orleans, post-earthquake Haiti, Nepal, Ecuador, Mongolia and Mexico. This was the first AWB mission to the Middle East. The trip was funded by private donations and through fees practitioners pay to attend workshops.

The itinerary included setting up a clinic at Natal, a Tel Aviv facility that treats victims of terror and war. It also involved a visit to Sderot, an Israeli town near the Gaza border that for years has been a target of Hamas rockets.

Cassler’s team members met with local Israeli acupuncturists in a local bomb shelter, and in the short time they were there, a tzevah adom, or “red alert” indicating rocket fire, was sounded.

One participant was a woman who had lived in a Jewish settlement in Gaza. She suffered trauma from the loss of a friend who was killed in a terror attack. Another participant was an Arab Israeli occupational therapist who at first felt ill at ease partnering with Jews.

“These two people came to training together,” Cassler recalled. “It was hard at first. There were trust issues we needed to bridge.”

During a training session, Aya Basheer (left) receives ear acupuncture treatment from Israeli Oshrat Klarman.

They took part in Cassler’s three-day acupuncture workshop, with participants treating each other hands on. “By the middle of the second day it was clear the tone had shifted,” she said. “By the end, people were smiling and hugging, all the things that happen when you have human contact.”

On this trip, Cassler found acupuncture more accepted as a form of alternative medicine then it was when she lived on Kibbutz Gan Shmuel near Hadera in the early 1990s and practiced acupuncture on patients suffering trauma from experiences in the military and the Holocaust.

“I always wanted to go back [to Israel],” she said. “I knew acupuncture was really helpful for both physical and mental trauma.”

Cassler says when victims of terror or other forms of trauma get treatments, it can “open them up to be able to deal with the world in a different way.”

Back home, in addition to her longtime private practice in Albany, Cassler coordinates the S.F.-based Bay Area Veteran’s Acupuncture Clinic, which every Thursday provides free treatments to vets suffering from PTSD. It’s all part of her commitment as a healer.

“After 30 years of practicing, I believe this kind of medicine can help heal the world,” she said. “I know that’s a grandiose statement, but if you’re in the environment and see the shift, you see people can go through the healing process.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at