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Trauma Team in Israel

By: Yaakov Nadler  

As I entered the school that housed 35 families seeking refuge from Hezbollah’s bombardment of fire on their homes, Mrs. A. approached me. “Please come with me to my family’s room, my children are suffering!” Mrs. A. with her three youngest children clutching her skirt, led me through the long corridors of class rooms, all filled with mattresses and the few personal belongings people were able to escape with. As Mrs. A. opens the door to her room, one of her children jumps with fear. With deep emotion, Mrs. A shares her story with me; she speaks of the trauma so many of the families in this school have endured. 

On July 13th, the 17th of Tamuz, a Katusha rocket fell in her back yard. She described how the explosion caused her house to shake violently, all the glass shattered and her house was filled with smoke. The explosion came suddenly; there was no time to go to the bomb shelter. “Amidst the dark thick smoke and the frightening shout of my children, I had no time to let my panic overwhelm me; I had to be there for my children.” Mrs. A. called out the names of her children, “Chani are you alright? Menachem? Moshe? Rifky?” No response! “Rifky? Rifky? Are you all right? I fell into hysteria and fell unconscious. I awoke in the Ziv hospital with Rivky at my bedside. During the Katusha bombardment she was playing at a friend’s house. I was discharged from the hospital immediately. I had to be with my children, but I am still traumatized. My younger children are afraid to leave my side, my 5 year old and 9 year old boys have begun bed wetting again. My 12 year old son refuses to leave the room. We are all traumatized; I want my children to forget about what has happened. We don’t talk about that frightful morning, as if it did not happen.” 

I spent my first morning at the school listening to the stories of the parents and children. They were thankful to have a safe shelter away from the war in the north, but the traumatic memories were not left behind. Their physical needs were attended to but there was no emotional support being provided. The Bnei Brak community opened their hearts and their homes for the refugees. The school had no kitchen, showers or laundry facilities. Seeing the abundance of kindness was so heart warming. The local restaurants donated fresh meals. Grocery stores provided an abundance of candy and soft drinks, and the local families invited the families to use their showers and washers and driers. However, there was no one to provide psychological help for the children and parents suffering from trauma. 

Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services responded to the emergency at the request of Marpeh Lenefesh, a social service organization in Israel. Three certified social workers, Miriam Horowitz, Donny Frank and I left New York on August 9th to provide the desperately needed trauma therapy. Upon arriving, we were immediately assigned to the schools that were serving as temporary housing for nearly 200 refugee families who arrived from Kiryat Shmone, Chatzor, Tzfat and other cities in Northern Israel. We provided support groups for the parents, play therapy groups for the children and activities to promote family support. 

Every evening we organized a therapeutic outing for the refugee centers. In escape of the bombardment of the north, the children had to leave behind the comforts and safety of home. The green vistas, the parks and cool weather were not available in the crowded city of Bnei Brak. We understood the ideal setting for the children to be able to talk about their traumatic feelings and fears would be by leaving the crowded refugee centers. We organized bus trips to parks where every family sat together to provide support to each other. Every family was given a poster and art supplies for the family to draw their feelings. From toddlers to parents, everyone worked together to bring out their feelings. We went from family to family helping them reflect on their feelings portrayed in their art. 

Mrs. A. sat with all her children and took this opportunity to talk to her children for the first time about their fears. The war was still raging in their community in Tsfat. Between the doodling of the infants and older children and the drawings of the Katushas exploding, the posters were stained with the family’s tear drops. The children were able to talk about their fears, the parents were empowered to continue being supportive parents, and the difficult symptoms of trauma began to ease. We spent ten days working from the early hours of the morning to the late hours of the evening reaching out to the many families in coordination with Mrs. Orlet Moyal, Menahelet of Bnei Brak’s social service system. 

Following the cease fire, our work intensified. Many families were afraid to return home. We focused our work on helping people talk about their fears and highlight the importance of family support. Miriam, Donny and I also visited several families in their communities in Tzfat and Kiryat Shmone.

Most of the refugees have returned to their homes in the North. There are no promises as to what the future will hold, but as many of the parents pointed out to me, the therapeutic experience Ohel has provided to their family will remain with them through difficult times, and with the help of G-d, the happy and peaceful times to come.

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