The revelation during Operation Protective Edge of a sophisticated network of Hamas tunnels from Gaza leading into neighboring Jewish communities has shocked residents. For many of the children, living in a reality where “monsters under the bed” are real has led to trauma.
To help them, art therapists from the United States made their way to the communities Wednesday in an attempt to heal or prevent post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) through the use of Healing Arts Kits.
The kits were developed by Artists 4 Israel (A4I), a New York- and Israel-based non-profit that provides awareness and support about Israel through the universal message of art. They are being distributed in the South, and soon will be distributed throughout Israel, in collaboration with the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO).
“About five years ago we came to Israel to start painting bomb shelters, and while we were here we realized the power of art to uplift these communities,” Craig Dershowitz, A4I executive director, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
The activities included in the Healing Arts Kits are simple, though designed to take advantage of the latest research to help prevent, or at least alleviate, trauma and PTSD.
Blowing bubbles guides children as young as 18 months into deep breathing, one of the best ways to remain calm.
Playing with Play-Doh or drawing helps children reliving frightening visual memories to shift to a tactile mode designed to access another part of the brain. Telling stories through finger puppets enables them to directly relate to the power, strength and beauty of animals.
“These healing kits are another layer of caring for Israeli children,” said Hila Stern, executive director of WIZO’s New York branch, “providing them with tools to overcome the trauma that is based upon living in constant fear.”
The project was to be launched in Israel in October, but because of the outbreak of hostilities A4I brought the kits this week.
“We decided to launch on a smaller scale and bring the kits over right away,” Dershowitz said, “so this is an emergency, scaled-down version of the kit, but this is when the children are most in need of them.”
Accompanied by art therapist Rena Grosser; Ariela Robinson and Christian Aldunate, both art teachers from the US; and Israeli artist Benji Fischer, the group has volunteered its time to meet with children in the South and distribute the kits. On Wednesday it visited Kibbutz Alumim, one of the communities surrounding Gaza.
Ayal Yon, 29, was raised on Kibbutz Alumim, where he now lives with his wife.
While Yon is proud that when all neighboring communities evacuated the South due to the constant barrage of rockets, Alumim residents refused to leave. For weeks on end, the children had to stay indoors while the IDF searched for nearby terror tunnels and code red sirens sounded on a constant basis, followed by the loud booms.
He admitted that the events of the past month had taken a heavy toll on many of the younger residents.
“I have a friend with a large family,” he said. “Their 3-year-old will not even go from her bedroom to the bathroom without one of her parents holding her hand. The ones who really need help are the children.”
According to Dershowitz, the inspiration for the project stemmed from one of the organization’s artists who also served as a first responder, including during the September 11 attacks in New York City in 2001.
“It is well accepted that you can only prevent PTSD within the first three hours of the traumatic situation,” he explained. “So we created a kit... that first responders could give to children while they deal with the situation.”
In October, A4I plans to distribute an additional 500 - 1,000 kits to children in communities throughout Israel.
“Our goal is to have one in every ambulance, every school and everywhere a child is in need,” Dershowitz said.