Susan Kurnedz has always sought ways to help other people. All her married life she has done volunteer work, and soon after making aliya she got the itch to pick up the good work she had left behind in Manchester.

Kurnedz originally decided to co-found a bereavement counseling organization within her community in Manchester, after being shaken by two tragic incidents of suicide. One was an 18-year-old boy, and the other a married father in his 40s. “I knew the families very well and it upset me very much,” she recalls. “I thought, maybe we need something in the Jewish community where people can talk.” So a group was formed, and Kurnedz and other members of the community underwent training to become voluntary counselors. She volunteered in this group for 10 years, during which time all three of her children moved to Israel.

“Our children are very Zionistic,” Kurnedz explains.

“And also, my husband is a Holocaust survivor and our children are what you call second generation – who are quite affected by the Holocaust.”

Kurnedz and her family used to come on annual holidays to Israel and her children developed a love for the country. “They always knew they would like to come and live here.”

With all of her children and grandchildren in Israel, Kurnedz and her husband found themselves torn between the two countries, constantly “to-ing and fro-ing.” “Every time we went back home to England, we felt very unsettled – we felt like we were walking out on our children’s lives each time.” It also began to interfere with her work as a counselor, as she couldn’t give her clients the attention they needed. And so with a heavy heart, she gave it up.

The couple decided that when Susan’s husband retired, they would make the big move, and six and a half years ago they packed they packed their bags and moved to Poleg, Netanya.

“Making aliya was also very hard. We had a nice life in England and it was hard to give up,” she reflects.

But they settled in well, surrounded by family and friends who had already made the move.

Kurnedz chanced upon ESRA (the English Speaking Residents Association) when some friends invited her on a trip to the Dead Sea. She was inspired by the non-profit organization, which helps English-speaking families and new immigrants integrate into Israeli society by providing social, cultural, educational and civic activities, as well as aiding immigrants from distressed countries and other disadvantaged sectors of society. Kurnedz immediately decided she wanted to get involved and offered her services as a bereavement counselor, however there was no program for her to join. So she boldly decided to set one up herself and became the coordinator of a support and counseling group, thus filling a gap in the Anglo community.

It was a slow process, she says, but after thorough screening and interviewing, the group acquired 13 counselors. They have now been working for the program for four years, trained by professionals – who act as both tutors and supervisors – in regular meetings coordinated and attended by Kurnedz. The organization offers counseling, both face-to-face and over the telephone, to people suffering from loss. The latter service has been running for two and a half years.

“We deal with any sort of loss at all; It can be bereavement, the loss of a relationship, employment, even the loss of a pet,” Kurnedz explains. The benefit of telephone counseling is that it can reach people all over the country, whereas the face-to-face counseling is based in centers in the Sharon region, mainly in Ra’anana and Netanya.

The group also has a third type of counseling in the pipeline – support groups for carers. “People are calling us, there is a demand,” says Kurnedz, estimating that this project will get off the ground at the beginning of next year in Ra’anana. These groups will target people who care for the elderly and infirm. “People don’t think about the carers so much, and it’s hard, very draining for them,” she says.

She is the first point of contact for anyone that approaches ESRA for counseling, and after an initial conversation with the client to establish their need, she will usually set up an appointment with a counselor.

Other times the clients just need information, or must be referred elsewhere. Clients generally have weekly sessions of up to an hour, for as long as they need. This can vary from a few weeks to over a year.

The service is free, and a special emphasis is placed on this aspect, so that anyone who needs help feels comfortable to approach ESRA. Kurnedz also stresses the fact that everything is entirely private and confidential.

Since she appeared on the ESRA scene she has certainly made her mark, through dedication, hard work and a shining desire to help others. However, she is keen to point out that it was by no means a singlehanded effort, and is full of praise for her committed support and counseling team.

“The tutors are amazing; They give all their time for free,” she gushes. “I feel very proud and honored to be part of the group and feel so lucky to have the tutors and supervisors,” she humbly adds.

Kurnedz is not the only one who is grateful. The group has received some glowing feedback from clients whose lives they have changed. She points to a letter entitled ”Helped Back to Sanity” sent in to this month’s edition of the ESRA magazine; the anonymous writer gave The Jerusalem Post permission to publish her comments.

The writer lost her sister in a car accident almost six years ago, leaving her “dazed and unprepared for living with grief.” She relates that she looked into counseling but was deterred by the heavy costs. Until she found ESRA.

“That phone call changed my life. Even the initial contact with Susan, with her caring manner and soothing voice, made a difference. She put me in touch with [a counselor], and I was finally able to let out all the unspoken words and all the hidden feelings in a safe environment,” the letter reads.

Kurnedz sympathizes with how much courage it takes to pick up the phone and make that first phone call to ESRA. But she urges anyone in need of support to do so: “We are here to help the community; Please use us. It’s often easier for people to talk to strangers rather than friends or family, however good they are."

Kurnedz may be contacted by email: kurnedz@012.net.il or by phone: 052-6989088

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