Israeli Soldiers at a Manhattan Jewish Experience party .
(photo credit: JTA)
NEW YORK - Last month, 15 former soldiers selected by the Israel Defense Forces traveled to New York for a weeklong program to treat lingering trauma from their combat during the 2006 Lebanon War with Hezbollah.
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An Israeli group called Peace of Mind organized the program, which ranged from group therapy and painting to sightseeing at the Empire State Building and a cocktail party on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
The long distance - not just from Lebanon, but from Israel as well - is at the heart of the treatment program.
“In Israel, it’s not socially acceptable to talk about these
experiences,” said Alon Weltman, an Israeli psychologist and director of
the program who accompanied the soldiers during their visit.
Bringing them to the United States, Weltman said, was an effort to break
that taboo and help them move beyond their traumas. The soldiers spent
half of each day in New York in intensive group therapy.
The program was developed by the Israel Center for the Treatment of
Psychotrauma, a nonprofit affiliated with the Sarah Herzog Hospital in
Jerusalem and the School of Social Work at Hebrew University. The center
asks the IDF to choose a group of soldiers for treatment and then finds
international Jewish communities willing to take in the soldiers and
foot the bill - about $55,000 - to pay for the expenses of the 15
soldiers and three psychologists. In this case, a group of Jews from
Fire Island, a popular vacation spot on Long Island about two hours from
Manhattan, paid the bill.
Peace of Mind doesn’t treat soldiers with post-traumatic stress
disorder, but helps soldiers realize that they may have repressed trauma
from their wartime experiences that affect their everyday lives.
“Think of someone experiencing a sudden death of someone close,” Weltman
said. “That person is dealing with a difficult experience but is not
necessarily post-traumatic. He might not have the right tools to deal
with this experience, though, and that is part of what we try to do in
The 15 men who came for the visit to America last month were platoon
mates in the IDF’s 931st infantry regiment during the monthlong Second
Lebanon War. The 931st saw particularly tough combat, including urban
fighting against Hezbollah militiamen in closed quarters.
The platoon defended strategic buildings, staged assaults and came under
rocket fire. In one rocket attack that hit their sleeping quarters, a
soldier who had switched mattresses with a friend was killed by the
projectile. Ten others were wounded.
For some of the soldiers on the program, the realization that the war still touches their lives felt like a revelation.
“I didn’t think the war affected me,” Beck said. “Now when we sit and talk, I realize how much it’s affected my life.”