Emotional help hotline at peak as Seder draws nearer

The national free Emotional First Aid phone service, has bolstered its phone lines in 10 branches around the country to assist those coping stress before and during Pessah.

abuse victim 88 (photo credit: )
abuse victim 88
(photo credit: )
ERAN (Ezra Rishona Nafshit), the national free Emotional First Aid phone service, has bolstered its phone lines in 10 branches around the country to cope with callers suffering stress before and during Pessah - the holiday that causes more loneliness and emotional disruption than any other. The hot line, with 800 well-trained volunteers, receives some 400,000 calls a year, and the monthly rate peaks during this time of year. ERAN, which operates round-the-clock, offers unconditional emotional support to those who are alone, depressed or in crisis. It was founded in 1971 by the late Maria Bertha Zaslany, whose husband Arye was a psychiatrist. The regular national number is 1201, while a line for soldiers and their families and manned by specially trained staffers is at *2201; a line for the elderly, especially those who have been abused, is at 1-700-501-201. ERAN also has a Web site (www.eran.org.il) used by many people, especially the young, to express their difficulties. According to ERAN research director Itsak Gilati, loneliness is one of the major problems described by callers, but Pessah is a time when it is particularly common, as the Seder is a family-oriented event. Many of them have nowhere to go for the central Pessah ceremony, while others can't even afford to have their own. In addition, those who do plan to attend a family Seder fear conflicts with relatives with whom they don't get along and whom they haven't seen for a long time. As family relations come into sharp focus, Seder night becomes a catalyst for emotional distress over difficult family relationships that are otherwise repressed during the year, he explained. "We also get calls at Pessah from people who generally do not feel lonely during the year, but finding themselves without an invitation to a Seder causes them to feel abandoned or betrayed by relatives or friends who have not issued an invitation," said Gilati. "People start calling about problems related to the Seder at least two to three weeks before the date, as this is the time period in which invitations are extended and arrangements are made. Calls relating to the holiday continue for about another few after it's over," he said. ERAN also receives calls from people complaining that family members are forcing them to attend the family Seder when they would prefer to stay home. "The phrase we often hear is that they don't want to have to spend an evening being nice to people," said Gilati. Many callers say they suffer emotionally at the thought of having to go through such an "ordeal." However, ERAN cannot interpolate from these calls that most people are "miserable" attending a Seder, as happy people do not call ERAN. Ety Sitton, director of the Kfar Saba branch, told The Jerusalem Post that her 100 volunteers are especially busy at this season. "We have some psychologists, but we also have teachers, engineers, social workers and others from the age of 23 who have passed a rigorous six-month training course. Our volunteers all have a proven human touch [and] can identify with people who have problems. The majority are women, but we have some men, including pensioners," she said. Volunteers at all branches take calls from around the country and volunteer four hours a week. Sitton, a family therapist who has worked for ERAN for four years, said intensive cleaning to prepare for the holiday is often a burden for religious - and especially haredi - women, who feel overburdened and under pressure or unable to afford all the expenses. Some people with obsessive-compulsion disorder are especially stressed by their need for everything to be clean, she said. Volunteer staffers do not "treat" callers in a psychiatric sense or tell them what to do. "We help them discuss their problem and know they are not alone," said Sitton. "We also refer them to professional help if they need it." Other reasons for calling include difficulties stemming from being dismissed from one's job, as well as adolescence and divorce. Occasionally, callers express suicidal thoughts. Sitton noted that cases such as the alleged sexual abuse case of former president Moshe Katsav and the recent horrific child abuse cases arouse special anxiety among people who have gone through such experiences. Even the collapse of former prime minister Ariel Sharon aroused feelings of losing an authority figure, said Sitton. On average, women call more than men, and whereas men usually complain just about their personal feelings of loneliness, women mostly complain about their relationships with other members of the family.