Israel sends post-trauma specialists to Mumbai

Dr. Rony Berger and Dr. Marc Gelkopf will work in hospitals and schools around the city for at least a week.

mumbai casualty 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
mumbai casualty 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Two Israeli post-trauma recovery specialists left for Mumbai on Sunday to initiate training sessions in the city. Dr. Rony Berger and Dr. Marc Gelkopf will work in hospitals and schools around Mumbai for at least a week, training doctors in post-traumatic stress treatment techniques. They will also work directly with victims of the coordinated terror attacks that ended two weeks ago with nearly 300 wounded and over 180 dead, including six Jews from the Nariman Chabad House. The effort, underwritten by the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Federation of Greater Toronto, is being coordinated on the ground in Mumbai by IsraAid, the NGO cooperative of some 35 Jewish humanitarian and development organizations. IsraAid founder and coordinator Shahar Zahavi pointed out that Israel, with its extensive experience in recovery from terrorist violence, was a natural choice for providing technical expertise to India. Zahavi is overseeing the operations of the Israeli duo, both of whom have worked in Sderot and other areas of the Negev hit by Palestinian rocket fire. Responding to questions about the small size of the team, Zahavi maintained that a small group was better able to "adapt to local methods." Although his Indian counterparts had initially wanted a longer time commitment, they had agreed on the size, he said. Berger and Gelkopf were brought in from Natal, a private, Tel-Aviv based organization of doctors and community service workers specializing in post-trauma recovery. Berger has previously worked in a number of other high-profile disaster areas around the world, and he is currently a board member of the Psychology without Borders organization. Berger's work has taken him to post-9/11 New York, villages damaged by the 2004 tsunami, and post-Katrina New Orleans, among other disaster zones. In many cases, these efforts were also coordinated by IsraAid. Speaking to Indian news outlets yesterday, Berger estimated that as many as 15% of those affected by the attacks, directly or otherwise, would be in need of post-trauma treatment. He also suggested that counseling might be offered to Indian police and firefighters, many of whom were wounded during rescue operations or suffered the death of colleagues. In a press release, IsraAid added that Berger and Gelkopf would partner with Jaslok Hospital and Research Center's Trauma Counseling Unit in Mumbai, where they would train doctors working with survivors of the attacks and with families of victims. According to the statement, the Israeli doctors will focus on both treatment for the physiological manifestations of post-traumatic stress disorder, and methods of psychological counseling for the families of PTSD sufferers. In addition, the doctors will be dispatched to a number of schools in Mumbai, where they will "train teachers on how to impart resiliency to their students and how to provide direct support" for victims and their families. Finally, the team will find time to work, especially with Jews and Israelis, as well as other foreigners who were caught on the ground during the attacks. Zahavi said he hoped to continue the program well past its current one-week scope. Although there was no way to know precisely what Indian authorities would need until after the Israeli team had returned home, Zahavi was certain that at that point, "it would not be long" before additional doctors and specialists could be sent back to India. There, they would continue to train medical and school personnel, as well as assess and respond to any other needs the community might have. Speaking on behalf of the American Jewish Committee, Middle East Executive Director Eran Lirman - a former Mossad colonel - credited IsraAid's initiative in finding qualified doctors to send to Mumbai. He expressed a great deal of hope for the project, adding that "the AJC recognizes that we stand together with Americans, Israelis, and Indians facing the same threat."