Therapists bring humor to bomb shelters [pg. 7]

With the war in the North dragging on longer than expected, Jerusalemite Levona Kohav decided that people confined to bomb shelters needed some serious cheering up. One of only 47 people qualified in the new Israeli-devised practice of gelology - a type of art therapy encouraging people in stressful situations to cope with their anxiety through laughter - Kohav and 11 fellow gelologists have already made two humorous-filled journeys to the North in the past two weeks. "I saw a segment on TV where they were looking for volunteers in the North and so I put forward my skills," Kohav, 22, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. "[Gelology] is usually used in hospitals and special needs schools or to reach people with emotional difficulties," explained Kohav. "It creates a lot of happiness and gives people the individual tools needed to deal with their problems." Taken from the Greek word gelao, meaning laughter, gelology was developed by Vally Munitz-Kulas through her work in the Schneider Children's Hospital, Dana Children's Medical Center and the Department of Theater Arts at Tel Aviv University. Currently the academic director of the two-year-old course, which is taught at the Isis Psychodrama and Intermodal Expressive Arts Therapy Center in Tel Aviv, Munitz-Kulas called the practice a kind of "medical clown." "The language of art and its universal non-verbal characteristics enables a non-verbal means of communication with a wide variety of populations," she writes in a short description of gelology. "The aim of the dialogue is to express emotions through art and humor, and to enable one to be free of emotional blocks, without analysis or therapeutic solutions." In their first trip to the North, Kohav and her colleagues took their "laughter" skills to the front line to entertain soldiers and help ease their anxiety as they headed into battle. "We sang and danced for them and gave out balloons. It was a real success," said Kohav, who usually works with severely mentally and physically disabled children. Last week, the gelologists spent a day visiting three Jewish Agency-run absorption centers in Safed to get the new Ethiopian immigrants laughing. "I don't know if anyone visited these people before us," said Kohav. "When we arrived they were very scared and anxious about what is going on. Many of them had not left the bomb shelters because they are too frightened. They do not really understand what is going on, which can make the situation much worse." Kohav, who uses music, dance and story telling to help her audience forget about its troubles, said that at first only the children joined in with her specially-tailored program. However, after a short time some of the mothers put aside their cultural restraints and participated too. "The bomb shelters are so small and smell terrible," said Kohav. "Even though they are newly painted they still need to be fixed up properly. I can't imagine staying down there for a long time."