When the pain doesn't end

Sometimes the victims of violence and their families need a different kind of support.

moadon 19 88.298 (photo credit: )
moadon 19 88.298
(photo credit: )
neFamily, the organization created five years ago to assist and support the families of terror victims, is not exactly what you would expect: Although all the participants are brought together by bereavement, there's nothing sad about their reunions or events. Regional coordinator Pini Rabinovitch never lacks the strength to hug or give support to the families, with a big smile and even some jokes here and there. His job, as he sees it, is to restore the families' will to live, even after they have experienced the worst. Among his other projects, Rabinovitch has created "Club 19," named for the terrorist attack on bus No. 19 on Rehov Aza two years ago. "You have to admit it was copywriting brilliance," says Rabinovitch - not exactly the kind of remark one would expect related to this issue. But then, that's Rabinovitch - with typical joie de vivre he admits he never misses an opportunity to tell a joke. And that's more or less the attitude of all the members - volunteers, employees and family - of OneFamily. "The bombing on bus No. 19 was one of the last terror attacks on a bus, with 11 dead and dozens of wounded," recalls Rabinovitch. "For the families, the attack never ends, it's there, sticks to them for the rest of their life. It's a hole in their soul, for life." What can be done for pain that never ends? Rabinovitch doesn't answer immediately, and then says, "The pain's inside them, but they are alive. We help them to find a reason to go on with life. Nobody is trying to tell them to forget, we just help them to continue to live a real life, nevertheless." He knows. If Rabinovitch's name sounds familiar to the public, it is because his daughter, Dassi, became a tragic heroine a few years ago, when she struggled against the medical and insurance establishments to obtain the medical treatment she wanted to treat her cancer. Dassi didn't make it and Rabinovitch and family have channelled their energies into helping others. Yael Badihi is a young and gifted woman who lives with her family in the village of Nataf. A singer, she accompanies herself on the guitar and she's full of projects, full of life. Unless you know her well, nothing, other than the occasional sadness that crosses her eyes, reveals that Yael's eldest son, Gil, was killed in combat during the intifada. "From the first moments after we realized that Gil was no longer with us, we decided that we will not stop being a happy family, as we had always been," says Yael. "It was a conscious decision." She says that OneFamily's involvement with her family - she and her husband have five living children - has been dramatic. "When such a terrible thing happens, you're totally helpless. But [even after] my son was dead and buried, there were lots of things to take care of. The guys from OneFamily were there. With sympathy, with patience, with love and hugs." She continues, "When we needed someone to take the smaller kids from kindergarten, to school. And yes, with practical support, too - even financial help. The official support from the National Insurance Institute is not always enough, or it's slow and you have some urgent needs." OneFamily's volunteers do not work according to the book: they are not official representatives - although official institutions have begun to take their work into account. "I, or another volunteer if it is outside my region, go to the hospitals within one or two days after [a terrorist attack]. I sit there for a while, trying very discreetly to learn what are the specific problems," says Rabinovitch. "Then I establish a first contact, take personal details - telephone numbers, the family, anything that can help." The needs are varied. "Sometimes it's someone who does not live here, whose family lives in another city, or if the wounded person has little children that have to be taken from kindergarten, from school. We check if old people are left alone at home - anything, just anything that needs attention, and is not covered by the National Insurance or any other official institution." Rabinovitch comes to visit late at night, after all the visitors and family members have gone home. "I sit with the closest relatives, hear their requests, their needs, and organize a response to those needs." Families are invited to join the association at a later, more appropriate, stage. "If they agree - and most of them do - I try to connect them to a specific activity. There's no point to gather people... just for the sake of sitting together. We do something together - whether it's a trip, an evening of flower-arranging or a conference by an expert on any topic of interest." Representatives of OneFamily stress that they do not intend to replace the establishment, but rather to fill a need that begins where the establishment ends. For Lilah Sisso, a member of Club 19, the world changed the day her son, then 13.5, was injured in the bombing of the 19 bus. "He was badly injured in the head, half of his body was paralyzed and he had to undergo a very long rehabilitation program," she recalls. "After six months, his hands still trembled, he stuttered, and he still suffered from serious neurological problems." And he has become a different person. "From a gentle, energetic boy, he has changed into a rude, sometimes violent person, with almost no friends," Sisso says. Because of his behavioral change, he had to quit school. The medications prescribed by the doctors helped initially, but then made him depressed and he refused to continue taking them. Says Sisso, "My strength is coming to an end. I have to face this all alone. I am a single mother to four children. Sometimes when I'm invited to the activities of Club 19, I first say to myself, 'There's no chance that I'll go. I'm too tired, too depressed.' "And then I go, and it's miraculous: I come back strengthened, optimistic, ready to go on." She adds that seeing the progress made by the other members of the group is important to her. "It gives so much power and hope to see someone who could hardly speak a few weeks ago participating now in activities, retrieving the taste for life. I think that maybe only those who have gone through these terrible experience can really understand us." OneFamily was created during the first months of the Intifada - in response to the ever-growing number of victims of the terrorist attacks and bombings - by the philanthropic Blazberg Family. The initiative came from their daughter, who decide to donate the money and gifts she received for her bat mitzva to the victims of the Sbarro bombing. The project has grown to encompass dozens of families, all victims of the violence of the past five years, including wounded soldiers and their families and the families of soldiers killed.