Easing trauma from tensions

Any new immigrant, who arrived after 2008, never had to experience the trauma of putting a gas mask on his or her child.

Boy (illustrative). (photo credit: COURTESY OF NATAL)
Boy (illustrative).
(photo credit: COURTESY OF NATAL)
For Josie Arbel, the absorption director of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI), the reality in Israel requires an acclimation that native Israelis grow up with.
“Where olim are at a disadvantage in the range of reactions is their [lack of] experience in having gone through difficult security times," Arbel says. "Israelis cope in very, very different ways as well, but olim are lacking the context of having been through this before.”
Dr. Shiri Daniels, director of counseling at Eran, an anonymous hotline for emotional first aid, agrees, and that problems might stem from being raised in a different culture. “Someone born here long ago knows how to read the social map, not only cognitively but emotionally,” Daniels says. “And sometimes it’s difficult to do that when you underwent a different socialization process.”
Olim are just a small portion of the people who need support during tense times in Israel, Daniels continues, as many Israelis – native-born and olim – suffer emotional strain from the country’s tensions.
That’s why services such as Eran and NATAL, the Israel Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War, are put in place for people to seek help.
“A lot of times, people are asking, what is this ‘post-trauma’ and how can we explain it?" Orly Gal, the executive director for NATAL, says. "If we take a thermos and throw it on the floor, all the glass is breaking inside. But from the outside, it looks perfect. Here is the trauma: From the inside, everything is broken, but from the outside you look the same.”
And with the kidnapping and murder of three teenagers, violent riots in Jerusalem and the Wadi Ara triangle, and rockets launched from Gaza raining on the South, the volume of calls to NATAL and Eran have been growing.
It began with calls from the South and from Judea and Samaria, Gal says. Then came the calls from Tel Aviv, the North and soon, from all over the country.
“People are afraid… from the North, from the South, from the Center; it’s seems a lot of people really need someone to speak with. We are here for them: to support them and help them with what to do with the kids.”
NATAL, an apolitical nonprofit, aims to provide treatment to those traumatized by the Israeli-Arab conflict, raise awareness about PTSD, and train professionals and at-risk populations about prevention and coping mechanisms for PTSD.
“It’s an important time for us, and we feel like we are in an emergency time. All our professionals are ready and our volunteers are here to do everything we need,” Gal notes.
Along with the call-in services, both Eran and NATAL have online services in multiple languages for the younger generation. Eran also has an SMS service that mostly teenagers take advantage of, but is open to everyone. These services help people talk through their emotions, says Daniels.
“People who feel anxiety and stress, especially over the last couple of days, sometimes feel weak, they feel alone and like no one understands them; so they get the opportunity to speak about whatever is in their heart. The calls to Eran are also anonymous, so it allows the caller to really reveal the emotional part he doesn’t [normally discuss] in day-to-day life,” Daniels explains.
Unlike Eran, people make themselves known to NATAL, so social workers and psychologists are able to follow up, Gal says.
“We understand that we need to be there in every place – in English, in Hebrew – and to understand that the young ones, especially, need to be listened to some of the time,” she continues.
NATAL does this by providing training for parents on how to understand and help their children. However, Gal says, many times the parents can’t help their children without first helping themselves.
In one instance, NATAL dealt with the case of a sevenyear- old girl who was so anxious, she would sleep with her clothes on and one foot on the ground, just in case there was a siren, says Ifat Morad, the organization’s international relations and resource development manager.
After speaking to her parents, Morad says they sent NATAL’s mobile unit to the house, and worked with her and her parents until she improved. Now, she sleeps in her pajamas, with both legs on the bed, and has improved dramatically.
The AACI also understands how important it is to provide support for children, “to teach kids how to cope with the stress of aliya and the stress of rockets falling on their communities,” says Miriam Green, southern branch counselor. AACI hopes to implement a program addressing these needs in the fall.
For many new olim, Daniels says, it can be especially difficult to adjust to tense situations due to other factors such as a new language, new environment and lack of experience.
“There are issues that come up, such as leaving what they know, what they love and the people they love, and coming to the unknown at a very difficult time,” Daniels says. “Israel has its problems. [Olim can have] financial problems and issues regarding the sense of security, especially now. People find themselves asking ‘Why did I do this? What am I doing here?’ And especially in these times, find themselves having a more difficult time than people who were born here.”
To specifically help olim who have not gone through a national emergency situation before, Arbel says the AACI publishes a free English handbook available online that prepares people to deal with emergency situations such as rocket attacks, safe rooms, fires and earthquakes.
“Particularly when you’re under stress, people want information in the language they communicate best in,” she notes. As such, NATAL and Eran provide services in multiple languages such as Hebrew, English, Arabic and Russian.
Despite these emergency situations, Green says, olim are still making their way to Israel.
“My own experience is, to use the cliché, ‘What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,’” Green says. “I have been in touch with people who are planning to return to Israel, with olim who are interested in moving South, and there has not been any change in their plans because rockets are falling.”
Nefesh B’Nefesh, a nonprofit that encourages and facilitates aliya from North America, also says it has yet to see a marked shift in prospective olim changing their plans.
“In light of recent developments in Israel, Nefesh B’Nefesh is assisting any olim seeking additional emotional support and guidance. There is no indication that olim are postponing their aliya plans; in fact, our olim seem excited, optimistic and undeterred,” NBN’s director of marketing and communications, Yael Katsman, says in an official statement.
The organization even suggests these tensions encourage some people to make the leap to Israel.
“Many potential olim have expressed that their aliya has now taken on additional meaning,” Katsman explains. “They view their new move as an extra element of solidarity, in joining their brothers and sisters in Israel during this challenging time.”