Longing for a hug

OneFamily, the only national organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of victims of terror, helps preserve the memories of loved ones through a special project.

OneFamily Fund 521 (photo credit: Seth J. Frantzman)
OneFamily Fund 521
(photo credit: Seth J. Frantzman)
The humidity in the air was intense on a Thursday evening in Tel Aviv in late August. But that didn’t stop nearly 1,000 Israelis from across the country, whose lives were shattered by tragic loss over the past decade or so, from gathering in unity at the city’s Tahana complex.
Greeting each other with warm hugs, this diverse mix of society was on hand in the presence of government ministers, MKs and other distinguished guests.
They were there to shine the spotlight on their children during the launch event of a month-long art exhibition, based on personal stories of young people who experienced tragedy – the loss of a parent, brother, sister or other family member, as a consequence of terror attacks, war or military operations.
The display, known as “Longing for a Hug (Ga’agua Lehibuk),” featuring 40 original works by Israeli artists, was commissioned and hosted by OneFamily, Israel’s only national organization dedicated solely to the rehabilitation of victims of terror attacks and their families.
The 40 “Longing for a Hug” pieces were created using inspiration from a recently published book of the same name. The entire project took OneFamily more than five years to complete, with the goal of immortalizing the memories of bereaved children and aid their healing processes.
The book itself, which was showcased for the first time at the event, includes 152 stories of loss and longing as told by the children (some of whom are now young adults) themselves.
According to Lina Sagi, OneFamily’s deputy director- general of therapeutic services, the idea for the book was born around six years ago.
“We were in the North hosting a OneFamily therapeutic summer camp for bereaved children, as we do several times a year, when one particular girl started talking about her brother who was killed in a terror attack [four years earlier].
“She expressed being in a constant trauma-like state, always trying to remember the details of her brother’s life, not wanting to forget any of them. It turns out that she was not alone, and we found that many of the other children were also obsessing about not forgetting the memories of their loved ones.”
Sagi explains, “It was then that we felt it would be helpful for these children to be able to write down their memories, and have them on paper in order to give their minds a release or a rest from the painful memories.”
Not only was it therapeutic for the children to be able to share their memories and have them documented, says Sagi, but in some cases, when the children were reminiscing while a therapist wrote down their stories, “it in fact triggered cheerful memories of their loved ones that they didn’t even know they had.
They were so touched and happy to have this new ‘gift’ in writing.”
According to Sagi, each child who participated – whether they decided to include their story in the finished book or not – ended up taking home around 10 pages of memories of their lost ones.
The elaborate hardcover, coffee-table book contains a shortened two-page summary of the memories each child expressed, and highlights meaningful life events by including pictures of the children alongside their family members who were tragically killed.
Tamar Uziel, now 23 and a university student in Ariel, was the young girl Sagi spoke of, who inspired the organization to record the stories for the book.
Uziel’s brother, St.-Sgt. Gabi (Gabriel) Uziel, 20, was a Golani Brigade soldier who was shot and killed by terrorist sniper during a military operation in Jenin in September 2003.
Uziel says she is grateful to OneFamily for the opportunity to put her thoughts on paper. “We [Gabi and I] were together for only 14 years, but this was my chance to let people know what kind of brother he really was. For me, this was special: to write our memories, what I miss about him, and especially the small things that I miss.”
Before university, Uziel herself was an enlisted soldier serving as a social worker, choosing the same Golani unit as her deceased brother in order to honor his memory. She describes how meaningful it was to be a part of the same unit.
Exploring the various works of art on display at the event was 18-year-old Paz Ben-Shabat. Ben-Shabat’s father, Yaakov, an officer, was murdered at the age of 39 in a September 2003 suicide bombing, along with eight other soldiers, as they waited for a ride home at a bus stop outside the Tzrifin army base.
Ben-Shabat accompanied this journalist to the artwork on display bearing her name, a piece created by artist Rachel Navon inspired by the memories of Ben-Shabat’s father as she expressed them in the book.
The work is titled Sea Memories, and consists of a mixed-media mosaic with 3D pieces, including sea shells, on a window frame.
The quote from the book featured alongside the art is Ben-Shabat recalling: “My father had two great passions; first and foremost was the ocean. He loved the sea so much.”
Ben-Shabat, who was only eight years old when her father died, says she is grateful for the publication of the book, which “brings to light the importance of the OneFamily organization and their crucial work with the victims, and at the same time brings the stories of those who were lost to the rest of the country.”
She says that “while it’s been 10 years, the feeling of loss is still there,” adding that she feels both the book and art display are important in ensuring the victims “didn’t die in vain.”
OneFamily co-founder and chairman Marc Belzberg concurs with Ben-Shabat on the significance and the need for the country as a whole to be able to feel what a family who lost a loved one in a terror attack goes through.
He says there was a conscious decision by his organization to host the exhibition in the center of the country.
“The stories on display here serve to connect the people of Israel – not only so they will experience pain together, but so they can heal together. Seeing what these kids have written, and viewing the art, you can’t walk out of here without a tear.”
OneFamily spokeswoman Rachel Moore – who upon her aliya last year began working for the organization in a professional capacity, after being a steadfast supporter and volunteer for over 12 years – says the book and accompanying art exhibit turn the stories “from being personal into national narratives.” She adds that “while the book makes an important statement within itself, the artwork is the larger expression.”
Moore was impressed by the attendance at the launch event, especially by the number of victims and families who were present. “This is a celebration of [the victims’] lives,” she says. “This isn’t about mourning.”
According to One Family, upon the conclusion of the exhibit at the end of this month, the art pieces will be put on sale, with the proceeds benefiting the organization’s work.
Sagi says that OneFamily remains committed to doing “whatever is necessary towards helping the victims: from a wide range of therapies and treatments, and weekend retreats, to legal advice and financial aid.
We’re doing what we can to help everyone with what they are having trouble coping with.”
The “Longing for a Hug” exhibition, curated voluntarily by multidisciplinary artist Reli Wasser, will be on display at Tel Aviv’s Tahana complex until September 29.