Yaffa Agadi will never forget the day in May last year when Palestinian terrorists in Gaza fired dozens of Qassam rockets at southern Israel. The siren “The Color Red” sounded again and again near her home in Ashkelon and everyone ran into shelters. Yaffa’s husband Moshe went out to smoke a fast cigarette during what he thought was a break between the rocket attacks. While he was standing outside, a rocket landed very close to him, rocket parts hit him and he was killed on the spot, writes the Jerusalem Post.
-I have no life and I can not sleep – I saw my husband die in front me. I tried to save him but he was dead, says Yaffa who has a hard time holding back tears.
Yaffa has participated in a fundraiser for the organization Operation Embrace. The organization helps Israelis and their families who have been killed and wounded in terrorist attacks. The organization pays for psychological counseling, guidance, horse therapy and two annual weekends with hotel stays for the families.
Yaffa’s 13-year-old daughter – the youngest of four has suffered from depression since her father died. The daughter had not attended a funeral before her father was killed. Every time she hears the sound of something reminiscent of a rocket attack or even the sound of a car braking hard, she begins to cry and shout “a rocket, a rocket.” These are classic symptoms of PTSD, says Michal Feldstein, a social worker at Operation Embrace.
According to Yaffa, she was visited by government representatives after the rocket attack. They promised to help her in every way, but nothing has happened since then.
-It feels like everyone has forgotten me, says Yaffa, adding that Feldstein is the only one who has supported her and her family.
Feldstein says that a large part of the children who live near Gaza have lived with rocket attacks for many years – many were born into the situation. The children show clear symptoms of PTSD. Many of them suffer from sleep problems, are on constant alert for fear of the next rocket attack, have nightmares, pee in bed, have outbursts of anger, cannot concentrate at school or have a normal social life.
According to Feldstein, physical trauma can heal. However, if the emotional traumas are not treated, they cause permanent damage. Feldstein herself lives in Kibbutz Mefalsim which is a few kilometers from Gaza and she understands what her clients are going through.
Operation Embrace was started by Rabbi Joel and Aviva Tessler in 2001 in Potomac, Maryland where Joel has been a rabbi for many year. Aviva recently organized a fundraiser to raise money for the organization. US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman showed up unexpectedly during the fundraiser.
-The goal of the collection was to create greater awareness around all the people who have endured so much suffering and trauma for many years and still stick to life, she says.
-One of the symptoms of PTSD is the anxiety of having to leave home and not trust anything more. The hope is that we can continue to raise awareness in Israel, she adds.
The annual budget is $ 350,000 and over the course of 18 years they have raised $ 3.5 million. dollars. According to Feldstein, they have helped about 10,000 people. One of them was a young girl who was seriously injured in a rocket attack and spent several weeks in a coma. She recovered but had permanent hearing loss. The Israeli National Insurance Institute (NII) offered hearing aids, but the girl wanted to become a lawyer and therefore needed very expensive hearing aids that could filter all background clothing during, for example, lectures. Operation Embrace provided the hearing aid – today the young woman is a lawyer.
Another organization that helps the youngest in southern Israel is Connections and Links: From Trauma to Resilience. The organization aims to train teachers in a combination of movement therapy, somatic experience and thought body therapy. Co-founder Judith Spanglet explains that it is a focused way to treat trauma and build resilience.
-Somatic experience is a combination of therapies that use neuropsychology to work with different parts of the brain, says Spanglet.
-For example, part of our brain responds to threats – that part of the brain automatically enters a state of combat and flight. At the same time, the part of our brain that controls emotions is suppressed, Spanglet explains.
According to Spanglet, most people can return to a normal life after repeated stressful events such as rocket attacks. But about a third need therapy, something that many Israelis are afraid to admit they need.
Spanglet adds that many of the therapists who come home to families during war and attack even live in the affected areas and therefore are very concerned about their own families while at the same time trying to help others.
The organization has published the children’s book Treasures of the Winning Couple with Mr. body and Fr. awareness that helps children increase their resilience.
They have also produced an emergency package with a number of cards and equipment. On one side of each card there is an image that makes a part of the brain relax. On the other side of the cards is a suggested activity which can be done with the attached equipment. It can be, for example, a rubber ball or a scarf combined with activities that promote relaxation. The kit is designed to help teachers and parents whose children are exposed to frequent rocket attacks.
Israelis living closest to Gaza have only 15 seconds to bring themselves and their families to safety during rocket attacks. Having to do it repeatedly increases the stress level of almost everyone who lives there.
-Children learn that when they are outside their comfort zone, there are tools they can use to return. This applies both to rocket attacks or, for example, when another child takes their ball. Children learn to understand their own nervous system and help themselves, Spanglet concludes.
Read MIFF’s articles on the consequences for the Israeli population in southern Israel who suffer from almost daily rocket attacks from terrorist groups in Gaza here.