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A Firsthand Account: Helping Survivors of Hamas Massacres Start Their Recovery
By Avi Moskowitz
On Monday, October 9th, I traveled from Beit Shemesh down to the Dead Sea where several hotels are hosting evacuees from the south, together with fellow United Hatzalah volunteer Brynie Lezevnik. The hotel we were sent to had several families from Kibbutz Magen, Netivot and Sderot, and our role as members of the United Hatzalah Psychotrauma and Crisis Response unit was to alleviate the emotional shock suffered by the survivors of the massacres committed by Hamas on Saturday morning.
We arrived at around 4:30 in the afternoon. We saw kids outside, in the back of the hotel, and jumped right in, starting to engage with them. Some other volunteer groups had set up a bubble station and some art supplies. Other kids were running around and playing in the yard. We started by engaging the children and gaining trust and at the same time, starting to build a rapport with the parents and grandparents (many families have several generations living on the kibbutz and in the cities). We spent a couple of hours with those families, learning that they had only just arrived at this hotel that same morning. Many of them started opening up, recounting their stories and how they felt during the roughly 6 hours that they had been locked up in their homes. All of these families knew each other, and their children were all friends.
After that, the families went to eat dinner and we started connecting with the rest of the therapists who had arrived to help. Some were from organizations, and some were private individuals. There was an organizer on site who took everybody’s information and opened a WhatsApp group, and we started coordinating. The organizer sat with someone from the social services of Kibbutz Magen, who arrived with the evacuees, to learn what the needs of the community were. They organized a list of groups that needed to be run for various ages and we divided up the responsibilities for the next day.
The model of intervention that we were trained in is called The Six Cs, a system that signifies the six steps of the intervention itself. The first steps are communication and commitment. This is where the person intervening establishes communication with the person in need and commits to assisting that person. The goal of this is to connect with them, alleviating the sensation of loneliness. The next step is cognition, which encourages the person in need of help to the person focus on cognitive rather than emotional processing. The next step is continuity, or helping the person regain their psychological bearing and orientation. The fifth step is to challenge the person, presenting them with simple relevant and achievable tasks, thereby alleviating the sensation of helplessness. The sixth step is control, or asking short questions, thereby offering the person the chance to make simple decisions and regain a sense of control over their situation. All of this allows the person to have a cognitive and clear understanding of what happened enabling them to conclude, together with the person providing the intervention, that the threatening incident is indeed over and that they are safe.
After that meeting, we spent another couple of hours approaching families in the lobby of the hotel, letting them know who we were and allowing them to tell their stories. Almost everyone opened up with very little prying. People wanted to be heard. They were scared, frustrated, angry at the government, and most of all, unsure of how they could ever return to their homes and feel safe there. This was the number one concern across the board.
At the end of the day, even though we were meant to stay in a nearby hotel and go home first thing in the morning, both Brynie and I decided there was too much work to do. We decided we would stay for another day.
After eating something, I made my way back to the hotel where we were working. Some of the kids I had met the day prior quickly came up to me, telling me what they had eaten for breakfast. This showed that we had made some headway in gaining their trust, allowing them to share with us even minuscule facts. The families slowly started to trickle in from their rooms and from breakfast, and I started to reconnect with them. Some new families from the kibbutz had arrived, and they were welcomed by their friends and family.
Brynie was tasked with running a group together for 7th and 8th graders while I was asked to run a group with a younger age group. Brynie relayed that the experience of running the group with five 7th graders was quite challenging as they opened up very wide, relaying their experiences and fears. Included in the group was a girl whose father was still missing.
As I was meant to run the group for 1st-3rd graders, I went to find the room I was meant to be in and found out there was an entire kids entertainment center, with video games, ping pong tables, and a whole room for young kids with ball pits, art supplies, and toys.
Instead of pulling the kids away from their fun, I engaged with them in the room, played with them, spoke to them, listened to their stories and fears, and checked in with the parents to see how they were holding up and how the kids were. The kids, generally, seemed quite happy. Strong and resilient as kids are.
One of the interactions that left a mark on me was with a woman in her 90s who had great-grandchildren living on the kibbutz. She had lived up north during the 1st Lebanon War and shared the flashbacks she was having.
Another was a man who had 3 sons and 2 grandchildren who stayed on the kibbutz to help with security efforts after the evacuation.
I even accidentally approached a man who ended up being a hotel employee. At first, he thanked me for my work, but then he opened up about how traumatized he is about the situation. He himself is Muslim and married to a Jewish woman and has 2 kids serving in the army right now.
The survivors we met with have witnessed horrors and it will take way more than the few conversations we had with them for them to heal, but we hope to have helped them start their long journey towards recovery.
Avi Moskowitz is a volunteer in United Hatzalah’s Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit, which addresses the emotional needs of family members, witnesses, and bystanders during and after traumatic situations. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.