Boston federation accepts offer from Israeli experts to train clergy, teachers and counselors how to treat their communities.
By Avigayil Kadesh
In the space of one week in May, a six-person team of experts from Israel led 17 workshops for clergy, school and hospital personnel in the Boston area, where the psychological effects of the April 15th Boston Marathon terror attack still resonate strongly.
Led by clinical social worker Talia Levanon, director of the Israel Trauma Coalition (ITC), the team included Ruvie Rogel from the Community Stress Prevention Center; Shiri Daniels, clinical director of the ERAN national crisis intervention hotline; Vivian Reutlinger from Natal: Israel Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War; ITC Director of Regional Training Centers Ohad Aviram; and Miki Doron from Meitan Community Stress Prevention Center.
“I direct the coalition’s work in Israel and around the world,” says Levanon, who has also taken Israeli experts to disaster sites in Japan, France, Haiti and other countries.
"We reached out when we heard about the marathon and offered assistance, the way Israelis always do,” she says.
The offer was welcomed by Barry Shrage, president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, a Boston Jewish federation. About $75,000 in funds from this organization made the Israelis’ trip possible, though their broad efforts were not specifically targeted to Jewish groups or institutions.
“The events of a few weeks ago left us reeling and wanting to do whatever we could to help out,” Shrage wrote to his staffers. “Our partners in Israel, who are all too familiar with the fear and anxiety of the aftermath of terrorist attacks, reached out to us with support, making the collaboration with the ITC possible.”
Training locals to help their own
It took a couple of weeks and many phone calls to work out the details, but as soon as Levanon stepped foot in Boston she began scheduling workshops in Watertown, where residents were on lockdown during a police search for the bombers; and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, whose staff treated not only victims of the attack but also one of the terrorists.
Levanon and her team met with parents, teachers and clinicians at Watertown schools, as well as spiritual leaders, family physicians, and youth and family counselors in the town. Many adults and children there reported feeling traumatized, having been closed inside their homes all day on April 19th s military and police officers descended upon the town to give chase to the terrorists.
“Internationally, we do rehabilitation after emergency events,” Levanon says. “We just sent out our fifth or sixth mission to Japan following the earthquake. Our agenda is to train local key personnel and have them treat their own communities.”
At Beth Israel, ITC ran two workshops, one for staff social workers and another for staff members most involved with the treatment of the victims on the day of the marathon.
“We also worked with community leaders in Boston and at the school where the young boy who was killed was a student,” says Levanon, who encountered “a lot of hurting people” in the vicinity.
Treating trauma, building resilience
Jerusalem-based ITC, founded in 2002, marshals resources from various Israeli organizations for treating trauma and building resilience. It directs many projects in Israel — some in cooperation with the government, such as ITC resilience centers in the south – including emergency preparedness for 26 municipalities all over Israel, three regional training centers and therapy for people in crisis.
In response to international disasters, ITC regularly sends delegations of trauma and emergency response experts to provide aid and support to local professionals and volunteers working in disaster areas.
The training for spiritual leaders is a newer development, devised to help clergy learn how to support their communities after traumatic events. ITC began such programs in Safed (Tzfat) in the north and Sderot in the south, and used the same model in Boston.
A federation statement explained that the Israeli team was prepared to cover the following topics: what reactions parents should expect from their children, and how to respond to their questions; clinical training to student service staff to help them guide students through trauma recovery; how administrators can triage, plan and roll out trauma-based community events; and methods of creating a safe environment at school and at home where children can express themselves.
“The ITC training model empowers the local infrastructure to support a maximum number of those in need using existing local resources, contributing to the development of the community’s resilience, and setting up a support system that will remain in place long after the program has ended,” Shrage’s statement said.