OneFamily helps terror victims triumph and choose life

OneFamily cares for thousands of Israeli victims and their families, enveloping them with warmth, love and support.

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One Family march at Neot Kedumim
One Family march at Neot Kedumim

Terror impacts lives. Whether grieving over a loved one murdered in a terror attack or coping with injuries for the rest of one’s life, the entire family is impacted. Nothing is what it was, everything is different, and nothing remains the same. Many of those traumatized by attacks find it hard to get up in the morning, are unable to hold down a job, loud noises, sirens trigger flashbacks, they often become withdrawn, angry and frustrated.

Every day is an uphill battle, as they try to cope with their sorrow, medical treatments and hold on to a semblance of normalcy. This is where OneFamily steps in. The only organization of its kind in Israel, it has been operating for 18 years and cares for thousands of Israeli victims and their families, enveloping them with warmth, love and support, providing them with emotional and financial assistance and legal advice.

The victims’ stories are not pretty ones, many who were injured in terror attacks over a decade ago are still struggling to move forward and others despite the difficulties and hardship they face, have succeeded in rebuilding their lives and reintegrating back into society.

In January 2018, Rabbi Raziel Shevah, father of six was murdered in a drive by shooting as he was returning to his home. His wife Yael who attended a recent OneFamily widows retreat wrote on her Facebook page that she initially had planned not to go, and tried to distance herself, but then realized how much she belongs to OneFamily. “All of us here at the OneFamily retreat, are here for all the wrong reasons, by mistake. A very costly mistake that I wished never happened. But despite everything, we are here, living, enjoying, happy. All of us have in common sadness, negativity, but all of us have a mutual desire to find happiness and life.”

Another mother whose husband was recently killed in a rocket attack participated in the retreat for the first time. She asked to remain anonymous but had nothing but praise for the opportunity to participate. There was also a mother who said the retreat allowed her “to rest while my children enjoyed themselves without me having to be by their sides. Nothing is self-evident. It is a step I would never have done on my own.”

Maya Moreno-Ohana came to speak with the OneFamily youth counselors at a recent seminar in Jerusalem. Lt.Col. Emmanuel Moreno, her husband, was killed in combat during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. He served in the elite IDF Sayeret Matcal, and until today his photo and details of the circumstances in which he was killed are barred for publication. She was left to raise their three children on her own. Years later she married a second time. She spoke to the counselors of the difficulties she faced as a young widow. How she copes with her bereavement and how her children responded to their father’s death. How with time they chose to call her second husband, father. “At home we have two fathers. The father who gave birth, and the father who raises them. Both are present in our home. It is complicated and not always simple but that’s life,” she said. She emphasized to the counselors the importance of their work, how the support network and assistance has helped her and her children. “You really make a difference in the lives of the children you care for, you do.”

Shahar Moshe’s parents Sharon and Yaniv, were both murdered before her eyes in a drive by shooting attack when she was eight months old. She was traveling in the car with her parents and sister when the terrorists opened fire. Her mother flung herself over her daughters to protect them, and that is how they survived. “For years I felt that bereavement forced me to cope on two fronts – dealing with the loss and dealing with society’s responses. Dealing with those around you makes coping with loss far harder. Whenever I arrived at a new place, the new people I met, always spoke at me. Many times my story was heard before people got to know me, they already knew my story. Sometimes it made me feel I was kind of cool, someone they could run to tell their friends about. When I arrived at OneFamily, I felt equal among equals. At home. No one views my story as strange, or tags me in any way. And because of it I was able to make space to cope with my bereavement. I dared to tell my story and my feelings, and I felt comfortable.”

Dan’s brother was killed during combat in Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014. He recalled how every time his brother came back from the army he would jump on him and tickle him, go with him on outings. Suddenly, abruptly it all stopped. Suddenly he had no older brother. Dan said he felt like an outsider when he attended a OneFamily support group for children his age for the first time. “Everyone talked about their story, and I just sat and listened. Then I realized that everyone present had lost someone, like me, and they understood me. I became more self-confident.”

Losing a family member and friend to terror causes many children to conceal their pain. They often present themselves in a way that fits society’s expectations but deep down they crave for recognition, love, attention and warmth. The Big Brother Big Sister program pairs university aged brothers and sister with bereaved children and teenagers. Each week they visit them, play with them, go on outings, help them with school work, do arts and craft together, listen to them, support and guide and bond with them.

Pnina and Ranana have been together a year. “At our first meeting, we asked each other three questions. Later we each drew a tree and on each leaf wrote our wishes for the year,” Ranana said. “I was a bit cautious of Pnina at first but then we became great friends. I will soon be 11, and one of my wishes is that Pnina will stay with me next year,” she says.

Esther’s father was murdered in a terror shooting attack in 2016. Her oldest brother was killed in a traffic accident in March this year. Every Wednesday her “big sister” Batzion visits her. They enjoy spending time together, baking cakes and cookies, playing music and doing all sorts of arts and crafts. Esther found she can confide in Batzion and looks forward to their weekly meetings, where she can talk about her feelings and enjoy herself. “Lately we made a book for each other and decorated it. In it we write down things we want to tell each other. At the beginning of each visit we read what we wrote,” says Batzion.

Just weeks ago 700 teenagers from the United States and Canada participated in an incredibly moving event One Walk to OneFamily. It was organized by Michal Belzberg, the brainchild and inspiration that led to the establishment of the OneFamily organization 18 years ago. The teenagers from NCSY, Sulam and Machach were in Israel visiting the country to learn about their heritage. At Neot Kedumim wearing red OneFamily T-shirts, they met up with victims of terror wearing white T-shirts, and together went on a unity walk, engaging with one another while listening to the victims’ testimonies of survival.

They heard from Racheli Fraenkel whose son Naftali was kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists along with his two friends Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach in June 2014. She urged the teenagers to remember the event and how meaningful it was telling them ,” you walked on the soil of your homeland, you are all one family, we together are OneFamily.”

Marc Belzberg the chairman of OneFamily emphasized how the event connected “young Jews from the Diaspora with Israelis who lost loved ones for no other reason than their determination to live as Jews in the homeland of their forefathers.”

OneFamily’s Bereaved Father’s Choir stole the show. All the choir members lost children in terror attacks or military operations. The fathers discovered that singing helps them to overcome their pain. When the choir sang Hallelujah everyone swayed to the music and the teenagers joined in the song. But there was hardly a dry eye in the audience when the choir dedicated a special prayer to the safety of Israel’s soldiers.

Trauma suffered by children who either witnessed a terror attack or have family members who were injured or murdered in attacks can interfere significantly with their normal functioning. Some children wet their beds, others become withdrawn or find it difficult to concentrate at school.

Play therapy allows them to express themselves, and helps them to cope. Children, who find it hard to verbalize their feelings, suffer from communication difficulties or anger , can express their emotions through toys and games.

Toys such as dolls houses, dolls, prams, display affection and love, board games are considered a safe zone and often exhibit a lack of fantasy. For children aged four to 15, attending weekly play therapy sessions helps them to express their feelings freely, and boosts their self-esteem. From session to session the therapist builds a positive relationship and gains the child’s trust.

Maya is only 9 years old. When she was four, her brother was killed in a terror attack. She cannot remember exactly what happened and her parents rarely talk about it. At the sessions she began to understand the importance of expressing her emotions, whether happy or sad, negative or positive. She loves playing with the make believe kitchenette and the little staged theater. Slowly but surely she is starting to open up.

Sarit is a young teenager. Her father was seriously injured in a stabbing attack and despite his injuries called his family assuring them he was fine. He never revealed what happened. She was seriously affected by her father’s injury and suffers from a kind of memory loss and opts to shut down. She finds it hard to express her feelings but now slowly she is starting to open up and communicate.

It was just before Passover in 2016, just days before her 16 th birthday when Eden Dadon was critically injured after a bomb placed by a terrorist underneath her seat in a bus exploded. Rachel her mother suffered light injuries. The entire bus was engulfed in flames and Eden suffered third degree burns to over 65 percent of her body. She spent many weeks in hospital and three weeks in intensive care and on life support. Today Eden faces many physical and emotional challenges. She is extremely traumatized and her health has deteriorated. The attack affected her hearing, she walks with difficulty and suffers breathing problems She still undergoes daily rehabilitative treatment. Daily she takes special showers and then swathes her burnt body in special ointment before placing compression bandages over her burns.

In a few weeks’ time she will undergo surgery to ease her breathing problems, and next year she will begin a long series of cosmetic surgeries. Rachel is a single mother raising three children on her own. She is still severely traumatized, and accompanies Eden to all treatments and has become her caregiver. Money is tight and can barely pay for the expensive ointment Eden uses daily. OneFamily has provided them with monthly support, tutors to help Eden catch up on school studies, as well as special equipment she needs for her rehabilitation. Her courage and determination can be illustrated in the few words she said at a special OneFamily thanksgiving party held in her honor, to celebrate her progress and recovery. While noting that there is a long road to recovery ahea she said “ I was badly hurt, and today I feel so much better than before. Even though at the beginning of my journey to recovery I wasn’t capable of walking, now I have the strength to make up all the matriculation tests I missed, and I want to continue learning.”

Coping with reality is a daily struggle for those injured or who lost loved ones in terror attacks and military operations. OneFamily strives to provide them with hope for the future, a life of self-development and empowerment and to triumph over terror every day anew.

Perhaps the strength and emotional support they receive from OneFamily can best be summed up in the words of Reuven Stern, a member of the Bereaved Fathers Choir, whose son Nitai was killed during a military operation in 2009. “The years have gone by and I sing, my son’s voice cries out from within me saying continue living, continue living… I have found comfort in my pain.”

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