OneFamily activity
OneFamily activity Credit: Courtesy of OneFamily

"OneFamily gave me a sense of belonging and love, as well as mentors and peers. It gave me time to be with my siblings without worrying when it will happen, where it will happen, what we'll eat and what we'll do. Just pack bags and come," said Tzofia Dickstein-Nadivi, who lost her parents, Chana and Yosef and her 10-year-old brother, Shuval, 17 years ago in a terror attack.

"When I was a girl, I belonged to a group in OneFamily," Dickstein-Nadivi said. "We went on trips together, had parties, and went to restaurants together. We developed the kind of special friendship between us that someone who wasn’t a part of it wouldn't be able to understand. When there is a OneFamily event I always RSVP without even bothering to check my calendar. The atmosphere is special - there's joy and laughter and sadness. We feel free to be both happy and sad as well. We’re able to communicate without words and feel the togetherness."

OneFamily has been assisting families affected by terror for the past 18 years. Today, it helps no less than 3,600 families. Over the years OneFamily has provided assistance to more than 7,000 families. Yes, you read that correctly. It's difficult to grasp the extent of these families' suffering.

OneFamily is currently engaging in a mass fundraising campaign. "We've been raising money from donors abroad for the past 18 years, but today, donors living abroad say that there are also people in Israel who would be interested in helping," said Chantal Blezberg, the founder and CEO of OneFamily. “We've set a goal of NIS 7 million [$2 million). We hope that supporters abroad will reach out to us when they see Israelis are also donating."

Blezberg explained that Israel does provide care to victims of terror, but added that OneFamily fulfills needs that the Israeli government doesn't provide for.

"Eighteen years ago, when we met with families who had been victimized by terror, they told us that they weren't receiving much and that they lacked the ability to be self-sufficient."

OneFamily initially only assisted families with financial support, but over time began assisting families in many other ways, such as psychological assistance, personal guidance, support groups, workshops, legal representation, camps and therapeutic resorts, scholarships, etc.

"We have never done what the state of Israel needs to do and already does," Blezberg said. "We can pay for someone to help the family, pay for surgery or tuition and pay rent. The state provides the widow with a small income. These people have paid a heavy price for the State of Israel."

A donation instead of a Bat Mitzvah

OneFamily was first established in 2001, following horrific bombing attack at the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem on August 9th of that year.

The attack claimed the lives of 15 people, including children, and left behind orphans, bereaved parents and siblings. One-hundred-and-forty people were also injured in the attack.

"That day was the date of my daughter's bat mitzvah," Blezberg said. "We were planning to have a big party a few days later in Jerusalem."

That summer marked the end of a difficult year for Israel, the first year of the Second Intifada.

Israelis went from one funeral to another, trembling parents waved goodbye to their children on the school bus, not knowing if they would merit seeing them return home safely.

"After the Sbarro attack, we said that it's impossible to celebrate and we decided to cancel the party." The Blezberg family took the money earmarked for the celebration, raised some donations from their extended family, and decided to donate the money to the relatives of those killed in the Sbarro attack, as well as those who had been injured in the bombing.

"We thought of it as a Bat Mitzvah project,” a one-time donation. “We would help the victims of the Sbarro attack specifically. But then there was another attack and another attack and we thought to ourselves: what, we're not going to help these people? That's how it all began."

Since then, the Blezberg family lives and breathes the pain and needs of families victimized by terrorism. "We felt that the terror attack in Sbarro was related to us because it happened on our daughter's birthday. We were very affected by it - it touched us."

OneFamily tries to personally connect with each family in order to assist each one according to their specific needs. It begins at the Shiva [seven days of mourning], when the family's pain is raw and intense and continues for years later.

"It's different for each family. A widowed mother with children, a bereaved family which lacks a supportive extended family, bereaved parents with a rocky marriage - each family has other challenges as well. Sometimes, the couple needs help with their marriage, sometimes it's the relationship between the parents and the children that needs help, and often the whole family needs holistic family therapy."

Additionally, OneFamily runs support groups for bereaved parents and widows as well as family vacations. "Our youth department is very strong. We provide activities for children as well as three sleep-away camps throughout the year. Children want to be part of it. They understand that there they can cry as well as talk, and to be happy – and that it's all okay."

"Leveraging Difficulty and Disadvantage"

"OneFamily representatives were already there at Shiva," said Yael Shevach, the widow of Rabbi Raziel Shevach, who was murdered a year and a half ago on his way home. Yael thanked them but she didn't contact them later and didn't really cooperate. "I rejected the help because I was so busy after the murder, but also because I wouldn't allow myself to admit I needed them. I tried to convey an attitude of 'everything is fine with us.' I had a type of fear that no one should think that we're broken. I rejected all help and support from anyone I wasn't familiar with."

As Passover approached, however, Shevach had a change of heart, and contacted a OneFamily representative. "I went there and met some families. My girls started going to the children's activities. This was also hard for me at first. Why should they spend a few days with kids and people they didn't know? Widows and orphans told me they would get there what they can't get anywhere else, that there everyone has a shared sorrow. Each one has a story of a parent who died or someone was wounded, and there they can talk about it and share their grief. When you're in regular society, you can't talk about it. You want to, but it's unpleasant to bring it up all the time. There, it's not a problem to even joke about your situation."

"The terrorists’ goal was to wipe us all out, but OneFamily not only doesn't let people fall, it even helps people to grow even more than they would have otherwise," Shevach said. "They leverage the difficulty and disadvantage to bring people to a better place."

Blezberg says that each family responds differently to OneFamily's offer of help.

"There are families who really don't want help and families who say ‘thank you very much’, and get involved. There was a family that hadn't heard about us and thought we had come to request a donation. During the Shiva [mourning period], we tell bereaved families that right now there are a lot of people around, and that we’ll be back in a few weeks when you have the time to hear and think about what we have to offer you. Our representatives work with families over the course of years and get to know them and their needs. That's our advantage over the social workers, who change every few years."

Another advantage is the deep and lasting friendship that bereaved families form with other bereaved families through OneFamily. "We provide assistance to families in the hospitals as well. We send someone else who has gone through the same thing and can say that there's light at the end of the tunnel. When they hear it from someone who has been in the hospital for months and eventually got better, it gives them hope."

This year, even more families have been victimized by terror. Do you ever feel like saying: "Enough, I don't have the strength anymore"?

"It's painful. In OneFamily we always pray that no more families join us, that no one else has to go through the nightmare these people are going through. It's the only family that we hope doesn't grow. I just ask that more and more people help. If people donate, we can offer more support."