The Meron Disaster, which is still unfolding at the time this is being written, will go down in history as a tragic disaster of unbelievable proportions.
This event will affect a multitude of people on various levels.
Many people will have lost a family member, friend, or colleague.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of people will know somebody who sustained considerable physical injuries.
Thousands of bystanders watched the event occur before their very eyes.
Some people directly partook in this event as dedicated First Responders, delivering life-saving aid. This includes MDA personnel, United Hatzalah, ZAKA, Police, Fire, IDF, Hospital staff members spread across several hospitals in Israel, and other organizations and professionals.
Tens of thousands of people will have witnessed this event on the internet as it was streamed live, or via photos and videos on social media and the news.
There will be those who may become emotionally upset by simply learning about the event from friends, without any exposure to photos of the disaster scene.
Below is a short list of eight fundamental ideas about coping with disaster that you may find helpful if you feel affected by this event- in addition to praying for the welfare of the injured and seeing if there is any other practical help you are able to provide.
One, it is normal to feel traumatized or affected emotionally and psychologically by this type of event. People react in all sorts of ways to traumatic incidents. You may have trouble sleeping, feel sad, have intrusive thoughts, a lack of appetite, or other symptoms of trauma in lieu of the Meron Disaster.
Experts reassure that it is quite normal and even expected to have symptoms like these immediately after such an event. It has been described as a "normal reaction to abnormal circumstances". This is how our bodies and minds react to such unthinkable tragedies. Do not panic or be overly concerned if this happens to you.
You are not alone in having such feelings.
Two, you are permitted to feel sad or shocked about this event even if you did not personally lose somebody in this incident. Some trauma incidents occur on such a large scale that we, as the Jewish people, feel emotionally connected to what happened regardless of having any direct personal involvement.
You did not need to have travelled to Meron this year to feel sad or affected by this event. You do not need to feel stupid or guilty that you feel anything at all concerning this event. You do not need to feel guilty that you feel indifferent or empty if this is what you feel. You are permitted to feel exactly as you do right now, and this is acceptable.
You are not alone in having such feelings.
Three, some people may feel guilty that they were not harmed in this disaster while others were injured or killed. Thoughts like "why did I survive while they didn't?" can come up in our minds and feel challenging.
These types of thoughts commonly occur after escaping such incidents without harm and this phenomenon is well known.
If this happens to you, you are not alone in having such thoughts.
Four, after events like these it is common to ask oneself or other people questions such as "why did this happen?" or "why on Lag Ba'Omer, on such a joyous day and holy site?"
It is okay to have such questions. You may or may not find answers to them now or ever. In fact, you may not even be seeking an answer but a way to express shock and surprise by talking about this event in the form of a question. This is common and okay.
If you feel like you are carrying around questions like these and feeling shocked, you are not alone.
Five, if you are feeling some challenging emotions or reacting in some way to the tragic event, you can think of some practical ways to cope.
I invite you to pause and think of a safe reasonable way of coping that might help you. Can you think of something which would make you feel calmer, better, or at ease?
Here are some time-tested coping methods that you might find helpful. Feel free to try them as needed-
-Call a trusted friend and share with them whatever you feel you want to. Get a hug. Be listened to. Reach out to people who you feel could hear your feelings or story.
-Go for a walk around the block or neighborhood by yourself or with a friend.
-Listen to calming music.
-Reduce your exposure to media coverage of the disaster.
-Talk to a professional.
-Avoid using alcohol and drugs as a method of coping with challenging thoughts or feelings. There are many reasons for this.
There are many ways to cope with trauma. Discover the ways that help you feel more at ease. See what you can come up with. If you would like, consult with a trusted friend or professional on how to do this.
Six, Take it easy. These types of events have a major impact on our bodies and minds. They can be overwhelming, tiring, depressing, or confusing. Make sure to eat, drink, rest, and take it easy as needed. Sometimes we need to slow down and take care of ourselves, and that is okay.
Seven, Difficult thoughts and feelings from such disasters usually begin to subside after a few days from when the incident occurred. For others, these symptoms may persist for a few weeks and then go away. For a smaller group of people, these symptoms may persist for a month and even longer. You are invited to consult with a professional at any time for assistance.
If you find yourself having a challenging time after 3 days from the incident has passed, experts recommend that you connect with a trusted professional to get some assistance.
If you find yourself having thoughts of suicide you should seek assistance immediately.
Over the next few days, I hope that we will see a slew of services available for those seeking counseling and emotional support in light of these tragic events.
Here are two resources available right now-
"Eran" operates an emotional support hotline which can be reached by dialing 1201. Dial the number without a star before or after it.
For people seeking help specifically from clinicians sensitive to religious people, the Bayit Cham organization is running a special hotline which can be reached by dialing *9518.
Eight, If you know somebody who appears traumatized by the disaster, consider approaching that person and asking if they would like to talk. If they express interest, try to give them an opportunity to share with you whatever they want to. Listen to them nonjudgmentally and with empathy. Do not ask them to tell you their story if they do not offer to.
Ask directly if there is anything they would like from you at this time. If their request is reasonable, see if you can help them with it. Encourage them to connect with a professional if you or they suspect that this is necessary. If you chat together and they express interest in learning ways to cope with traumatic stress, see if you can both together come up with some coping techniques that the person thinks will be helpful to them. Make sure that the person gets the support that they need.
Avi Tenenbaum is an expert in Disaster Behavioral Health and Psychological First Aid. His experience includes providing aid for families coping in the wake of large-scale disasters and war including the Second Lebanon War, Hurricane Harvey, The Pittsburg Tree-of-Life massacre, the Haifa 2016 Fires, Operation Cast-Lead, Sorotzkin Arson Fires, and more. He can be reached at [email protected]