I am an exceptionally fortunate person. In June of 2003 I survived a terror bus bombing in Jerusalem that killed 16 innocent people, including those seated and standing around me, and injured more than 100 of us. While my physical wounds healed relatively quickly, the emotional toll from that day is something I will live with for the rest of my life. I had no reason to believe that my life would change forever when I got on that bus that day, and I had no reason to prepare for the horror that is forever etched in my memory. Sadly, as the ongoing spate of bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers around the country continue, reality today dictates that we cannot take our safety for granted and the American Jewish community must plan accordingly.
Terror is no longer just a terrible thing that happens in far off places. Rather we have now witnessed horrifying attacks all over the world and in the United States itself, in places like San Bernardino, Orlando and even Boston. Just yesterday we saw a third round of terror threats called into Jewish Community Centers across the country. While it is hard to imagine that simple things like riding a bus, going to work or attending a marathon changed lives forever, they did. Still, while most people today recognize the need for vigilance against these threats, preparations need to go beyond just increases in security and physical preparations.
I founded Strength to Strength in the aftermath of my attack to provide a place for healing for terror survivors from across the world. Long after the details of an attack fade from our collective memories, the survivors and bereaved still struggle. I live terror’s emotional trauma and see how it impacts so many people’s lives daily. While I have dedicated myself to the needs of terror victims, my work alone is not enough. Increases in security and emergency preparedness are crucial, but I am afraid the emotional side of terror is too often overlooked. Municipality emergency preparedness plans must include contingencies for dealing with the psychological impact of terror attacks, both in the short and the long term. We must work to make sure that everyone understands that emotional trauma is as much a consequence of terror as is physical injury. And we can, and must, take proactive steps before traumatic events ever occur to strengthen our emotional resiliency.
To that end, I am glad to have met NATAL, Israel’s Trauma and Resiliency Center for victims of terror and war. Since the State’s establishment, Israel has endured endless wars, constant bombardment of rockets, and terror attacks across the nation like the one I survived. NATAL opened its doors in 1998 to answer the unmet emotional and mental health needs of terror or war-related trauma survivors in Israel, with the goal to prevent societal and cultural erosion and – in turn – build resiliency. Since then it has changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis by providing support for trauma and PTSD survivors, and advancing the resiliency of Israeli society through treatment, prevention, public awareness and research. Further, in recent years NATAL has been called on to export its deep expertise internationally to at-risk communities and populations and has undertaken groundbreaking collaborations to assist American wounded warriors dealing with PTSD as well as a partnership with inner-city Chicago faith leaders to assist in dealing with the terrible traumas related to on-going gang violence and deaths.
“We have often noted that one of the only positives of Israel being on constant alert is that we have developed well practiced resiliency and coping mechanisms;” said Jeremy Chwat, Executive Director of American Friends of NATAL, “skills that NATAL has helped to reinforce across the country. One of the other things we’ve learned all too well is that the best time, in fact the only time, to truly prepare for an emergency of traumatic proportions, is before the incident ever occurs.”
We all wish we lived in a simpler and safer time, when we did not have to plan to protect ourselves from terror, but that is not our reality. The threat is real and our response needs to be complete. We need to be dedicated to making sure that our preparedness and response provides for the emotional needs of victims as well as the physical. Only then will we truly be ready.
About Strength to Strength: Strength to Strength is a 501(c)3 non profit organization established to support victims of terrorism around the world with long term psychological needs through regular meetings, provision of information and advice, and raising awareness of the unmet needs of victims and their families. Strength to Strength enables victims of terrorism to share experiences and empowers them to live life to their best potential. It remains committed to each victim through its global network. For more information visit www.stosglobal.org or call 877-432-7811.
About NATAL: Founded in 1998, NATAL is the largest and most comprehensive trauma treatment organization in Israel. It specializes in providing comprehensive mental health programs and services to Israelis impacted by terror and trauma, as well as to veterans of the Israel Defense Forces who are coping with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other combat-related mental health conditions. The group’s overarching mission is to ensure the future health of Israel by addressing the all too prevalent problem of psychological trauma related to terrorism and war and by building emotional resiliency across the nation.
For more information on NATAL visit www.afnatal.org or call 646-481-0481.