Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin

The uniquely Israeli brand of resilience

Tragedy. Trauma. Terror. These are the common “T” words surrounding Israel and its people in the aftermath of the October 7 Hamas massacre and during the ongoing Swords of Iron War.

And yet, these words have not come to define the essence of the Israeli experience in this moment. Rather, nine months into the war, our people have responded with a powerful mix of “R” words — recovery, rebuilding, and most importantly, resilience.

What exactly is special about today’s Israeli brand of resilience — the ability to bounce back from a difficult situation? Resilience is embedded in our DNA, but simultaneously, we proactively work to build it on individual and collective levels.

Most people go about their daily routine without giving any thought to whether they have inner resilience. But then, when a personal, family, communal, or national crisis occurs, their inherent resilience helps them overcome the adversity.

In Israel, our resilience has been put to the test in an unprecedented way ever since 6:29 a.m. on October 7, when the massacre began. As bits and pieces of news emerged from the communities near the Gaza border, including videos and photos that the terrorists uploaded to the social media networks, we learned of the feeling of helplessness in the South on that dark day due to the delayed response of security and rescue services. As a nation, we have been operating in two different levels simultaneously — we are still in deep concern for our hostages and in a continuous mourning, and, at the same time, we are in a mindset that forces us to work on our recovery.

During the ensuing nine months, our inner resilience has kicked in. But we are also strengthening our resilience proactively. This includes resilience-building measures, such as the ones initiated more than 20 years ago by The Jewish Agency for Israel with The Jewish Federations of North America alongside Keren Hayesod communities through The Fund for Victims of Terror. The Fund is an initiative that fulfills our ancient proverb of solidarity: kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh (the entire Jewish people stand together in solidarity and are responsible for one another).

In as quickly as 48 hours following a terrorist attack, every single individual who suffers either injuries or property damage receives a $1,000 check from the Fund for immediate needs. The Fund also provides long-term rehabilitation grants for up to three years as well as ongoing support to the victims as they navigate the days after an attack, with this financial support totaling up to approximately $6,000. This aid package ensures that victims and their families have the means to rebuild their lives and recover from trauma.

Today, the Fund for Victims of Terror is operating on a wider scale than ever before, given the number of Israelis murdered on October 7 and the extent of the property damage throughout Israeli communities near Gaza. From October 7 through the first half of 2024, The Jewish Agency distributed over 8,500 grants. Since March, we have also started to distribute rehabilitation support, making every effort to be there for grieving families, families of hostages, orphans, and multiple-casualty families. We are continuing to deliver more critical support through the Fund as the war remains ongoing, with a goal to distribute a total of $72 million for rehabilitation over the next three years.

While these funds are essential, the message behind them is just as impactful. And it starts with resilience. As the chair of the Fund for Victims of Terror, my team and I have focused on ensuring that the Fund acts as a tool to build and rebuild the resilience of individuals and families. Resilience comes not necessarily from the financial resources that victims receive, but rather the listening ear and open heart that we offer them in the wake of tragedy. On a collective level, Israelis have a can-do attitude as well as an enormous desire to do everything in our power to help the people who were hit so hard by October 7.

In the coming years, these challenges we see today will continue to evolve. For instance, the care that families of the hostages need nine months into the crisis is far different from what they needed in the first week or two after the kidnappings. Our sense of resilience, too, must be dynamic to meet shifting needs. At the Fund, we have therefore built an adaptable resilience model based on six critical components that can diagnose personal and family needs on an ongoing basis: housing, livelihood, physical health, mental health, children’s education, and support circles. This model enables us to get to know our beneficiaries in depth, and to optimize the assistance we provide, while properly using both the philanthropic resources we receive and state funds — we cooperate with the Ministry of Welfare as well as with the National Insurance Institute to provide maximum casing for the families.

Yet is resilience really as simple as getting help from someone, and knowing how to ask for help? When we look back at data from the Fund pre-October 7, an interesting trend emerges. Although there were undoubtedly post-trauma victims in the towns closest to Gaza, of all ages but mainly children, they often did not seek recognition from Israel’s National Insurance Institute, which is a critical step toward receiving aid from the Fund. On October 7, though, that changed. Since centers of resilience were overwhelmed with needs coming in after the attacks, many thousands of Israelis have received support through special mechanisms that allow them to postpone the question of “Are we suffering from PTSD?” to a later stage, thereby enabling them to take a deep breath in their concern regarding stigma.

Is such a stigma relevant after October — the Black Shabbat? It is still difficult to know, but what is clear is that the needs for building internal resilience have increased dramatically and there must be discourse over the issue — which is also a component of building resilience.

We have also identified greater needs for group and community therapy. The expansion of the circle of victims beyond the nuclear family — grandparents, uncles and cousins, unmarried partners, and more, alongside the treatment of young victims, requires a different approach to building resilience through group tools.

Finally, looking back on the past nine months, the uniquely Israeli brand of resilience has shined through despite the national nightmare. Many people say that this is a “traumatized country” and, clearly, we are experiencing an unusual event. And yet, for the sake of resilience, it is important to distinguish between the survivors and the injured who urgently need help, and those who, despite all the difficulty, can recover on their own.

Without minimizing the current and future effects of October 7, if you would come to Israel, you would see people being in all places at the same time. They constantly know we’re at war, especially with many of our hostages still held in Gaza and so many Israelis displaced from the north and south, and simultaneously they make sure life goes on. Sometimes, I’m observing this unique capability and I think it’s not normal. But in truth, this is the only “normal” we know. A new and difficult normal, which makes it very vivid to me. We will prevail.

About the Author
Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin is chair of the Fund for Victims of Terror at the Jewish Agency and a former member of Knesset.
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