So after the whole thing started, I flew in from Massachusetts to work with children transported to Eilat from the southern kibbutzim. As a trauma therapist for more than thirty years, I often consult with families at The Louis D. Brown Peace Institute in Boston, a grassroots non-profit serving survivors of victims of homicide.
Now I’m at the Abraham Hostel east of the Eilat Central Bus Station. I have my own four-bunk dorm room, because, as I explained to Yuval, I’m 63 years old. Yuval is with the HaShomer Hatzair youth movement: miracle workers who started bringing survivors to Eilat on October 9. A few days after that the government sent down ministers from the education, social service, and various other agencies to try and help HaShomer’s workers set everything up. I’m part of a spirited contingent of volunteer social workers, teachers, and other professionals trying, as one therapist told me, “to put our good where it will do the most.”
Each kibbutz is in its own particular hotel. I’m amazed by what has been created here. (Even mail arrives.) The kibbutz secretariats immediately organized their new home so it functions in as many ways as possible like their previous one. Some children live together, and members gather in a hotel event space for communal meals. Another conference room is strictly for sitting shiva. Posted outside that room are times for reciting Kaddish and other liturgy for each beloved member now of blessed memory. Entry is limited, with a sign reading: “You may only go in to comfort the mourners…”
Nearby, the hotel’s electronic bulletin board flashes repeat announcements, information on where to go to find things like a clinic or a classroom: one message read, “If you need orthodontics care…” Another advised those approached by the press to first run it by the media coordinators. And next to the electronic board is where the latest death notices are posted. The obituary board is not electronic.
My first hours were with kindergarteners and first, second, and third graders. Some had spent the previous day at funerals up north. (Nobody is being buried where they had lived; those are now military zones and off-limits.) One therapeutic practice involves using some kind of “transitional object.” This object serves to aid a child’s emotional transition from a traumatic experience to the next thing coming at them in their beautiful lives. When the children came back to Eilat after the funerals, colored cardboard pieces were cut into the shape of an admission ticket. Each child picked the color of the ticket they thought was closest to the feelings they went through at the funeral. Then they placed their ticket into a basket. Now we have a basket of different feelings, and that basket will always be there with us. But now they’re transitioning into a class setting. After that, there was painting and drawing, songs and laughter.
There is a lot going on. There. Is. A. Lot. And there is no place I’d rather be. There is nowhere else to be; if I weren’t here, I’d lose my mind. I just got a call about a doctor at McLean’s, the psychiatric hospital in Boston. They want to come to Eilat. I put him in touch with Lev, who works with Yuval, who is working with dozens of other volunteers who never stop working. These HaShomer kids – I call them kids; they’re twenty- and thirty-somethings – can do anything. And they do everything that needs getting done down here. They are extreme problem solvers. Someone told me, “That’s their superpower.”