Keeping Life Normal in Southern Israel

Puppet therapy at the Cheruv Absorption Center in Be’er Sheva; photo courtesy The Jewish Agency.
Puppet therapy at the Cheruv Absorption Center in Be’er Sheva; photo courtesy The Jewish Agency.

by Ravit Elia-Leib

The question on our minds these days is how can we best grapple with and confront this emergency situation, which continues on and on – endlessly, it seems. How can we help our small children, who waited so long for their summer vacation, to overcome their fears and disappointments?

In my own home, we decided to deal with things by making light of them. We make games out of the experiences and try, to the greatest extent possible, to maintain routine. When the air-raid siren goes off, we sing and dance in the bomb shelter, and we have a clear schedule of activities for what we’ll do when we can leave the ‘safe area.’

Last weekend, I was traveling in Be’er Sheva with my 6-year-old son, Itai, in our car, when the siren went off. Itai has been drilled many times about what to do when the siren goes off when you are on the road (though up until now it has been only theoretical), and, in his age-appropriate way, he immediately took off his seat belt and waited for my instructions.

I pulled over, and, to make things more positive for him, told him we’re going to have a race. We ran to the nearest stairwell, and got there taking deep breaths after our run … and suddenly Itai began to cry. I didn’t understand what had gone wrong; we always practice with laughter, and suddenly he was so upset.

I asked Itai why he was crying, when he’d won the race, and he loves winning … He said “I didn’t really win. You were running in high heels and that slowed you down.”

I suppose that was his excuse for letting out his fears and how hard it is for him.

From my own home, to the dear olim in the absorption centers – we are learning how to manage.

We’ve been providing workshops – group therapy sessions – for the children and adults, to help them manage their feelings about the situation. From the issues that come up in those workshops, we see how essential they are.

It is taboo in Ethiopian culture to express weakness or fear. They even have a proverb about it, “Our bellies are large and can digest the whole world.” So we don’t talk directly about their feelings. We use drama therapy and puppet therapy, to give them an indirect way to express what is going on inside, on the things that are hard for them and on their strength and ability to live through this.

Today, we had puppet therapy at the Cheruv Absorption Center in Be’er Sheva. One of the children asked if he could take home the turtle puppet, “because he’s very cute, and maybe he’ll help me sleep at night.”

We deeply hope that this reality will soon pass for Israel’s children, and we hope that we can give them more tools like this one to help them manage.

Ravit Elia-Leib is Director of Welfare and Social Services for Ethiopian Olim in southern Israel.

courtesy The Jewish Agency