Life support

Amid horror and grief, we support the unthinkable — the ability to rebuild after traumatic loss

In Short

Even for a group with 22 years of experience supporting Israeli victims of terror, the magnitude of need following Oct. 7 is unprecedented.

How do people function after living through a trauma worse than any nightmare they could imagine? How do parents pick up the shattered shards of childhood innocence that their youngsters have lost? How do young people, many of them newly orphaned, cope with the cold-blooded murder and torture of family and friends and the days of worry for the hostages taken to Gaza, and find the will to build their own lives anew? How do survivors live with the guilt of surviving when their loved ones did not? How do the victims of past terror attacks cope with the resurfacing of the trauma they suffered? 

No one should have to go through any of this alone, and OneFamily’s mission has always been to ensure that no one does. OneFamily is a household name in Israel: its combination of a cadre of highly trained and experienced professionals along with thousands of volunteers has been helping terror victims rekindle love of life and find the way to restore hope for 22 years. They conduct home visits and help fill each victim’s specific and even unexpressed needs. What makes OneFamily unique is that its approach is holistic, incorporating psychological, medical, social, financial, vocational and even legal help if needed.

The number of people in Israel who need OneFamily’s help today and will need it for years ahead is mind-boggling. Israel has experienced decades marked by lethal terror attacks and the tragic loss of young soldiers’ lives, but the needs since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas are on a totally different scale. Before now, OneFamily was in ongoing contact with over 4,000 bereaved families; but we will have to double our client capacity, perhaps even triple it, to deal with the unprecedented trauma caused by the horrors of the Oct. 7 massacre in addition to grief over the loss of loved ones since then.

OneFamily’s work is geared to each individual and goes beyond therapy: from helping an orphaned youngster reach their educational potential, to encouraging a bereaved mother to find an interest or talent she can develop, to ensuring that an injured IDF soldier receives the best medical care available. We also strive to build bonds of friendship, family and community by having retreats, get-togethers, conferences and group therapy for the bereaved in surroundings where they feel part of society but also don’t have to explain themselves in the way they might need to with people who haven’t shared similar experiences. OneFamily continues to accompany victims hand-in-hand, dealing with unexpected or long-term needs for as long as it takes for them to hopefully stand on their own two feet emotionally and economically.  

OneFamily will now have to be there for those newly orphaned; those recovering from injuries physical and psychological; those paralyzed by the memories of atrocities or fear for dear ones held hostages in Gaza; or those seized by anxiety when they hearing noises that remind them of the thousands of missiles that rained down upon their homes. We will be there for people on a material level as well, providing clothing, kitchen appliances, furniture and rental properties for the hundreds of families who are facing these immediate needs.

And we have already begun. Our volunteers have been collecting, preparing and delivering hundreds of packages of food, clothing, blankets, towels, toiletries, mobile phones, toys and books to families. We are also bringing packages to hospitalized soldiers, many of whom we visit each day with food and necessities for the families at their bedside. We have found temporary homes for families and are helping them settle into new surroundings. 

As the work proceeds, we are hearing so many heartbreaking, impossible-to-process stories.

Two brothers each experienced the loss of their wives, both women murdered by Hamas on a kibbutz in southern Israel on Oct. 7. Their homes were also destroyed. OneFamily found an apartment in Jerusalem where the two brothers observed the shiva period together, supplied them with food, furnishings and other necessities, and will cover the rent for the next half year while we help them try to pick up the pieces of their lives. 

When the missiles began raining down on Sderot, Yael —  who was staying with 85-year-old father for the Simchat Torah holiday since his caregiver had the day off — could not bear being in the mamad, the reinforced room where she had spent so many traumatic years before marrying and moving away. She put her father in the car and drove madly to her home in Yavne. Somehow she avoided gunfire and missiles, but could not escape seeing the dead bodies of young people from the music festival in the desert strewn where they fell at the sides of the road. The experience reawakened the trauma of losing members of her family in the days before the Iron Dome protected Sderot, the period in which OneFamily originally connected with her. Now, in addition to arranging a session for Yael with one of our psychotherapists, we arranged for a caregiver for her father.

We have been working with the family of Mendel, an immigrant from Russia, since they lost a son while he was serving in Gaza in 2012. Two days ago, a second son fell in Gaza. OneFamily is at his side, and will continue to accompany him as he mourns his beloved sons.

No one can predict how long the present war will continue. The challenges OneFamily is facing right now and those it will have to deal with for the unforeseeable future are of a magnitude much greater than anything we have encountered in the organization’s history. The situation is comparable to a major earthquake, where the damage keeps worsening as the aftershocks reverberate through the ground. This is first and foremost because of the magnitude and sheer horror of the atrocities committed and the large number of people and their loved ones, soldiers and civilians, affected simultaneously; second, because the anxiety level of the entire nation filters down to those directly impacted even after the event has passed; and third, because the social media explosion brings the horrors of the war to every smartphone as never before. 

Our professional staff is already working on the approaches and appropriate therapeutic protocols and programs that will be needed to help the many victims cope with the unprecedented tragedies they have experienced. At the same time, we must enlist more professional staff and volunteers, adding significantly to the ranks of OneFamily. We will need at least twice the 37 professionals we have today, three times the current number of nine youth coordinators and 60 youth counselors, the latter of whom are currently working with 10-16 youngsters each. Our big brother/big sister program will need to be tripled, as will their supervisory staff. Because of the large number of IDF wounded, we must expand our young adults’ division, which provides emotional therapy and educational and professional counseling; we also need more facilitators for our support groups. We will have to add two new assistance centers in new geographic areas, and expand two of the four existing centers already operating in different parts of the country.

We have the will and possess the professional acumen to help rebuild the lives of the thousands of victims of the Hamas attack, the wounded civilians and soldiers who will need long-term medical treatment, the bereft orphans, parents, grandparents and siblings whose hearts are broken and whose lives have been destroyed by man’s inhumanity to man. What we need in order to succeed is to expand our capacity to help this whole new population of victims of terror. Every terror victim is a shattered spirit crying out for help, sometimes aloud and sometimes silently. It is our mission to dry their tears and do everything we can to make them whole again. 

Marc Belzberg is chairman of OneFamily.