By Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman
For Americans, it has been the Oklahoma City bombing, the 9/11 attacks, the San Bernardino shooting, and school shootings. For Israelis, it’s the daily threat of terrorism. Last month saw massive terror attacks in Istanbul and Brussels. As Sarri Singer puts it, terrorism knows no borders and doesn’t differentiate between race, religion, and geography.
“We all share something that bonds us for life. The idea is to work together to not let [terrorism] destroy us, but to move forward by building a future of peace and being productive members of society,” says Singer, the founder and director of Strength to Strength, a nonprofit organization that brings bereaved family members and victims of terror from around the world together to heal.
From April 5-12, Strength to Strength’s Young Ambassadors Program brought together 25 participants from ages 16-20 who have lost a parent or other immediate family member in a terrorist attack, or were injured themselves. The participants – who came from Argentina, Colombia, France, England, Ireland, Spain, Israel, and the U.S. – spent a week together in New York City for events that focused on empowering them to share their personal experiences of trauma and bring about healing.
Bringing together the diverse youths creates an international peer support network to help remind the terror victims that during difficult times, “there is so much more to them than what happened with the terrorist attack,” Singer tells JNS.org.
“Everyone thinks that the survivors [of terror attacks] need help – and that’s true. But we forget that family members can be more traumatized than the victims themselves. Sometimes we also forget how much young people are impacted by what is going on,” adds Singer, who survived the terrorist bombing on the No. 14 bus in Jerusalem on June 11, 2003.
The annual weeklong youth program combines therapeutic activities with recreation and leadership training. Two trauma experts are on hand, and a representative – psychologist or other support provider – comes from each of Strength to Strength’s participating partner organizations.
“It’s a pretty emotional week,” says Singer, whose organization is completely volunteer-driven.
Shahar Hatzav, 17, lost his father, Yaakov Hatzav, during the second Palestinian intifada when terrorists opened fire on the elder Hatzav’s vehicle, killing him instantly. Shahar Hatzav was 3 years old at the time.
“Living without a father is all I know,” Hatzav tells JNS.org. “I don’t know what I felt or thought [on the day of the attack]. I just know that I had to live without him.”
Hatzav says the Youth Ambassadors Program helped him realize that he is hardly alone as a person affected by terrorism. He says he can learn from how others around the world in similar situations are dealing with the terrorism-induced trauma.
Similarly, Amit Zoaretz, 17, immediately found commonalities ground between his own life and that of others affected by terror. His father, Col. Pinhas Zoaretz, was severely wounded in Gaza in 2004, undergoing multiple surgeries and a year of recovery.
“Most of us had to go through therapy and psychological treatment,” says Amit Zoaretz. “For most of us, terror had a lot of negative impacts on our families and there are also similarities in how we were personally affected. We were all traumatized, but eventually we started to accept it.”
Zoaretz says the Young Ambassadors Program is all about dialogue and healing with words. Talking is essential for healing, he says.
“There are kids [affected by terrorism] who feel there was an injustice, and [they] go and become terrorists themselves, and there are those who think dialogue is better,” Zoaretz says. “You have to talk about it and get it out, find people who give you inspiration. You have to do it from a good place, not out of negativity.”
Iara Nisman of Argentina – whose father, late state prosecutor Alberto Nisman, is suspected to have been murdered by Argentina’s government in 2015 for investigating the alleged Argentine cover-up of Iranian involvement in the 1994 AMIA Jewish center bombing – expresses similar sentiments. She says, “All of us have experienced terrible things. We understand each other.”
“These are future leaders, and hopefully they can be the ones to make a difference, to stop all of the terrible things going on in this world,” says Strength to Strength’s Singer. “Many want to do that. They have been attacked, and they leave this program wanting to do something about it, to make a difference.”