Israeli Psychotrauma Unit Connects With Pittsburgh Community During Aid Mission

Jerusalem, November 1st, 2018 - United Hatzalah of Israel’s Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit volunteers have spent the past five days in Pittsburgh working with various community members to help them process their grief following the heinous attack that took place in the Tree of Life Synagogue last Saturday.

(Photos: United Hatzalah Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit training young leaders in Pittsburgh how to help others using special Psychological First Aid techniques to deal with the aftermath of trauma developed in Israel. 

Unit Director Miriam Ballin, together with Deputy Director of the Unit Rabbi Avi Tenenbaum,  Dr. of Psychology Einat Kauffman and Social Worker from Laniado Hospital Hadas Ruham, undertook the mission to help the members of the Jewish community as well as others who were affected by the attack in Pittsburgh.

“When we arrived we began meeting with and talking to as many people as we could,” said Ballin. “However, we quickly realized that we won’t be around to help treat people on a continuous basis and that the best thing we could do for the community would be to empower them to help themselves.”

Ballin and the team quickly switched focus and began training leaders of the community, both adults and teens who are old enough, to use the models and tools that the unit uses in crisis situations, within their own community to help those whom they recognize to be in need of assistance. “We sat with educators, the staff of schools and the JCC and we’ve trained them to be able to deal with the immediate psychological needs of the people that they are caring for.”

In addition to working with students at Pitt University, the Hillel organization, and the Jewish Federation in the city, team members also held a number of open houses for community members who felt that they wanted advice or help following the incident. “Dream doctors sent a medical clown named Nimrod to work with the children, while we worked with the adults. He was a terrific addition to our team and complimented our work tremendously,” said Tenenbaum. “We wanted to reach out to as many different groups in the community as possible during our short stay here, with that in mind we also worked with Friendship Circles, and with the staff of the children’s Institute and as many day schools as we could get to,” he added.

Members of the unit said that the sense of solidarity they feel from the community is beyond what they had expected. “We came on behalf of United Hatzalah and the Ministry for Diaspora Affairs to show the community here that we stand with them and will offer our help during their time of need. But it is the community here who has shown us what solidarity really means. Whenever we walk around the street, people recognize us and automatically know that we have come from Israel and they do everything they can to show us how much they respect that,” said Kauffman. “People have stopped to buy us coffee and invited us for meals. Whenever people see us they scream out of their doors, “No one is like Israel… Thank you.” It is really incredible,” she said.

Ballin said that a lot of parents have asked for advice as to how to talk to their children about what happened. “People call us for advice about how to speak about what transpired to their children and how to reassure their children that they are indeed safe. It is a tough situation to try and explain, especially to young children,” she said. “We’ve met with a lot of the parents and provided them with instructions on how best to handle the conversation. The most important thing is to let the children express themselves and their feelings, and then help the children recognize that their feelings are okay and that the parents understand them and love them.”

Numerous dignitaries from the community, as well as emergency service personnel, also met with the team members to express their thanks for the work that the unit has been undertaking. The Chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh was one such dignitary who invited the unit to meet with her in an effort to thank them for their efforts.

The team is wrapping up their operations on Friday morning and heading back to Israel. “We feel that we have accomplished a lot, but we know that there is still a lot to be done. Our hope and prayer is that we have helped empower the community enough so that they will be able to continue the work that we have begun here. From what we’ve seen, through the unity displayed by the various groups in this city, shows us that our hopes and prayers will likely be answered.”   

Media contact: Raphael Poch

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