Terror, trauma and healing skills

When a terrorist attacks or a natural disaster strikes, the urge is to help out right away. But victims of such trauma will also need care and social services weeks, months or even years later.

That’s where Selah — the Israel Crisis Management Center — comes in.

Selah’s Executive Director Ruth Bar-On was in San Francisco this week to solicit funds from local emigres and train employees at the Jewish Family and Children’s Services to develop their bereavement and healing skills.

Selah provides support from the moment a victim lands in the hospital or a family member visits the forensic institute to identify remains. It may have a volunteer or psychologist follow someone for years afterward, always communicating in the person’s native language.

“This is what we need to be prepared for, to give help in the long term,” said Bar-On during an interview at j.

Selah owes its origin in 1993 in part to the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund and the S.F.-based Jewish Community Endowment Fund, which helped immensely in the group’s early years. Since then with the aid of other foundations, Selah has served more than 11,500 people, providing immigrants in Israel with support services when they most need it. While most of the services are offered in connection with terrorist attacks, Selah also helps victims of auto accidents, domestic violence and other traumatic experiences.

Many of Selah’s volunteers were themselves victims of trauma and now feel in the position to help. Others are professionals, many of whom work for Selah pro bono.

Bar-On explained that an unusually large number of immigrants are affected by terrorist attacks, mainly because they ride the buses in large numbers and shop in the outdoor markets. And while everyone who is touched by terror is traumatized, emigres usually have less of a support system in place once it occurs.

“In time of crisis, we all turn to our family and friends, and if we have more resources to support us, then maybe it’s easier for us to cope,” she said. “Unfortunately, emigres don’t have that. Their resources very often are much less, and as immigrants, they’ve been through a lot of previous losses. They come with their resources depleted, and they can also be lonely and isolated.”

Bay Area emigres recognize the need for Selah’s efforts as well. About one-third of the estimated $250,000 raised at JFCS’ annual emigre banquet Feb. 5 will go toward emigre support services in Israel such as Selah.

“Last year, we decided we wanted to start partnering with organizations in Israel, and the focus was to look for organizations that mimic what JFCS does,” said Galina Miloslavsky, a co-chair of the event and a JFCS board member. “We were looking for social services organizations that also have a focus in the Russian community as well, and we found three partners.”

One of those partners is Selah, which is why Bar-On was in San Francisco for the JFCS celebration.

Anita Friedman, JFCS executive director, noted that the emigre dinner is now in its fourth year, and other cities with large emigre populations are looking toward San Francisco to see how it’s done.

“This is one of largest emigre populations in the United States that is really stepping up to the plate and taking positions of leadership in giving,” said Friedman. “Most associate the emigre community with taking.”

Miloslavsky said now that American emigres are in a position to help, they should do just that, especially since it is so appreciated by their fellow emigres in Israel.

“When you have hardship, you feel very isolated,” said Miloslavsky. “But people in Israel are so grateful to hear that people here are thinking about them. They feel more hopeful and connected with the world in general.”

Friedman, who has visited Selah in Israel and helped train some of its workers, said, “We have a lot to learn from each other in terms of a professional exchange like in helping people with post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Bar-On agreed: “Terrorism is now a global issue. We’ve got unique methods in bereavement and rehabilitation that we’ve developed. We didn’t want to be such experts, but we are out of necessity. People come from all over the world to us, and it’s time for us to share our methods.”

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."