The intifada took Irena Stanislavsky’s only son. Now Israel, mired in a deep recession, is taking back its pledge to help her financially.
Stanislavsky, a Russian immigrant, is one of the forgotten victims of the grinding intifada, now approaching its third anniversary. And there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Israelis like her, ones whose scars are emotional, not physical, and will not disappear even if the peace process takes root.
After Stanislavsky’s son was killed a year ago while serving with the Israeli army, the Israeli government promised her a grant to buy her own apartment. Last month, on Memorial Day, she returned from visiting her son’s grave to find a letter saying the grant had been canceled due to budget cuts.
"We are trying to advocate on her behalf to reverse that wrong decision," said Ruth Bar-On, executive director of Sela-The Israel Crisis Management Center, a network of volunteers who provide a support system to new immigrants who have suffered tragedies.
"It caused my blood to boil when I heard of it," she said.
Bar-On said Stanislavsky and her son, Dimitry, had moved to Israel from Russia three years ago. After helping her with Dimitry’s funeral, Bar-On said her organization stayed in touch with Stanislavsky and she began attending a weekly Sela support group for Russian-speaking mothers who have lost children. She lives in Netanya and the group meets in Tel Aviv, so a volunteer drives her to the meetings each Wednesday in a car donated by Temple Shaarey Tefila in the Westchester town of Bedford Corners.
But because of government cutbacks that Bar-On said average about 25 percent, Bar-On said Sela with its 550 trained volunteers is being called on to provide increasing assistance to distressed immigrants, a number of them either injured in terror attacks or family members of those injured and killed. Sela’s budget was $1.5 million last year; this year it is seeking to raise $1.9 million.
"We are the only volunteers that are there at the time of the emergency and for the long term for Israel’s vulnerable population," said Bar-On, who was in New York last week.
Because of the intifada, Bar-On continued, "many grandparents or older siblings are raising orphaned children. The government had been providing them with funds before, but with the cuts the money provided is not enough.
"So we are stepping in and trying to make a difference financially and with our volunteers," she said. "We try to fill the void by providing pro bono and financial help for such things as teachers, psychologists and medical needs."
Sela last year gave $737,000 in cash grants to needy immigrants for such things as psychological counseling.
Asked about the budget cuts, a spokesman for the Israeli Consulate in New York said: "The unfortunate cuts to the social services budget are part of the wider cuts that have been made across the board in response to the recession in Israel."
The demand for psychological help has increased as the 32-month wave of terrorist attacks claims more and more victims. A study by Dr. Avital Laufer of Tel Aviv University of 3,000 children aged 13 to 15 who live in Israel, including the settlements, found that 42 percent of them suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome as a result of the attacks.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Laufer found no connection between the level of suffering and the residence of the children: those living in Israel proper suffered as much as those living in the territories. And the paper quoted a Health Ministry official as saying that small children who are too young to be studied may suffer more from terrorism than older children.
The chairman of the Knesset Committee for the Status of Children, Rabbi Michael Melchior, reportedly has said the committee would ask the government to cancel plans to eliminate 25 school psychologists, noting that currently there is only one psychologist employed for every 2,000 children.
Due to Israel’s budget crisis and the increasing number of victims, the government has become more selective in determining which terrorist trauma victims are eligible for treatment, according to Dr. Danny Brom, director of the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma at Herzog Hospital in Jerusalem.
He said the people having a particularly hard time qualifying for benefits are those who "do not go immediately to the emergency room and who are not physically injured" in a terrorist attack. But Brom said they still are in need of treatment.
For instance, he said that five hours after a suicide bomber killed himself and seven others aboard a bus in the French Hill suburb of Jerusalem last month, a man came to the Walk-in Crisis Center in Jerusalem. The center, opened in April by Herzog Hospital, is the country’s first walk-in crisis center that provides free treatment to those in emotional crisis; they need no referral or appointment.
The man, who was in his 40s, said he lived near the site of the bombing and noted that it was the fifth terrorist attack he had seen from his window.
"He said that until now, his room window had been like a TV; he could see what happened and then [forget about it]," said Brom, who was also in New York last week. "But this time, he was just opening his window [when the bus was blown apart]. It was not just the site but the smell that got into his house [that bothered him]."
Brom said he was seen by a social worker when he walked into the center.
"She let him talk and then explained what normal coping is," Brom said. "He told her that he couldn’t get rid of the smell and asked if he was going crazy. She explained the normal process of coping and said that experiencing the smell and sound and sight the first few weeks is normal. … The fact that someone acknowledged the experience, that someone said to him that she was sure he felt as if he was back there, convinced him that she knew what she was talking about" and it reassured him.
"There are a lot of people who need a little support and who don’t need therapy," he said. "We called him a week later and he said he was fine. That’s all he had needed and he was grateful for the intervention. … The problem often is the fear of the symptoms. People think, ‘Whatís wrong with me?’"
Brom said he received 200 calls from across the country the first two days the crisis center was open, but has limited walk-ins to those in Jerusalem. In the first month, 71 people received treatment, he said.
"We have a consulting psychiatrist at the center," Brom said. "We have had a number of people with suicidal thoughts. If we feel it borders psychiatry, if we feel they need medication or hospitalization, we call on him."
Brom is also chairman of the Israel Trauma Coalition, an umbrella organization of 13 groups that deal with trauma in Israel, including Sela. He noted that UJA-Federation of New York plans to contribute $4 million over the next three years to trauma services in Israel, primarily to members of the coalition.
In another case of delayed reaction that Israel’s government medical plan might not now cover, Brom said a 22-year-old child who witnessed the bus bombing in French Hill later became panicky when his mother tried to take him onto a bus.
"His mother called us last week," he said. "Would you say the child is a victim of the bus bombing? Of course he is, but I don’t know what the government would say about providing treatment for the child."