A Powerful Video Shows the Aftermath of War in Israel and the OU’s Vigorous Response
A child of Israel's north
The video begins with the sounds and pictures of war, with images of smoke and fire, of missiles falling, of buildings destroyed, of bomb shelters packed and people weeping – children and adults alike – all to the accompaniment of the sounds of big guns. These images are real, photographed by Israelis during the war against Hezbollah this summer, as missiles fell all over the north of Israel, traumatizing the populace.
Then, after almost two-and-a-half minutes of scenes of warfare, the sounds of the guns fall silent and the picture is of a man driving north, on the way to inspect the damage. The man is Rabbi Avi Berman, Director-General of the Orthodox Union in Israel, which is based at the Seymour J. Abrams OU Jerusalem World Center. The video in which he plays a key role is Helping Out Up North,” produced by the Orthodox Union and prominently displayed on the OU website, www.ou.org. (NOTE: A LINK TO THE VIDEO IS FOUND ABOVE.)
Rabbi Berman is seen on his way to begin implementation of post-war Orthodox Union programs, following intense OU activity up north during the war, highlighted by the work of 700 volunteers who visited almost every bomb shelter, bringing with them supplies, gifts and entertainment for adults and children alike.
That was phase one; Rabbi Berman was thinking now of phase two, the post-war effort. Both phases have been funded by the OU’s Israel Emergency Fund, created immediately after the war broke out, and which was incorporated into the larger fund of the United Jewish Communities.
Phase two dominates the eight-and-a-half minute video, which was filmed, produced and directed by Rick Magder, OU’s Director of Media and Broadcasting. Magder went to Israel soon after the cease fire was announced to provide an eyewitness account of the damage wrought by the war and how that damage lingers on, even with the ceasefire in place. In what he calls “a crazy trip,” Magder spent eight days in Israel, “sleeping perhaps a total of 5-6 hours total in that time.” He found footage of the war from various sources, but shot the postwar scenes himself.
The damage Magder recorded concentrated very little on buildings but rather on people, particularly the children. The video makes it clear that although the soundtrack after the first segment no longer includes the sound of the guns, and although the visual images no longer include the missiles, the war lingers on in the post-traumatic distress experienced by much of the Israeli population. “The video gives a clear perspective of the pain of Israelis. It opens your eyes to that pain,” declared Eliezer Edelman, OU Executive Director of Operations and Management, who worked to provide the funding through the OU and the UJC which has made possible the OU’s wartime and post-war initiatives.
“The bottom line,” agreed Magder, “is that in producing that film, we want people to have an appreciation of the aftermath of war. The video brings us back to reality, to see what is happening today.”
A school principal emphasizes that classic cases of post-war trauma linger on, with children sleeping with their parents, wetting the bed and sucking their thumb, although they are already in elementary school. “These kids are in constant fear,” a teenager declares. “A girl came to me and she said, ‘I see my mother folding laundry and I just come to her and start crying because I’m afraid she’s going to go away and I won’t see her.”
It’s not only the kids. A twenty-something says that if the war starts again, “I’ll run as far as I can, even if I have to leave the country. I won’t be able to handle it the second time.” There is no attempt to sugarcoat the situation, to say that life is normal. The image that Israel presents after suicide bombings, in which the destruction is quickly cleaned up and life gets back to normal, is totally missing in the video, because it is totally missing in Israeli society.
Rabbi Berman explains that the OU was prepared to go into action immediately because of Israel Center programs that already existed, such as Makom Balev (Place in the Heart), in which youth centers bring inspiring programs to religious and secular teens throughout the country – the Israeli counterpart of the OU’s NCSY in the United States and Canada. More programs were needed however, particularly in the schools.
The OU brought in Debbie Gross, an American-born social worker to establish these programs, in which teams of mental health professionals visit schools all over the north – as one girl says in the video, “I heard that the OU sent out therapists to calm us.” The teams deal with the traumas of the children by having them express their fears instead of bottling them up inside, where they can remain for years, thereby affecting the next generation of the people of Israel.
“If we don’t help these people with their fears and their trauma, how are they going to raise their children?” Ms. Gross inquires on the film. “How are they going to go on and be active members of Israeli society? The biggest thing is that we care and we want them to get better. We understand they took a big blow.”
To further the work of the OU, contributions may be made to the Israel Emergency Fund, Orthodox Union, 11 Broadway, New York, NY 10004.