As I enter the home of NATAL, the Israel Trauma Centre for Victims of Terror and War, located in central Tel Aviv, Ifat, the director of the Resource Development Unit, greets me as if we are old friends with a hug, a kiss and a warm smile. On the wall adjacent to the entrance to the building is a large mural of a tree. Some of the leaves are burnt and some are green. Ifat quotes the Midrash that compares man to a tree. “The people that NATAL helps are like this tree; part of them is burnt and part is green,” she tells us. “Just like a tree experiences regrowth, after a fire, those who undergo trauma can be made whole again if they are treated.”
NATAL is the Hebrew acronym for Victims of National Psychotrauma. Prior to NATAL’s establishment there was no NGO whose sole purpose was to treat and care for national psycho-trauma victims and their families.
During the recent Carmel Forest fires, NATAL’s contact details were continuously flashed across TV screens throughout the country. During the fires they received 300 new requests for help within 24 hours. NATAL’s hotline is is the only one in Israel offering immediate and ongoing assistance to victims of National Psychotrauma. For the residents of the North, the fires brought back memories of the fires that raged in the summer of 2006 during the Second Lebanon War from Hezbollah’s onslaught of missile attacks. Currently, NATAL is working closely with the dislocated residents of Yemin Orde, a village for Youths at Risk, which was massively damaged by the fire.
NATAL’s chairperson and founder Judith Yovel Recanati, donates NATAL’s entire operating budget, ensuring all funds raised go towards patient services.
Ifat and Melanie, a recent British immigrant who is one of the volunteers, gives me a tour of the four- floor building, including the patio which offers a panoramic view of downtown Tel Aviv. The freshly painted rooms are light and cheerful, decorated with colourful paintings. “People who come here need to be in a homey atmosphere and not the sterile atmosphere of a mental health clinic. Israel is very much a macho society,” Ifat continues,” There is still a stigma attached to admitting one has mental health issues.”
Ifat gives me a brief history of the treatment of trauma in Israeli society. “When Judy started NATAL she was thinking only of soldiers and then in 2000, the second intifada broke out, and everything changed. As a society, Israel has made great advances in its treatment of trauma.”
NATAL has hosted and advised numerous veteran soldiers’ groups from across the world who wish to learn and understand more about the treatment of returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ifat elaborates further on the great strides Israel has made in healing trauma. “The situation in Israel was that if a soldier came home after completing his army service and found his army experiences affected him to such an extent that he couldn’t start university, he was told to forget about it and move on. The Second Lebanon War was a turning point; no one was teaching how to cope with trauma before then. We were so unprepared for that war; we learned from that experience. Since then we are building cells of volunteers all over the country who are being trained to know what to do in an emergency, G-d forbid.”
NATAL works in conjunction with other organisations under the roof body of the Israel Trauma Coalition. Their multi-disciplinary Trauma Study Centre qualifies mental health professionals to treat trauma victims all over Israel. Another service NATAL provides is to help the helpers; NATAL’s Community Outreach Unit offers resiliency workshops for emergency professionals such as MDA and ZAKA workers, who need to continue their work despite the tragic events they have witnessed.
Recently, NATAL has been given a grant from the German government to help those on the Southern border prepare for the trauma of future rocket attacks. Ifat says this trauma preparedness training has helped those living near Gaza cope with their daily life.
Besides the in-house clinical psychological services Natal offers, their Social Therapeutic Club serves as a safe place for their clients. Members of the group are offered therapeutic courses such as ceramics, stained glass, cooking music, and outdoor activities. For group members it serves as a supportive environment allowing interaction between individuals who went through similar experiences. The day that I visited, the group was working on decorating pottery. As Ifat introduced my family and I, one woman emerged from the group to tell us her tragic story of her daughter’s murder. She was having a bad day and needed to be calmed down.
NATAL’s latest project is a mobile unit, composed of eight mental health professionals, which provides treatment to families and individuals in the comfort of their own home. Within this framework, more than 180 families have been treated this year, which is approximately 1000 people, most of whom are children and adolescents. The unique model of the Mobile Unit was developed by NATAL to treat populations under fire within conflict zones. We watched a movie that monitored a family in Sderot and showed the treatment method of the mobile unit in action.
To date, 100,000 people in Israel have been helped by NATAL. It is estimated that 10% of Israelis suffer from PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Currently, 240 people are engaged in long-term therapy all over Israel, being treated by psychologists who are part of the NATAL team, meaning they have been trained by NATAL in treating trauma and offer their services at a discounted rate.
I feel privileged to be able to provide support for an organisation that plays such an important role in giving Israeli victims of war and terror the ability to cope with their losses and remain productive members of Israeli society.
Leah Adler heads an Australian organisation called Pe’ula Action for Israel which raises funds for victims of terror and war in Israel. She is also completing a Diploma in Professional Writing and Editing at the CAE.