Taming Terror, Forming Family

It is time for all individuals to see that we are indeed part of one large family who mirror one another in both hurting and healing.

By Mary L. Holden, My Life Magazine

One Family North American hiking volunteers together with victims of terror.

The problem with the world is that we draw our family circle too small.

—Mother Teresa

Another problem with the world is exposure to violent acts and terrorism. Daily, and everywhere, there exist large numbers of innocent victims of terror who are rebuilding their lives. Whether they’ve suffered at the hands of an individual, a gang or a government, most of these people did nothing to provoke the injury except that they happened to be in the wrong place at a very bad time.

Such suffering creates a strong memory and impacts both victims and those who love them. Facing life with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is constant. Finding the resilience to move forward on one’s own can feel nearly impossible.

Giving a “normal” life to victims after a terrorist attack is the goal of an organization that began in Jerusalem 11 years ago and grew across the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. With headquarters in Israel, it is OneFamily.

OneFamily is the result of the concern of a girl named Michal Belzberg from Jerusalem. On the day of her 12th birthday in 2001, a suicide bomb that exploded at a popular restaurant killed 15 people. The number of men, women and children wounded came to 130. Instead of having a celebration after her bat mitzvah, Belzberg canceled the party in order to donate its cost to these victims. She asked her friends and family not to give her gifts, but to contribute money to aid the victims. This group raised $100,000 and brought OneFamily into being. They soon realized even that sum was not enough to address the sufferings of this group of victims and their families.

Like the concentric circles that radiate after a stone hits water, the OneFamily group grew into a nonprofit, volunteer-based organization that has helped thousands of terror victims in Israel. It has a small administrative staff of 37 people, a resource pool of professionals who provide health and welfare services across Israel, 731 volunteers and a large base of financial supporters. Aid from OneFamily is directed at the entire spectrum of victims: the bereaved, the injured and those of any age who have been traumatized by terrorism, Jews and non-Jews.

The work that is accomplished by OneFamily is an ideal model of service to humanity. The organization’s mission is to unite victims by creating a family, to build a resilient society after the ravages of terror, to rehabilitate victims one family at a time and to provide lifelong service—if needed. According to the OneFamily website (OneFamilyTogether.org), it provides “a uniquely tailor-made blend of financial assistance, therapeutic programs, legal assistance and a steady stream of personal encouragement for each victim and their family, delivered in our hallmark ‘family’ atmosphere of togetherness that the victims have come to love and to trust.”

This organization follows a plan of assistance to victims of violence and their families known as the “3D Formula.” It stands for Direct Response, Dedicated Rehabilitation and Defending Rights. This is how it works: after a terrorist attack, OneFamily meets immediate needs to facilitate healing. Rehabilitation is provided through financial assistance, therapy, legal support and constant personal encouragement. Finally, OneFamily helps coordinate benefits from other government and official sources to fully empower victims to support themselves in the aftermath of terror. Particular attention is given to youth and young adult victims of terror, as these groups have the most to lose if healing is not allowed to begin as soon as possible after such a horrific experience.

Here are two examples of people who were assisted by OneFamily: the stories of Ron Kehrmann and Orly Vaknin.

Ron Kehrmann lost his daughter Tal in a terror attack in Haifa on March 5, 2003. She was riding the same bus as a suicide bomber. In his grief, Kehrmann was approached by a representative of OneFamily during shiva, a one-week mourning period. OneFamily helped him honor the memory of his beloved Tal by telling her life story through an interactive website (Tal-smile.com) while also taking care of her brother Dror by sending him to summer camps in Israel and Canada. In 2006, during the war with Lebanon, OneFamily sent Dror to summer camp in Canada, providing the Kehrmann family peace of mind about his safety.

Orly Vaknin was serving her time in the military (and was required to carry arms) while a student at Hebrew University when the university was bombed. On the day of the incident, she’d left her rifle at home. She suffered tremendous guilt and became emotionally injured after that terrorist attack by feeling that she’d been unable to defend other victims. Through the assistance of OneFamily, Vaknin trained to become a Pilates instructor. Vaknin suffered abuse in childhood and her brother was in a different terrorist attack, so she had much to overcome. Her work with abused children focuses on getting them to share their stories and find a path of healing similar to her own.

In 10 years, OneFamily has assisted more than 2,700 families. It has invested more than $35 million and has an annual budget of $4 million. In 2011, Shimon Peres, the president of Israel, honored OneFamily with a Citation for Volunteerism.

Pam Albert started and is the director of OneFamily in Canada. Active in garnering support for the organization, Albert is credited for coming up with unique ways of fundraising for OneFamily. This spring, a race of Dragon Boats in Tiberias will introduce this sport to Israelis, raise funds and allow supporters to paddle boats side by side with victims of terror. For more information, see onefamilyfund.ca/events-dragonboat.

And, every year of the past five, One Family Canada has organized and led a hiking trip in Israel, where supporters meet, hike with and get to know victims and their loved ones. From the initial group of 40 hikers in 2007, 80 are expected this October to hike in the region of the Ramon Crater in Negev. Albert said, “For all believers, Israel can be considered a sort of mecca. It is a place worth visiting for its history, land and culture. The hike is a way to get to know a specific region of Israel and experience a soulful, spiritual way of helping others who are suffering. Participating keeps a person on the wheel of paying attention and giving back.”

Hikers stay in a kibbutz to understand the ways of life for the people in the region of the hike. Robyn Greenspan, of Scottsdale, is co-chairing this year’s hike with Bruce Crowley. She said, “The hike is a terrific experience on so many levels. You’re supporting an important initiative that helps people in need as you become familiar with Israel—her land, her people and her history.”

Information about the trip is available at onefamilyfundhike.com.

If we do “draw our family circle too small,” then drawing a wider circle by learning how to assist innocent victims of terrorism is necessary. It is time for all individuals to see that we are indeed part of one large family who mirror one another in both hurting and healing.

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