OneFamily camp gives bereaved children a chance to come together for a week of fun times and exciting activities. It also lets them spend that time processing their loss, sharing their stories, and learning new coping strategies.
To set the tone, this year’s theme was “progress” – exploring how far the children have come in their recovery.
“For many of the children, progress is a very difficult idea. They feel stuck most of the time,” said Ofir Elgrabli, head of the Youth Division. “So we created programs to help them see that they have moved forward and to think about what has helped them in that process.”
That reflection culminated in the Gala Event at the end of camp, when all of the different divisions come together and some of the children stand up and tell their stories. “We are all different ages and come from different backgrounds,” said May, 15, the event’s co-MC, whose father was killed in the Second Lebanon War. “But tonight, all our stories merge into one big story that contains all of our personal stories.”
Ayelet lost her father in the Second Intifada, when she was only 7 months old. “I do not remember my father and for many years I did not allow myself to feel the pain. Because, why would it hurt? Why should I miss someone I do not know? And every time a feeling came, I immediately blocked it. I did not give it space.
“During my time here in OneFamily, mainly thanks to my friends – some of whom are just like me – I learned to let myself feel. I learned to give my pain a place. I learned that I too was allowed to long for my father even if I don’t quite understand why. I’m allowed to care.”
Shira’s father was killed in a road shooting. “Terrorists ambushed us and fired more than 200 bullets at our vehicle. My father was murdered on the spot. The rest of the family remained unharmed,” she said.
“I will not lie to you, I am surprised that I am standing here talking to you. In my whole life, I never imagined such a situation,” she said. “It’s hard for me to share and translate words that are in my heart. But as I’ve grown, I have come to understand how important it is to express myself, even if it’s difficult. And in my case it is very difficult.”
During the final event, all four Shaer sisters took the stage together to speak about the experience of losing their brother Gilad, one of the three teens who were kidnapped and killed in 2014.
“Over the years I realized that I wanted to really deal with bereavement, to progress in my own way and not just let life pass me by,” one of the sisters said. “In this organization, I learned to speak, to say what’s good, what hurts and what I need – because this place truly makes things possible.
“Everything I say or feel is met with understanding and inclusion,” she continued. “I can just be me in my own way and that’s all anyone wants.”
Ron lost her brother four years ago in Operation Protective Edge. She came to her first camp a short time later, and this year she reflected on the progress she made in those four years.
“I look at Ron then and Ron today, I see two completely different people,” she said. “I arrived shy and closed up. I did not know what bereavement was or how OneFamily fit into my life.
“Today I’m a more grown up version of Ron, more open, better able to speak from the heart and express an opinion,” she continued. “Most importantly, bereavement is part of me, but not the only part, and I know how to integrate it into life.”
Moriah spoke about the process she went through since her older brother Eliav was murdered two years ago. “When my brother was killed, I thought that if I dealt with bereavement and mourning, I would fall and shatter. I was really scared. I did not want to look weak, so I repressed it and just carried on with my life.”
Things started to change, she said, when she received a phone call from a coordinator from OneFamily inviting her to join the Youth Division. “I was excited to join OneFamily. At the same time, I was also afraid,” she said. “I realized that if I went and felt that I belonged here, then it must be that I’m a bereaved sister. I understood I was choosing not to deny the reality anymore.
Still, she said, she was apprehensive about attending her first event, not ready to dive into deep discussions about bereavement. “Gradually, I discovered that here we are simply together, living life, and learning to live with our bereavement. I met others like me, who are dealing with the same thing.
“From the time that I came here, I started to move forward,” she added. “I felt that I may have lost a brother but I gained many brothers and sisters.
“My group has become an inseparable part of me and of my life. For me, this is where it I started to move, to live with the truth without repressing it, to learn how to live with it intensely, and how to transform the pain into growth.
“If in the beginning I thought I had to choose between living and bereavement, today I understand that it all comes together, that slowly we learn to live with the bereavement, and even live well.”