NEW YORK – A team from the Israel Trauma Coalition, an association of Israeli agencies specializing in post-trauma resilience, will be arriving in the Boston suburb of Watertown next week to help develop “a recovery process” for the local school system.
Watertown, a village of some 32,000 residents, was the epicenter of the manhunt April 19 that killed one suspected Boston Marathon bomber and captured another. The manhunt forced the shuttering of much of the area, with residents told to stay indoors and businesses and schools closed for over a day as state and local police, together with federal forces, pursued the two suspects through the streets of Cambridge and Watertown.
“The events of a few weeks ago left us reeling and wanting to do whatever we could to help out,” wrote Barry Shrage — president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, the Boston Jewish federation which arranged the connection between Watertown and the ITC — in a letter to federation staff on Thursday. “Our partners in Israel, who are all too familiar with the fear and anxiety of the aftermath of terrorist attacks, reached out to us with support, making the collaboration with the ITC possible.”
On Sunday, a team from the ITC will arrive in Boston and begin work with Watertown school district administrators, staff, community groups, and parents “to create a coordinated coping and recovery process that will be offered to the entire community,” Shrage said.
‘Our Israeli friends called. They were saying, “You came to us when we had trouble. How can we be there for you?” There was a feeling in Israel that, at this point, the American Jewish community needed help, and they wanted to be helpful. And I thought, that’s such a beautiful thing’
They will run sessions with local officials focused on key elements of post-disaster resilience: “what reactions parents should expect from their children, and how to respond to their questions; clinical training to student service staff to help them guide students through trauma recovery; how administrators can triage, plan and roll out trauma-based community events; methods of creating a safe environment at school and at home where children can express themselves,” according to a federation statement explaining the visit.
The team will also work directly with state and local mental health officials, together with the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health and Department of Public Health, as well as the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. They will deliver a workshop for mental health clinicians in Westborough, a town about 30 minutes out of Boston, focusing on techniques for working with populations impacted by disaster and “the importance of self-care and resilience for individuals and communities following a disaster,” according to the statement.
The team is also slated to hold a session in Boston next week that will include clergy and community leaders and will focus on the impact of terror on immigrant populations.
“The ITC training model empowers the local infrastructure to support a maximum number of those in need using existing local resources, contributing to the development of the community’s resilience, and setting up a support system that will remain in place long after the program has ended,” the federation said.
While the federation made a $100,000 contribution to The One Fund, the official fund established by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino to help victims of the marathon bombing, the Jewish community has been looking for more ways to be helpful, according to the federation’s Shrage.
Then “our Israeli friends called. They were saying, ‘You came to us when we had trouble.’ We were there when there were bomb attacks. We were in Sderot many times, [in Haifa] during the [Carmel forest] fire. And they said, ‘How can we be there for you?’ There was a feeling in Israel that, at this point, the American Jewish community needed help and they wanted to be helpful. And I thought, ‘that’s such a beautiful thing.’”
The Boston federation had received an offer of help from the Israel Trauma Coalition in the days immediately following the marathon bombing, but the Jewish community “couldn’t quite figure out where it all fit in.”
After the events in Watertown, said Shrage, “it made me think of what the kids in Sderot go through all the time, and other places where ITC had been effective.”
ITC’s help, Shrage said, “is a more personal way for Israel and the Jewish community to be helpful. We have some unfortunately special expertise” that can be brought to bear. The entire cost of the initiative, at roughly $75,000, is being covered by the federation.
The team is slated to remain in Boston for the week, but could extend its stay if additional towns or groups ask for its help. Already “a couple of other [bodies] have asked, and are talking about how to use them,” said Shrage.