The Power of Respite Programming for Children in Southern Israel

“In their greatest hour of despair, people do have their own strengths and you need to strengthen them. We are there temporarily, lending our resources.” Talia Levanon, Israel Trauma Coalition

The Jewish Agency’s Respite Programming is specifically designed to provide relief for children and young teens in Southern Israel and to empower them to cope with a situation that is too often frightening as they remain indoors all day, and as family tensions run high.  We bring expertise to the task of providing relief and support.  We have conducted Respite Programs for Children five times since the Lebanon War.  We have the human capital to respond quickly and efficiently manage logistics to bring up to 5,000 children per day out of regions under constant bombardment.


While a day away from terror and relentless bombardment may not seem sufficient to have a sustained impact, we observe – and are affirmed by our clinical colleagues in the Israel Trauma Coalition – that being active, going outdoors, seeing friends, playing in the sun, and forgetting rockets and sirens builds resilience and leads to a reduction in post-traumatic stress.  Respite Programming dramatically renews children’s ability to cope.  Parents feel free to go to work, knowing their children are safe for the day. 

Additionally, the Government of Israel and local authorities have asked The Jewish Agency to provide this specific service.  The Jewish Agency cannot refuse, and we need the support of the American Jewish community—which has always responded to the needs of Israel—to succeed.


The gratitude of parents and youth for this offer of human kindness is significant.  It is not enough that we address measurable needs.  The act of chesed, supporting our vulnerable Israeli family members, is critical at this time both for them and for Jews everywhere.  The Jewish Agency is proud to be JFNA’s partner in bringing respite to over 14,000 children thus far—a loving gift from the Jewish community of America.  We are prepared to continue Respite Programming for the duration of the situation.


There are many needs at this time, as our proposal to JFNA underscores.  Respite Programming is among our top priorities. 

All of Israel is on alert during this time. However, a day in Jerusalem, where there may be one or two alarms, has a radically different impact on children who live in the South and hear warning sirens several times an hour day and night at home. 

We have several examples of the importance of Respite Programming:

§  In Netivot, Kiryat Gat, and neighboring communities, we were first met with resistance from local authorities.  However, they are now pleading with us to expand services to their community.

§  Sha’ar HaNegev announced on July 17th that their education systems will close.  This means that many parents will be unable to go to work because their children have no supervision.  In response to the local demand, we are preparing to take 450 children from this area out for a day of respite on Sunday July 20th. 

§  RACHL, Israel’s National Emergency Agency, has both thanked The Jewish Agency and JFNA for our help, and asked for extended support to additional communities under bombardment.


Our capacity to respond efficiently, with your instrumental help, is increased by our existing network of Partnership2Gether (P2G) communities in the South.  P2G is the living bridge between Israel and the Diaspora, in which American Jewish communities invest both dollars and significant resources to build a shared commitment to the vitality and well-being of Israel.  This week, P2G Directors in the communities we are serving in the South are acting as coordinators of the Respite Programming effort.  Families that are hesitant to enroll their children are reassured by their trusted partners—the local P2G staff—and quickly see the benefits of having their children enjoy a day away from the conflict, enabling parents to go to work and welcome home their children with renewed resiliency and hope. 

In this hour of need, Respite Programming becomes an essential element of these Partnership relationships.  We have exhausted the funding granted by JFNA thus far in the conflict; at this time, we are relying on other philanthropic donations to provide these much-needed programs for children and teens in the South.

On behalf of the children and families in the South, THANK YOU for helping us break the isolation of children who remain in bomb shelters all day. Together, we:
§  Give children a chance to relax, play and be with their peers away from the rockets
§  Enable parents to get back to work for the day 
§  Help us screen children for those at acute risk of severe reactions to the situation
§  Strengthen the safety net of caring for our Israeli youth in their time of need, and
§  Reduce the trauma to young people who live in harm’s way.

As we join together to pray for the safety of Israel, and the resolution of the conflict, JFNA’s financial support for the Respite Programming for Children is an essential expression of our care, our compassion, and our capability to reassure Israelis during this time.


In the words of Mooli Lahad, Professor, Tel Hai Academic College; Director, Mashabim Community Stress Prevention Center, July 2014

Operation Protective Edge caught residents of the South at the beginning of the summer break. For 13-14 years, these children have been living their lives between protected classrooms, children’s clubs in kibbutzim and communities, to the safe room at home, caught in the middle of rocket fire and violence from different operations over the years. They must now let go of the freedom and respite they were hoping for from their summer break, and continue to spend their time in enclosed spaces. 

As part of our professional work in Israel and around the world for traumatic and tragic events, it is clear to us that emotional respite work allows people to exit a situation of constant stress, and allows for a time to speak about and air out their emotions, feelings, and thoughts. These abilities depend on the creation of a safe space…It is important to mention that an ongoing stressful situation creates heightened stress state in the body, which intensifies and grows when the body’s systems are not allowed to rest after intense situations.

A heightened bodily state can create post-traumatic stress symptoms, which can be prevented if a person is able to receive respite and allow his biological/bodily systems to come out of a heightened/tense state.  With children, effective coping can occur during play, social activities, or group activities, which to the observer do not seem relevant to the process of healing.

Children often process events, feelings, and thoughts through play or similar activity. As part of respite activities, it is helpful to conduct guided and focused psycho-social programming.  For children, it is easier to process trauma through creative, social, or physical activities…The group has enormous power in normalizing feelings and thoughts. A peer saying “that happened to me too,” or “I feel the same as you” is infinitely more powerful than the same statement said by an instructor or a professional.

For teenagers, group work is often the only choice, as teens handle most of their coping within their peer groups.  The need to step outside the community in the South is getting stronger every day, as the exposure of Hamas tunnels have made home dangerous, and the community even more dangerous. Inhabitants are hiding out in their homes more and more.  Respite programming for children and parents usually involves an outdoor activity, with guided programming for acknowledgement, validation, and normalization, while also searching for and consolidating coping mechanisms.

Professor Lahad consults with The Jewish Agency.  In addition to teaching and doing clinical work, his publications include: The Healing Forest in Post-Crisis Work with Children: A Nature Therapy and Expressive Arts Program for Groups (with Dr. Ronen Berger), Kingsley, 2013; and The "BASIC Ph" Model of Coping and Resiliency: Theory, Research and Cross-Cultural Application (Mooli Lahad, Miri Shacham and Ofra Avalon, editors), Kingsley, 2012.

07 Aug 2014 / 11 Av 5774 0
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