Providing resilience to the embattled residents of Sderot

Article courtesy of the Jerusalem Post

This is how the Sderot Resilience Center is helping traumatized citizens to overcome fear and grief, with the support of KKL-JNF.
“Fifteen years ago, the Sderot Resilience Center was established to help residents deal with the security situation from the mental health perspective,” explains Hila Gonen-Barzilai, director of the Center.               
Sderot is located just one kilometer from the Gaza Strip and has dealt with the ongoing threat of missile attacks for over 21 years. Ninety percent of Sderot residents have experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including seventy percent of the city’s children.

Photograph: Dorel Abramovitz

After the October 7 massacre, the center’s endeavors have become even more essential. For this reason, the Keren Kayemeth-LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund has made supporting the project one of its priorities. 
Stress from the unstable security situation can cause impairment of function as well as other symptoms of trauma, says Gonen-Barzilai. The Center’s team of fifty trauma experts, including clinical psychologists, educational psychologists, social workers, trauma movement therapists, art therapists, and animal therapists, have assisted in easing symptoms of trauma. The Center also develops communal resilience and trains volunteers to help them in their work.
October 7 has had a dramatic impact not only on the activities of the Center, but on all of Sderot. On that day, close to 200 Hamas terrorists invaded the city, murdering 50 civilians and 20 police officers.  In light of the constant barrage of rocket fire on the town since the beginning of the war, the IDF evacuated most of the city’s residents, who are now staying in hotels in Eilat, Jerusalem, and the Dead Sea.
“The residents of Sderot underwent terrible experiences and witnessed terrible things,” says Gonen-Barzilai. “People were murdered on the streets, terrorists came into their houses, and they murdered policemen in the police station.” She reports that typically, the Center treats two hundred citizens annually. Since October 7, they have treated 10,000 people. 
Photograph: Dorel Abramovitz
Photograph: Dorel Abramovitz
Gonen-Barzilai and her team established Resilience Centers for the evacuees – in Eilat, the Dead Sea, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Netanya, Herzliya, Sderot, and Tiberias. Each Resilience Center branch is headed by a coordinator and a staff. Overall, the Center has one hundred mental health professionals providing treatment. In addition, treatment is also available by phone and on Zoom.
“Some people haven’t been able to sleep at night for months,” says Gonen-Barzilai. “They have anxieties, and some imagine that terrorists are coming for them. Our job is to calm them and to give them tools to deal with the situation.”
In addition to the vast increase in the number of cases due to the October 7 massacre, Gonen Barzilai notes that the nature of the trauma has changed. For many of the residents of Sderot, who had to wait for hours for IDF soldiers to arrive, their faith in the army and country was damaged. 
Furthermore, the trauma has not ended. Soldiers are being killed on an almost daily basis, missiles have not ceased, and most of the captives have not been freed. The war is an ongoing event.
"KKL-JNF assists the residents of the south in a wide variety of ways, and we see great importance in strengthening the mental resilience of the residents, after the severe blow of October 7. We work cooperatively with the resilience centers and ensure that anyone who needs psychological and mental treatment receives the required assistance, tailored to their needs. Since the first days of the war, KKL-JNF leadership decided to help with an extensive budget and in various areas for the communities and the Western Negev for their rehabilitation. We view this as a real mission", says Yaniv Maimon, KKL-JNF Southern Region Director.
Released on December 21, 2023