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Healing together

“We have to support each other and find a way to recuperate from this experience.”

Hodaya, Aviv, Elia, Neta, Ido, Shir, interviewed November 1, 2023

By Holly Kemph

Hodaya, Aviv, Elia, Neta, Ido, and Shir are all young women working hard as a team to organize social and cultural activities for displaced families from the southern and the northern border town of Israel. These families are currently being housed temporarily at hotels or other facilities in Jerusalem. Hodaya, the team leader, is a student at Shalem College, completing her BA in Liberal Arts and Middle Eastern Studies. She started working on the project at the start of the war. The others joined over the following weeks.

How does it work?

As soon as the war began, Hodaya posted questionnaires aimed at recruiting volunteers and reaching out to various hotel managers. All of the data gathered from questionnaires enabled her to create a list of volunteers, sorted according to their particular skills, and their ability to lead group activities. As of now, there are over 300 volunteers on the list. People volunteer for anything and everything. There was even a woman who said she’d bring her dog so the families could just pet the dog.

The list of hotels providing temporary accommodation to evacuees keeps growing.

“We call the hotel managers and ask them what, when, and how they would like us to arrange activities. After contacting them, we match that information with what the volunteers are offering to do.” Some of the activities at the hotels include art, movement, cooking, balloons, sports, dance, and more. The idea is not just to provide entertainment but to foster active participation. All of the families at these hotels had to evacuate their homes at a moment's notice. They need essentials such as clothing, school for their children, laundry services, transportation to health providers, and so on. But they also need moral support and something active to do with their spare time.

One of the volunteers said: “I think that this aspect is most important because the people there have come from a traumatic event and now they’re stuck here. Their lives have stopped. We’re here to help them give meaning to their days. At first, many of them were not always eager to do the activities as it’s still hard for them emotinally. But it’s good that they know they have the option to participate if they want to. That is important.”

What motivates the team?

Media coverage of several hotel-based activities and events frequently includes someone who sums up the experience of the volunteers as follows: “I came to offer support but I ended up feeling strengthened by these people.”

According to Hodaya, the idea of helping people is the core motivation that animates her and her team as well as the volunteers working directly with the evacuees. But beyond the obvious and immediate needs of these people, she says, lies a deeper significance. It’s not just the people who have been harmed or relocated during the emergency who have gone through a trauma, but also the rest of Israel as a society, which has been living with these same events. “After all we’ve been through, we have to support each other and find a way to recuperate from this experience. We need to find some healing.”

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