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Pulling people together

Most of the volunteers are psychology students, professional social workers, and therapists.

Shiraz Angert, interviewed November 8, 2023

By Holly Kemph

A student of social work, Shiraz Angert, began putting what she’s learning into practice as soon as the war started, co-leading the Emotional Support Team at the Jerusalem Civilian Command Center. As she says, “I think it’s important to not only see the physical needs of people, but also their emotional needs. People of all ages have these needs. If people’s needs are not addressed, they can be affected for the rest of their lives. If we’re successful in what we’re doing, it will give them a better quality of life.”

This is exactly what the emotional support team is doing. They connect people who need psychological and emotional support due to the war with psychologists who want to give that support for free. The psychologists offer between and and three sessions. Their team also helps people find long term connections to resilience centers, health funds, and different organizations that specialize in trauma. They also help people who need assistance with the welfare system.

The team has created two simple forms, one for requests and one for volunteers. They seek to connect the best matches. Requests are also received through the main call center and the supply team at the JCCC. The requests are mostly from families evacuated from the south because of the war. There are also local communities in Jerusalem who are experiencing anxiety that need psychological support.

A common example consists of mothers who have sons serving in the army. The team sits with their laptops as they receive requests. “We receive a request,” Angert explains. “Then we make a call, hear their needs, listen to their stories, and use a protocol of possibilities to connect them to someone who can help.”

Most of the volunteers are psychology students or professional social workers and therapists. Every shift includes a professional therapist or social worker who is available to advise.

The team has a WhatsApp group of over 200 therapists. When they receive a call they send a message to the group and within seconds there are replies. These therapists have jobs and yet they’re also volunteering. Angert says that “many of the therapists are willing to volunteer again and again, it’s amazing.”

One of Angert’s team members, Rami, shares a moving story from his time on the Emotional Support team. He had received a call from a young man who had participated in an operation in Gaza in 2014. When he came back from war, his friends told him that he suffers from PTSD and he didn’t do anything about it.

His family is now in Jerusalem and he finds that when he walks the streets and hears someone speaking Arabic, he becomes very nervous. Rami explains: “I immediately sent a message to the WhatsApp group and got four or five volunteers. I spoke to the advisor, she recommended someone, and so I feel like a matchmaker!”

Rami connected the young man with the therapist and found it important to stay in touch with both to make sure the situation was working. He adds: “the guy told me that this therapist lives far away and he's unable to travel there. I contacted the therapist, who said he was willing to travel to the guy. So I talked to them again and now it’s a happy ending.”

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