Defying terror: “Experts say many Israelis show remarkable resilience”

October 18, 2002

* This dispatch mainly concerns the victims of terrorism, and how they are trying to recover
* Iraq is now almost "cleansed" of its large Jewish population

 

CONTENTS

1. "Laughter is the best medicine"
2. You heard it here first
3. The last Jews of Iraq
4. "Israelis have discovered ways to live with everyday terror" (USA Today, Oct. 17, 2002)
5. "To Jewish philanthropists, a personal thanks" (Washington Post, Oct. 15, 2002)
6. "Guard rewarded for stopping bomber" (Associated Press, Oct. 14, 2002)
7. "Laughter is the best medicine at Israel's hospitals" (Jerusalem Post, Oct. 17, 2002)



“LAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE”

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach four stories, which are more "positive" from an Israeli perspective (with brief extracts first for those who don't have time to read the articles in full). "Positive" in the sense that among the mass of media coverage on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there has recently been a slight improvement in parts of the mainstream liberal American media (but not yet in most European media) to humanize Israeli victims of violence, in the same way that the media has long given a mass of detailed coverage to Palestinian victims of violence:

1. A cover story from yesterday's "USA Today" "Israelis have discovered ways to live with everyday terror: Experts say many show remarkable resilience in war".

The day it re-opened, Cafe Moment [where 12 mainly young Israelis, including a waitress on her first day at work, were killed on March 9] was packed with the families of those killed, as well as those injured in the blast, in a robust show of survival that someone called "non-violent revenge." Moment bomb victim Joseph Cohen, 50, spent two months recuperating in a hospital. He now walks with a cane, is partially blind and has pitted scars over his back from nails planted in the bomb. Yet, he returns to the cafe every day for a drink. Says Cohen: "I made myself do it. You have to. You live, or not."

2. "To Jewish philanthropists, a personal thanks" (The Washington Post, Oct. 15, 2002). Shoshana Gottlieb calls herself a survivor, not a victim. So when the 49-year-old Israeli told 1,000 other Jewish women at [a Washington] conference how she ended up paralyzed from the chest down, she spoke without tears or traces of self-pity. It was her audience that cried. Addressing a darkened ballroom from her wheelchair, Gottlieb, a mother of four, told how she was left paraplegic when Palestinian snipers fired on a van ferrying her home from work in February 2001. The export-import manager for an Israeli chemical company then thanked the women for the gift they helped make possible: a device that lets her navigate the stairs in her multistory apartment building. "There are no words," Gottlieb said to her subdued and sometimes sobbing listeners, "to describe my appreciation."

3. "Guard rewarded for stopping bomber" (ABC news.com from The Associated Press, Oct. 14, 2002). Whereas the regimes in Iraq and Saudi Arabia continue to make financial payments to the families of those who murder Jews, Jewish philanthropists are making rewards to those who save lives. The security guard who prevented last weekend's massive attempted Tel Aviv beachfront terror attack, tackling the suicide bomber with his bare hands, has been given a reward for his bravery by a Swiss Jewish millionaire.

4. "Laughter is the best medicine at Israel's hospitals" (The Jerusalem Post, Oct. 17, 2002). Israel's first-ever "medical clowning" course began Wednesday at Assaf Harofeh Hospital in Tzrifin. Laugh therapy is a unique way to treat patients and speed their recovery, said a hospital statement.

-- Tom Gross

 

YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST

[Additional note by Tom Gross]

The information in the dispatch Israelis operating in Iraq sent out on this list last month is carried today on the front page of the Washington Post. The Post writes: "The administration's pledge to deploy Special Operations forces in western Iraq to destroy facilities that could be used to launch missiles at Israel, which was conveyed during this week's visit to Washington by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, follows an undisclosed reconnaissance mission in western Iraq this summer by Israeli special forces, according to a former U.S. defense official. The covert Israeli operation was aimed at determining whether Iraq had the capability to launch drone aircraft, in addition to Scud missiles, from its desert air bases."

 

THE LAST JEWS OF IRAQ

The other story sent out in that dispatch, concerning the last 38 Jews in Iraq, is carried today in another Western publication, The Times of London, which (in a rare move) writes about the Jewish refugees of 1948, rather than the Arab ones.

Fifty years ago there were about 350,000 Jewish people in Iraq. When the British marched into Baghdad at the end of the First World War a fifth of its citizens were estimated to be Jewish.

Today 38 remain in the capital. In Basra, the once prosperous port in the south, there is just one old woman. In Mosul and Amarah, and other Iraqi cities where Jews had lived for more than two millennia, their communities have vanished without trace.

In 1941, after a pro-Nazi coup planned with the aid of the German Embassy in Baghdad, hundreds of Jews were murdered while police officers stood by and watched. After the creation of the state of Israel hundreds of thousands of Jews fled Iraq. Scattered around Baghdad lie more than 30 abandoned synagogues, many dilapidated.

-- Tom Gross



FULL ARTICLES

“WHAT WE HAVE HAD TO DO IS CREATE A NEW NORMAL”

Israelis have discovered ways to live with everyday terror: Experts say many show remarkable resilience in war
By Ellen Hale
USA Today
October 17, 2002

During the Gulf War a decade ago, all of cosmetic surgeon Michael Scheflan's patients canceled. Why get a face lift, they told him, if you're going to die in a war? At international medical meetings, Scheflan even presented a slide titled half seriously the Facelift Index of National Security.

There's been no drop in his face lift business, however, since the start of the Palestinian uprising two years ago, despite terrorist attacks and suicide bombings that have claimed 626 Israeli lives. After a six-week period of relative calm, three bombings inside Israel in the past month killed eight people and stirred up fears anew.

"Patients call to talk about it, but wind up concluding, 'The hell with it. This is what I would normally do,'" Scheflan says. "People are voting with their faces and deciding life must go on."

In a remarkable display of resilience, Israelis are finding ways to cope with a conflict that is untenably stressful because it is both deadly and unpredictable. Through small daily actions, deliberate public policies and subtle adjustments in the way they think, they have found healthy methods of taking control of their lives and going about their business amid the chaos of war. Though they may have had to cut back on liberties they once enjoyed, most say they have learned to take pleasure in people and experiences they previously undervalued.

"What we have had to do is create a new normal," says Arieh Shalev, chief of psychiatry at Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem, who is studying the phenomenon of resilience among Israelis. "It's sad on one hand, but on the other it speaks to the greatness of mankind, to the robustness of survival."

The first question Shalev gets when he visits the United States, he says, is: "How can you guys live in a situation like that?" Now, on top of the threat of suicide bombings, Israelis are facing the uncertainty of a war with Iraq, which fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel during the Gulf War. Americans, meanwhile, are getting a small dose of the strain Israelis have faced from a sniper's two-week shooting spree in the Washington, D.C., area that so far has killed nine.

Shalev's work, and that of a growing number of experts studying the emerging field of psychology called resilience, shows that people who live in life-threatening circumstances are remarkably buoyant. The wonder is not how many suffer crippling stress but how many cope so well.

Shalev just completed a study of residents of two Israeli settlements near Jerusalem: Efrat, a town encircled by Palestinian villages and the focus of frequent sniper fire and attacks, and Beit Shemesh, a suburb that has gone untouched in the conflict. He queried people in the two communities about everything from the number of times they had encountered direct threats, such as being shot at or having stones thrown at them, to what they feared most and how they had changed their lives.

The findings surprised him. Shalev discovered that even though every aspect of life in Efrat was fraught with difficulty relatives who refused to visit, the risk of being shot driving to and from home the people who lived there suffered no more post-traumatic stress disorder than those in Beit Shemesh and little more than Israelis in other, more protected parts of the country.

The rate of the disorder, in which people are so emotionally crippled by traumatic events that they cannot function normally and might suffer flashbacks, was 25% in Efrat and Beit Shemesh, compared with 19% in other communities. (In New York City, psychologists estimate about 25% suffered some level of post-traumatic stress disorder after the Sept. 11 suicide bombings last year.) Shalev was also astonished to find very little clinical depression just "sadness."

ONLY SOLUTION: GO ON

He credits their resilience to personal coping mechanisms, which allow them to take control over stressful situations, and to public practices that provide vital social support. For instance, when an Israeli soldier is killed, hundreds or thousands may turn out for the funeral in a healthy and spontaneous display of public sympathy and backing that also serves to help them cope.

Similarly, the scenes of suicide bombings and terrorist attacks are intentionally and immediately restored so there are no reminders. Within hours of the bus bombing in Tel Aviv that killed six on Sept. 19, for example, workers were cleaning Allenby Street and removing every hint of the attack.

Full grown trees not saplings replaced the ones sheared off when two suicide bombers hit Jerusalem's nightlife area last December, killing 10 and wounding 180 others. When outgoing and incoming New York City mayors Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg laid flowers at the site a week after the attack, the only evidence of the grim event was a small plaque memorializing those killed.

"We're not going to wait for trees to grow," government spokesman Daniel Seaman says. "Put it back the way it was. It's one of the ways we move on."

Through policies like these, Israelis in many ways are better equipped to survive the constant stress and threat of danger, experts say. Israeli citizens also have at their disposal efficient social services and support networks. In conflict-torn areas where no such structures exist such as Kosovo, or in the Palestinian territories resilience may be scarcer.

This is not to say Israelis haven't changed their habits or routines in an effort reduce the risk of being involved in a terrorist attack. Some, like surgeon Scheflan, believe shopping centers are vulnerable; he doesn't let his children go there anymore. Others, like Joel Leyden, who owns a public relations firm, believe they are among the safest places to go. Buses, so often the target of suicide bombers, now carry fewer riders. And downtown Jerusalem, also a frequent target, is not the bustling hubbub it once was.

But these steps are normal reactions, experts say. Though a small percentage of Israelis, like some of Shalev's patients, become so paralyzed with fear that they have trouble even leaving their homes, most refuse to become victims of their trauma.

Despite having a colleague killed in a suicide bombing and two others badly injured, Egged bus driver Ronnie Plauf continues to ply his trade on route No. 830, one of the deadliest in Israel. In June, 19 passengers burned to death on one of the route's buses when a suicide bomber in a car packed with explosives blew himself up near the bus. The attack took on special poignancy when two of the riders killed were found burned beyond recognition but hugging each other. There have been four other attacks on his route.

Plauf now carefully scans passengers before they board. He says, "I pray everything will be OK." But he won't stop driving. Buses are a critical transportation artery in Israel, and the service must continue, he says.

"Every morning I go out I know something can happen, and I am scared. But I don't see any other solution but to go on," Plauf says. After a pause, he adds, "Israelis are very resilient."

Ultimately, it was the customers who pushed Moment Cafe owner Elan Gordo to reopen after a horrific suicide bombing there March 9 that killed 12. "It wasn't a business decision it was a spiritual one," Gordo says.

The day it opened, Moment was packed with the families of those killed, as well as those injured in the blast, in a robust show of survival that someone called "non-violent revenge."

"Life must go on," says Moment bomb victim Joseph Cohen, using a phrase heard repeatedly in Israel. It qualifies as a clichי, but such reasoning is an important survival dynamic, according to experts.

“MAGICAL THINKING”

Cohen, 50, spent two months recuperating in a hospital. He now walks with a cane, is partially blind and has pitted scars over his back from nails planted in the bomb. Yet, he returns to the cafe every day for a drink. The previous night, he had forced himself to attend a crowded concert, even though being in crowds scares him. Says Cohen: "I made myself do it. You have to. You live, or not."

Before the bombing, many clients had persuaded themselves that Moment Cafe was safe because it was a favorite hangout of journalists and liberal Israelis critical of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his hard-line policies what Shalev calls "magical thinking," which provides a "protective shield of the illusion of control" over a situation that, in reality, is totally unpredictable.

Eli Ben-Zaken, a winemaker who owns a restaurant in a neighborhood in Jerusalem where six suicide bombings have occurred, uses a similar device, bargaining, to grab a tiny slice of control over his fears. When he goes to the restaurant, he tells himself: "Not everyone dies. Not everyone gets wounded."

In the same way, some Israelis drive convoy-style to parties and other gatherings, having convinced themselves it is safer although there is no basis for their belief.

"People play with distances, with places. It's the old soldier's superstition that another shell will never hit the same place," Shalev explains. "It gives them a sense of control, even if it doesn't make a bit of difference. And a sense of control is the best remedy for stress. It's much more important than real control."

They also bargain with themselves and adjust their expectations. They make the best of problems such as not being able to drive places that they did before the intifada began.

Shalev's studies show that many Israelis have started to value aspects of their lives differently. Though he found little increase in religiousness, many residents reported a change in values and spirituality. People in Efrat and Beit Shemesh, for example, said they had found new joy in small moments with their families and friends.

“GOOD DAY” IS NO TERRORIST ATTACK

Bus driver Plauf says the time he spends with his wife and three children is "different." They spend less time in public places, steer clear of crowds and stay at home more. Every family member is equipped with a mobile phone, and they are in constant contact, even if just to let one another know they are running a few minutes late. In these acts of thoughtfulness, says Plauf, "We try to keep each other from worrying." Family life, always close, "now means more," Plauf says.

Like the labor camp survivor, Shukhov, in Alexander Solzhenitsyn's book, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, Israelis have defined a new normal. "A good day now," says Shalev, "is when there is no terrorist attack."

"It has become something we live with," cosmetic surgeon Scheflan says. "If you had told me two years ago that I could make a good living doing face lifts and liposuction at times like this, I would have said you were crazy. Now, I think it is an index of sanity."

 

“IT WAS HER AUDIENCE THAT CRIED”

To Jewish philanthropists, a personal thanks
Paraplegic Israeli mother among recipients of women's growing generosity
By Caryle Murphy
The Washington Post
October 15, 2002

Shoshana Gottlieb calls herself a survivor, not a victim. So when the 49-year-old Israeli told 1,000 other Jewish women yesterday how she ended up paralyzed from the chest down, she spoke without tears or traces of self-pity. It was her audience that cried.

Addressing a darkened ballroom from her wheelchair, Gottlieb, a mother of four, told how she was left paraplegic when Palestinian snipers fired on a van ferrying her home from work in February 2001.

The export-import manager for an Israeli chemical company then thanked the women all major contributors to United Jewish Communities, the nation's leading Jewish charity for the gift they helped make possible: a device that lets her navigate the stairs in her multistory apartment building.

"There are no words," Gottlieb said to her subdued and sometimes sobbing listeners, "to describe my appreciation."

Gottlieb was one of many speakers at the International Lion of Judah Conference of United Jewish Communities, a three-day gathering of Jewish women whose contributions to the charity help fund Jewish humanitarian efforts around the world, including in Israel.

United Jewish Communities, the successor to United Jewish Appeal, is the umbrella organization representing 156 Jewish community federations across North America, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

The theme of this year's conference at the Grand Hyatt Washington hotel is "Power Philanthropy: Dare to Dream." Sandra F. Cahn, campaign chairwoman of the United Jewish Communities' National Women's Constituency, said the theme reflected the women's desire to increase their role as agents of change at home and abroad.

"We have come together at a time when globally the problems are monumental," Cahn said. "But the women feel they can make an impact with their financial wherewithal, their activism and their involvement."

Reflecting women's increasing role in philanthropy, the contributions of North American Jewish women have grown steadily in recent years and now represent more than a fifth of the amount raised by the United Jewish Communities' UJA Federation Annual Campaign, according to Glenn Rosenkrantz, the organization's director of media relations.

Of the $826 million it collected in 2000, almost $175 million or 21 percent came from women, Rosenkrantz said. So far in this year's campaign, which closes Dec. 31, women have contributed more than $172 million, or nearly 23 percent of the $751 million donated.

"It's a new century; we as women are earning more money, we have more access in the business world, more access to direct our dollars," said Diane S. Feinberg of Bethesda, chairwoman of the conference and immediate past president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

Many of the women attending the conference, which ends today, wore gold lions on their lapels. The pins indicate their status as a "Lion of Judah," meaning they donate a minimum of $5,000 annually to the charity. There are more than 14,000 "Lions of Judah" around the world, Cahn said.

Participants, primarily from North America and Israel, attended workshops or heard speeches on such topics as Jewish identity, terrorism, media coverage of Israel, anti-Semitism on university campuses, civil liberties after Sept. 11, mental illness, elderly care, eating disorders and depression. A workshop on Islam also was held.

"We are really trying to give very balanced views of the issues," Feinberg said. "We're trying to give [the women] the facts and let them draw their own conclusions."

 

GUARD REWARDED FOR STOPPING BOMBER

Guard rewarded for stopping bomber
Guard who foiled terror attack in Israel starts building new life with wife, money
ABC news.com (from The Associated Press)
October 14, 2002

A security guard who foiled a weekend terror attack next to the U.S. Embassy spent Monday at a luxury hotel, reunited with his wife, counting reward money and planning to move out of the tiny trailer he called home.

Mikhail Sarkisov, 29, stopped a suicide bomber Friday night at a cafe next to the embassy in Tel Aviv, grabbing his arm before he could set off the bomb. He called for help from the guards at the embassy, and together they captured him. Holding on to the bomber's arm, Sarkisov smashed him head first into a car's windshield.

More than 250 Israelis have been killed in more than 70 Palestinian suicide bombing attacks during two years of violence. Often the targets have been cafes and restaurants like the one Sarkisov was guarding.

Sarkisov, a former soldier and policeman, checked the bomber with a metal detector, which revealed something suspicious. When the man put his hand in his pocket. Sarkisov grabbed it. "I know what a bomb is. I was an officer in the Russian army," he said minutes after the incident.

For Sarkisov, who immigrated to Israel from Turkmenistan last year, the brief moment of heroism has turned his life around.

His wife had left him because of chronic money troubles, and he as living in a trailer instead of a house and working seven days a week.

All that is different now. "I feel very good, there are no words," he said in a telephone interview from the southern Israeli resort of Eilat, where he, his wife and their 3-year-old son are staying as guests for nine days in a luxury hotel, just one of the rewards for preventing a bloody bombing attack.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met Sarkisov and presented him with a certificate of gratitude. An anonymous Jewish donor gave him $5,000, and a manager at the cafe said another donor wants to give him $50,000. And the workers on duty at the time of the attempted attack took up a collection on the spot and gave him $150, said cafe shift manager Ido Sada, 26.

David Avital, 35, manager of the security company that employs Sarkisov, said the company would pay a year's rent for a Tel Aviv apartment for the guard. Avital said Sarkisov would get a promotion when he returns to work.

Sarkisov that his boss was to thank for bringing him and his wife, Gulnara, 24, back together again.

Avital said he called Gulnara after the incident and appealed to her. "I called her and said, 'I am his boss and he is a good man and he has saved many lives,'" he told The AP on Monday.

 

“LAUGHTER IS GOOD FOR HEALTH”

Laughter is the best medicine at Israel's hospitals
By Judy Siegel-Itzkovich
The Jerusalem Post
October 17, 2002

The country's first-ever "medical clowning" course began Wednesday at Assaf Harofeh Hospital in Tzrifin.

The course will train 40 people from around the country to add a dash of humor to the medical system. Among the participants are doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, professional clowns, complementary medicine practitioners, a former school principal and a bank clerk.

Laugh therapy is a unique way to treat patients and speed their recovery, said a hospital statement.

"Recent research has shown what grandmother always used to say that laughter is good for health. Humor works in a positive way on the patient's health and speeds up his recovery," it said.

At the end of the half-year course, five scholarships will be granted to outstanding graduates who will be hired by the Simha Balev organization, which operates at a number of medical facilities around the country.

The course's faculty includes Peter Harris, a theater director and head of community theater at Tel Aviv University who has studied medical clowning at the Big Apple Circus in New York; Dr. Sheva Friedler, deputy director of the hospital's in-vitro fertilization unit and a graduate of a pantomime school in France; Dr. Shai Pintov, a pediatrician and head of Assaf Harofeh's complementary medicine unit; and a number of clowns and pantomime artists.

The Big Apple Circus has shown impressive success in treating patients in pediatric intensive care, oncological day care and other hospital units in New York, said Shlomi Algossi, a hospital clown, who himself suffered from fear and loneliness during a long period of hospitalization as a child.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.