The horrific school shooting on Friday in Connecticut has hit home for anyone and everyone, no matter where you are. For people in the US the question of gun control, parenting, and mental illness is probably dominating the conversation. A friend of mine writing to me from her computer in New Mexico confessed that she is afraid to go outside because anyone could kill her for no reason.
In Israel we are shocked about the news, because these kinds of shootings don’t happen here. Reckless, and random, that’s not how you describe a terrorist attack. We are scared for different reasons, but the fear and outcome are still the same. And as a parent we are all saddened when it is a school and children that is the target, whether it is random or calculated. The attack is just as shrilling.
While the news is still unfolding, it seems obvious at this point, that the gunman was someone plagued with mental illness. It is an issue that I understand all to well. My brother, who took his own life almost three years ago to the date, suffered from mental illness his whole life. It’s not something I talk about often, but I believe his story is important for the future of mental health awareness and change.
He was always brilliant. He was always upset. And most of the time he was violent. We couldn’t understand him. He couldn’t understand what he was going through. And as much as my parents tried, the system seemed to fail him. My brother turned to religion, drugs, and then the US army to find a solution for his mental problems. The US army should have never allowed my brother to serve with his illness, but during the Iraq war, they seemed to overlook his problems and accepted him to become a foot-solider in one of the most volatile areas of the world.
I can only imagine that what he saw on a daily basis added to the list of emotional and mental traumas he had suffered. When he returned to the US he of course could not function in a normal setting. The Vet office gave him pills to help the problem. They needed it and him to go away. He took the pills. The whole bottle at once in fact. He almost died but was rescued and once his stomach was pumped he realized he didn’t want to be this person.
He escaped to another state and became another person. But you never escape mental illness. Now he was alone. But still had his pills. Many pills. On the outside he tried to fit in and become the citizen the US wanted him to be. On the inside he remained traumatized. His demons, the ones from childhood and now war, never went away. He died alone, overdosing on pills in his home.
In my eyes, my brother never really had a chance. He never received the proper health care he needed. He was given jail time for his actions. And pills for his pain. He took his life, and I thank God he never took anyone else’s. His violent outbursts led to fights and broken limbs, but never death. He was 24 when he died.
Now that I live in Israel my battle with mental health treatment turns to the issue of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As a citizen and journalist I have met many children and adults with PTSD in Israel, and they are not treated for this severe issue. After experiencing just two rockets in Jerusalem, I realized just how serious trauma can be. When the first rocket hit on Friday night, I will admit that it was the first time I did not have an appetite for Shabbat dinner. I was afraid to leave the shelter, quickly packed an emergency bag and couldn’t stop shaking. I had to be a mother, a wife, and still somehow walk the dog. But I was no longer me. The one rocket hit my core.
I heard the second rocket. I will never forget that boom. I stood in a stairwell and could see the blue sky. I waited for the rocket to appear and crash. Of course it was miles away, but my mind couldn’t handle the truth. As well as the boom, I heard to the beautiful voices of children singing songs about Chanukah. They too were stuck in the stairwell with nowhere to go. How many of these children will forever be affected by war, terrorist attacks and hate? And these children experienced two rockets, what about those down south who had rockets rain on them for years?
Mental illness is just as serious as a broken arm. Just like a broken arm, you are not able to work at normal capacity. You are no longer completely functioning. And until you can get use back in that arm you will never be the same person. We don’t realize how much we need that arm until it is broken. With mental illness it takes moments like a school shooting or rockets to make us realize that our minds can be broken too.
I have shared this post today because we all need an outlet. For the US I hope that there will be a serious change in the healthcare system that puts more weight on mental and emotional illness and behavioral problems. Not more pills in a jar. For Israel I hope we can add more emphasis to PTSD and give people the proper attention they need. After all you can have IVF free in this country, up to two healthy births, but therapy is only partially subsided.
Summer camp was the best place on earth for me as a kid (probably still would be as an adult). Being a camper and escaping from real life for a week or two at a time was just so needed from ages 7 to 15. I mean school was hard, what with all those math problems, and recess was already filled with drama, whether it was a fight about who would play mom in “house,” or boys with cooties; camp was always the much needed break and promise land away from my problems.
Every kid needs camp. But some kids need it more than others. While back in the sixth grade I stressed out about my boy problems, today the children of the city of Sderot are more worried about rocket fire and staying alive. For over eight years the threat of rockets and war has plagued the city of Sderot. That means that the children of Sderot have grown up with this continued danger, and some of them were literally born into it, making this the only life they know.
This summer, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem has opened up its doors and teamed up with The Canadian Friends of Hebrew University and Committee for a Secure Sderot to provide 200 youth with the opportunity to escape Sderot and the rockets and have a week of fun and learning in the Israel’s capital.
For one-week these kids can enjoy regular kid activities like swimming, bowling and going on hikes without worrying about where the nearest bomb shelter is or make sure their ears are alert for the warning of rockets. On top of the usual fun stuff they will also participate in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder workshops (PTSD) with trained professionals to help them with the trauma they have experienced and most likely will experience again. And to add to the experience the kids will also have the privilege of learning science in labs at the Hebrew University. This is a great treat for them, because coming from a periphery town these kids are barely getting a decent education let alone the opportunity to study at the top university in the country.
I met some of the Sderot kids that are at the camp and was taken away with their candid stories about living in a warzone. Even though most of them are 13 to 16-years-old, they talk like grown ups, speaking about the fear of death and life under fire. Each one of them has a story or stories about kassams (rockets) falling outside their homes, inside their living rooms and for one boy, on the pillow he had just been resting his head on before getting up to go the bathroom. They speak about these incidents void of emotion (due to the trauma); yet listening to them you feel their pain and understand the necessity of bringing them out of the city even if it is for one week.
While each youth is special, there was one that really stood out to me. His name is Daniel and he will be 16-years-old in a month. But unlike teenagers in America, he is not worrying about passing his driving test; instead he worries about surviving rockets. Daniel was a camper in this Knowledge camp but back in Sderot he volunteers helping younger children deal with PTSD as well as to cope with the stress and anxiety of everyday life. Daniel thinks he is just living life, but to me he is defining it. Everyday he survives his fear, he lives his life, and he supports others and wakes up to do it again, day after day.
If you want to help sponsor a camper like Daniel please check out my Give2gether page. It doesn’t take much for you to make a difference for kids like Daniel, and yet it’s all the difference in the world. I’m sponsoring Daniel or at least I am doing what I can, I hope you can do the same.
If you thought that Facebook was just a website for your random friends and photo albums, then you are sorely mistaken. If you have ever joined a Facebook group then you know that there are a lot of strange and wonderful things happening in cyberspace.Perhaps you have an interest in toes, well don’t worry because there are over 500 groups that are willing and ready to accept you and your foot fetish. There are just as many groups for cookie monster lovers too. And somewhere in between all that you can find a new group urging Sderot residents to learn how to build kassams.
It might sound random but for many this group is a desperate last resort to end the barrage of kassams. I think it is time to admit that if we wait for the government’s response we will all be as bald as Olmert before there is any retaliation. Therefore it is left up to the citizens to end the rocket fire.
There are many ways to try to get your message out there. Continue reading this entry »
Update: This post got picked up by Arutz Sheva
Where has the Zionism gone? I guess when rockets explode they bring with them a big bang to our idealism. Forget Gaydamak’s efforts to ship kids from Sderot to Jerusalem, now there is a new organization, Save Israel’s Children, transporting kids all the way to America.
While I commend the Americans who have opened their homes to the victims of Sderot I can’t help but ask the question, why? Why is this the solution? My fear is this attitude to solving problems will soon leave us without a state. If the rockets fire begins to hit Tel Aviv and Jerusalem will we move everyone to a safer location like America or Europe?
In fact isn’t this playing exactly into the terrorists’ hands? Continue reading this entry »