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After Marathon Attack, Israel Trauma Coalition Director Describes ‘Miracle’ Of Inner Healing

BOSTON — The Israel Trauma Coalition, which travels around the world to provide counseling and training after traumatic events, is in the Boston area this week working with people affected by the marathon bombings. The group has been in the U.S. before, including after Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, but this is its first visit to Boston.

WBUR’s All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer spoke with the coalition’s director, Talia Levanon, about its mission in Greater Boston.

Talia Levanon: We come from Israel and we’ve been through this. And it’s not a question of saying, “I know what you’re going through. I’ve been through this.” It’s a question of saying, “We’ve been through this and we’re still here, we’re still human.” It’s sort of a bridge for tomorrow, a way of saying, “You’ll overcome it,” but still acknowledging that every person is very different in the way they react but most people will heal. There’s a wonderful quote from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross that went, “Even at the darkest hour, there’s always a ray of sunshine,” and I think in times of crisis some people need to help open the door for more sunshine. And I don’t think it’s just the Israeli approach; I think it’s the human approach.

When I heard that your group was coming, there was something very sobering to know that a trauma team from Israel, which is a country that has been through so much trauma, was coming to Boston to help. It made me wonder if Boston had crossed some sort of terrible bridge — to what we’re not quite sure. Would you say that that’s what we have to be ready for? A loss of innocence?

“I think in times of crisis some people need to help open the door for more sunshine.”
– Talia Levanon, ITC director

The fact that there was a terror attack here — it’s a sobering experience. It’s very sad, but here in Boston, especially. We drive the streets and it’s so beautiful. It’s so beautiful. And you think: Something bad happened here. But I feel that the fact that we are here is not because Boston crossed the bridge; it’s because people in need reach out to other people.

And I always am surprised by people’s strength. I know it sounds kitschy but I find it a miracle. You meet people that went through so much and I look at them and I think, wow, it’s working. This inner process of healing — it’s working.

What do you think is the need in the schools mostly? What are they going through because of what happened?

First of all, the issue of feeling safe within your own home, feeling safe with your parents. Some parents may have reacted emotionally, outwardly, and so the child would be even more insecure. Are the police good or bad, because they were running all over the place? Even the helicopters are very frightening. The shooting is very frightening. So these children may have issues.

I am thinking, just as an example, of the Fourth of July, where you will have fireworks. So for young children, it may evoke the noises that they will identify with something bad is happening. And children copy, many times, what they see with their parents. So in Israel we train teachers and parents so they will know how to help themselves but also to provide first emotional aid and to identify when it is that the child needs referring to a professional.

What about the medical professionals you’ve talked to — doctors and first responders? What are they saying and how are you helping them?

For many of them, they’re not only caregivers, they’re also parents. They’re also plain everyday people. So you need to take into consideration that adds a lot of stress because you have a conflict of roles. And exposure to a first-time terror-related mass casualty event is very different from other traumas. If a natural disaster happens, there is no anger involved. But here, there is so much anger and fear because when it happens in the center of your town in such a normal event such as a marathon where everybody participates, then your system of defense is a bit threatened.

What’s the most powerful thing you’ve seen or heard this week?

To go to a very different place — a very, very different place — I would say we met with a group from Dorchester who go through terror every day. And they have a lot of issues with this marathon because they feel that they live in trauma and they don’t have the acknowledgement, the resources. That it’s just so hopeless.

This is a group that lives in an inner-city neighborhood that has a lot of shootings?

The projects, yeah. It happens all the time. I mean, it happens in Israel when you live in Tel Aviv, which has been relatively safe for the past 12 years, and when you go visit people in the Gaza region it’s a one-hour drive and you go into a different reality, a different zone. So it happens everywhere and I’m sure it happens in Boston, too, but it’s very difficult to see it.

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