Israel Trauma Coalition Lends A Helping Hand To Watertown Schools

WATERTOWN, Mass. — A group of Israelis is in the Boston area this week helping people cope in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. The Israel Trauma Coalition has been working with first responders, spiritual leaders, physicians, psychologists and teachers. But they’re spending the bulk of their time at Watertown Public Schools.

The Friday after the bombings, Watertown was locked down. Tanks and heavily armed police crowded the residential streets.

“Many of my staff were evacuated from their homes, had their homes searched,” said Watertown Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald.

Eventually, one suspect was dead, the other captured, but that wasn’t the end of the stress for this community.

“Children, when they were playing outside and during that first week back, there was a lot of helicopters and/or sirens going by, and you would actually see kids tense and want to know if the bad men were back again,” said Anne Hardiman, principal at Hosmer, the elementary school closest to the crime scene.

So the school district accepted outside help from the Israel Trauma Coalition. The Combined Jewish Philanthropies offered to bring the ITC to Massachusetts and pick up the tab.

‘Post-Traumatic Growth’

Elaine Antonellis, a behavioral specialist at Cunniff Elementary School, makes a ribbon out of Play-Doh during a workshop for Watertown school psychologists and counselors. (Asma Khalid/WBUR)

Elaine Antonellis, a behavioral specialist at Cunniff Elementary in Watertown, sculpts Play-Doh during a workshop for school psychologists and counselors. (Asma Khalid/WBUR)

Vivian Reutlinger and Shiri Daniels are both ITC trainers. This week, they led a three-day workshop with school counselors and psychologists in Watertown. The trainers say it’s crucial for caregivers to take care of themselves.

“How do we help ourselves so that we grow through our work and we don’t burn out?” Reutlinger asked the group.

Reutlinger’s question struck a chord with Elaine Antonellis, a behavioral specialist at Cunniff Elementary School in Watertown.

“It’s been very hard to deal with our own feelings of, ‘Are we safe?’ But convey a message to the children that, ‘Yes, we are,’ ” Antonellis said.

Reutlinger said most people do not develop post-traumatic stress disorder after trauma.

“When something really bad happens to me, then I can only either go backwards or move forwards, I don’t stay in the same place,” Reutlinger explained. “So post-traumatic growth talks about, when something bad happens to me, how do I move forward, how do I take from that?”

Therapy In Play-Doh

The lesson on this day involves playing with Play-Doh. As the trainers poured a box of Play-Doh onto a table, they explained the rules of the exercise.

“We want you to make a symbol of the event that was most meaningful to you in the last month from everything that happened,” Reutlinger told them.

The ITC trainers asked everyone in the group to make a symbol that depicts the most meaningful event in the last month’s crisis. The ideas ranged from an American flag, to a dismembered body, to this boat. (Asma Khalid/WBUR)

The ITC trainers asked everyone in the group to make a symbol that depicted the most meaningful event in the last month’s crisis. The ideas ranged from an American flag, to a dismembered body, to this boat. (Asma Khalid/WBUR)

Around the room, the sculpturing began — a house, a boat, a police badge, a dismembered body. Antonellis made a ribbon.

“The blue and yellow represent Boston and the marathon, and the red and black is actually Watertown colors. So that’s the symbol of Boston Strong, Watertown Strong,” she explained.

Then the Israeli trainers changed the rules. Everyone had to refashion their artwork without using any additional colors or dough.

Antonellis mushed her green, yellow, red and black Play-Doh into a muddy mix.

“It’s kind of not a very pretty color anymore,” she said. “But it kind of symbolizes two things: how that we were Watertown, we were Boston, and now we’re all in it. Everybody is in it together. But, at the same time the future isn’t as clear and it’s kind of murky and we’re not sure. So it’s kind of a symbol of hope, but it’s also like, boy, have things changed.”

The counselors and psychologists all agree that life has definitely changed, but they also said this group therapy has helped them psychologically so they can better help their students in the future.

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  • blisterpeanuts

    The Israelis have a lot of experience with this sort of thing. Glad they can share some of their ideas with the community. We just moved from Watertown to a neighboring community in the fall, and we feel their pain. It’s probably considered a trivial event compared to the horrible calamity in Bangladesh, but to those who experienced it, it’s still a traumatic and life changing experience. To help Bangladesh, we have to also help ourselves grow stronger, so that we can share our strength.

  • 65noname

    Perhaps these guys should go back to palestine and concentrate on helping the victims of israeli carpet bombing, israeli drone strikes, the victims of the school bombings in gaza and the victims of israeli assinations.

    • Martin Ostro

      Instead of focusing on your perceptions of the problems in the Middle East, where unfortunately unprovoked suicide bombings and rocket attacks from one side causes a violent response on the other side, we should be focusing on the good work done by the Israel Trauma Coalition in Israel and many other countries around the world. There are numerous examples of Israeli doctors and psychologists ministering to Palestinians and I am sure that if the Palestinians could guarantee a safe working environment for the Coalition, the Israel Trauma Coalition would be willing to hold teaching and treatment sessions for the Palestinians. I thank the Israel Trauma Coalition for their good work in Watertown and elsewhere.

      • 65noname

        In fact the opposite is the case; the israelis constantly are committing acts of terror against the palestinans. When the palestinans reacte they are branded terrorists by the US/israeli cabel which then rains even more destruction on them.
        In fact, you would be hard pressed to name any internationalist provider of aid that was harmed by the palestineans. And of course, we know what the israelis do to such internationalists, from out and out killing them, rachel corry, to beating and imprisoning them. The israelis won’t even allow palestinan ambulances to to procede to hospitals. So, yes, your right; the palestinians can’t guarentee that the israelis won’t attack anyone attempting to provide aid the palestinian victims of israeli terrorism.
        But, hey, if your delusions work for you, stick to them.

        • Martin Ostro

          As I said in my initial reply, we should focus on the good deeds done by the Israeli Trauma Coalition. If more groups on both sides would focus on the human element of Palestinian-Israeli relations and all the positive relationships that were developed, before the process was hijacked by hardliners and extremists on both sides, and these relationships were allowed to continue or resume then Palestinians and Israelis could turn the entire area into a peaceful zone where economic development could flourish for Israelis and Palestinians alike giving all in this region the economic security and peace they deserve. I am not delusional about the fact that working together would improve the lives of everybody in the region. I think that those who continue hate and advocate violence are those who are deluding themselves if they think this will ever give them the peace and security they desire.

          • 65noname

            The “process” was not “hijacked by hardliners and extremists on both sides”. The people who run israel never had any intention to permit a fair and equitable resolution. They have engaged in decades of lies and dishonest dealings highlighted by using violence whenever any possiblity of resolution was near. Those aren’t extremists enforcing the occupation of palestine; they are the successive israeli governments and their army of land thieves and torturers who shoot or jail without trial or hearing anyone who protests the israeli government policies. Oh yea, they tell the american goveernment to label them as “terrorists” so that makes it o.k.
            As to the israeli trauma dudes and dudettes, it stands to reason that if they were honestly concerned with dealing with the results of horrific violence they would be in the west bank and gaza attempting to help the tens of thousands of children traumatized by the violence, mass jailings of teenagers (and even younger kids) andthe land grabbing and starvation tactics being used by their government against unarmed palestinians attempting to keep their land and live in peace.

  • paulagoldman20

    65noname, where have you been? Do you approve of Hamas and its terrorism? Carpet bombing is a lie. Palestinians with an Israeli citizenship enjoy a prosperous life. Maybe Jordan will donate some of the land it gobbled up from the Palestinians.
    In Amman, there is a settlement bounded by barbed wire. My tour leader told us that is where the Palestinians are allowed to live. No trees, grass or bushes, for shame.
    Wake up and smell the roses!

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