Israel Trauma Coalition coordinates essential emergency agencies

Israel Trauma Coalition Director Talia Levanon and Omer Egozi, the group’s director of resource development. 

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Representatives visit St. Louis for Jewish Federation-planned community briefing

Israel is widely admired for its ability to quickly organize in response to traumatic disasters, whether caused by natural events such as earthquakes and floods or as a result of acts of terrorism.  Forty organizations in the Jewish State are responsible for various aspects of the after-effects of terrorism and natural disasters, and the Israel Trauma Coalition (ITC) was organized to ensure maximum coordination and cooperation among the various groups.

Talia Levanon, ITC’s director, and Omer Egozi, ITC director of resource development, were in St. Louis last week to meet with Jewish Federation professionals and volunteers and explain their work.  The ITC is funded in large part by the Jewish Federations of North America, including the Jewish Federation of St. Louis.

Levanon was born in Switzerland and raised in Nigeria.  She has a master’s degree in social work from Bar-Ilan University. During the 1973 Yom  Kippur War, she served as an officer in the Israeli army, working with bereaved families and wounded soldiers. She was named director of the ITC, which was established in 2001 as a collaborative network of more than 40 organizations committed to a proactive role in policy making and the provision of a systematic continuum of trauma-related care and preparedness.

The Jewish Light caught up with Levanon for an interview at the Jewish Federation Kopolow Building the morning after the briefing. 

How did the formation of the Israel Trauma Coalition come about, and why was it formed?

In 2000, there was the beginning of the Second Intifada (a terrorist uprising by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza), and the services at that time for terrorism victims were very fragmented. At the time, Jewish Federations in North America were more inclined to contribute to various tangible things, like ambulances. The ITC was created in 2001 at the initiative of Jewish Federation-UJA of New York. The goal was to focus on the overall coordination of the various service organizations. They invited to the table seven leading organizations in Israel that were working in the field of psychological effects of trauma from terrorism. Now, all of the Jewish Federations in North America, including St. Louis, provide vital support to our efforts.

Were groups like the Magen David Adom (Israel’s Red Cross) among those invited?

No, such groups are critical response organizations.  We invited those that help people who suffer from anxiety as a result of what we call “the situation,” of living with the trauma of terrorism. Another organization included was Selah, which specializes in working with new immigrants, who may not have the social support of longer-term citizens of Israel. They have their own issues of trauma of migration, etc. Another organization, NATAL, focuses on effects of terrorism, and there is the Center for Stress Prevention, which concentrates on community work.

These groups sound like they overlap in function. Is that correct?

They do, and that is one of the great challenges ITC is set up to meet. These groups served different areas and different parts of the community, but they all saw a great need for collaboration for better delivery of services.  We brought together the directors of these separate agencies and found that they all face similar challenges. The meetings provide a kind of support group, where they can help one another meet their challenges. The group meetings also help formulate a joint strategy to meet the challenges in a coordinated manner.

What do the 40-member organizations of ITC have in common?

They all work in dealing with all nongovernmental organizations that work in the area of psychological trauma.  So the difference between these organizations and groups like the Magen David Adom is to provide immediate care for people who are physically impacted. Groups like the Orthodox Zaka also fulfill some important roles at the scenes of such traumatic events. We can also provide training to these groups as well as to others in the coalition.

What role does ITC play in helping professionals in the field of trauma relief deal with their issues of stress?

There is tremendous stress and burnout among people who help victims of psychological and other trauma. We work with such people in our training to help them learn how to take care of themselves to avoid excessive stress, which can lead to burnout.

Are your organizations concentrated in Israel’s large cities or scattered throughout the nation?

The groups are scattered throughout Israel, including remote cities and towns. A coordinated approach results in a value-added factor for smaller groups who can benefit from the knowledge and resources of the larger groups.

Have there been any mergers among the organizations?  Would it not be more efficient if there were fewer such groups doing such similar work?

Actually, ITC is a response from the government to deal with a single body, the ITC, and not individually with 40 separate groups. It is a similar concept to that of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. It helps the groups dealing with such critical issues speak with a unified voice.

Does ITC work with trauma agencies in other countries, including the United States?

We did work with the Boston community, sending a delegation to that city after the Boston Marathon bombing to offer psychological first aid and resilience training. We also sent similar delegations to meet with groups in Haiti after its earthquakes and flood, with the Japanese tsunami, the terror attacks in Mumbai, India and Chechnya, and the natural disasters in Sri Lanka and Mississippi, and other groups around the world. We want to share our expertise to help other communities deal with the the severe trauma these events cause.


So, after your first years of operation, which has ITC accomplished?

In the past six years, ITC has helped more than 500,000 children and adults. Each year, resilience centers in besieged Israeli communities treat more than 200,000 civilians. There are currently 150,000 medium and long-range rockets pointed at Israel from Hezbollah and Hamas. Each of our centers trains teachers and municipal leaders to help vulnerable children, older adults and people with special needs during brutal attacks. In the past year, ITC provided 52,000 Israeli children with trauma treatment and emergency services.