For many, the summer is a distant memory, but for the 61 families who lost loved ones, the anguish of the summer lives on.
After hundreds of telephone calls, home visits, therapy sessions and support groups, special workshops, and relationship building, OneFamily organized the first gathering of bereaved families of Operation Protective Edge for an evening of healing, bringing together parents, siblings, and spouses of fallen soldiers.
Since the establishment of OneFamily in 2001, no family injured or bereaved in terror or war rebuilds their life alone. With a team of 44 staff member and more than 500 volunteers, OneFamily provides comprehensive emotional, financial, and legal support to more than 12,000 men, women, and children throughout Israel.
For many, the evening was the first time they had the opportunity to meet other grieving families. The shared experience of loss is painful, but for a few hours, they were in an environment where everyone understood the journey they were going through.
Children screamed with joy as they participated in interactive ODT group building activities. The program was designed to introduce them to the Youth Division staff. One mother expressed her appreciation, “our children are finding their way in this movie that is their life as bereaved children… and they do not know how to act or how to be. For the first time, we could focus on ourselves and our healing, knowing that our children can heal while laughing and smiling too.”
While the children were with the Youth Division, the bereaved young adults were meeting with the Young Adults Division staff and the bereaved parents and widows were participating in their own interactive ODT group building activities. But, most importantly, were the conversations and connections.
As the night progressed, we watched as families formed special bonds with each other – sharing photos and stories, discussing religion and faith, and inviting one another to their homes.
Chantal Belzberg, OneFamily Executive Vice Chairperson, emphasized to the families, “The first commandment of the OneFamily ten commandments is to love – to have unconditional love… to provide love to bereaved families and injured families who sacrificed for all of the Jewish Nation and the State of Israel”
Rabbi David Baruch Lau, Chief Rabbi of Israel who had visited every shiva home this summer, spending time with every single bereaved family, shared, “It gives me tremendous joy to see all of you sitting together and eating together”. Following his remarks, Rabbi Lau circled the room, speaking with each family.
Minister of Finance, Naftali Bennett, spoke emotionally to the families, expressing his deepest condolences and sorry, “Your children watched over Gaza… and we will watch over you. I want to tell you… Thank you. You sacrificed the most and we are indebted to you forever.”
OneFamily partnered with the Iranian American Jewish Federation and with matching-allocations, distributed over $90,000 to the families attending the event.
The evening was filled with laughter, smiles, warm hugs, and tears.