Nicole handing over gift packages
By Nativia Samuelsen

In the blink of an eye, the lives of Israeli children and teenagers living near Gaza were turned upside down. One day, they were attending school, forging their identities, and enjoying time with friends. The next day, they found themselves amid chaos and carnage, as rockets bombarded Israel and armed terrorists infiltrated their neighbourhoods.

These youngsters were quickly evacuated with their families from their homes to safer areas of Israel, but not before many witnessed atrocities committed in their very neighbourhoods. Some heard stories of friends or family members kidnapped. And all of them saw graphic images of the atrocities of October 7 circulating on social media, which caused many teenagers across Israel to experience secondary trauma. On top of all this, these youth have now been away from their homes and routines for well over six months. Those evacuated from northern Israel have no definite return date in sight, while those in the south are slowly trickling back home.

The traumatic impact of these experiences on evacuated Israeli youths is immeasurable. They wrestle with deep emotional scars of loss, confusion, fear and anxiety. Coping mechanisms vary. Some withdraw, others deal with depression or anger. Therefore, it is crucial to provide them with the support and resources they need to stay resilient and recover in these troubling times. At the ICEJ, we are committed to supporting initiatives which build inner strength and foster healing. One such social aid project is a respite camp for evacuated youths hosted in the Galim Youth Village near Haifa.

In a recent visit to the camp, our Aid team saw how the camp operates and brought Passover holiday gift packages for 110 youth and their families courtesy of Christians in Singapore. We were met by Saray Cohen, the visionary who initiated the camps for evacuee youth.

Having been through the harrowing experience of having ten of her family members kidnapped into Gaza, Saray knows how difficult these days are for evacuee families. (Thankfully, all her family members were released but one, and we hope and pray for his swift return). Not one to sit and do nothing, Saray had a dream of providing respite camps to give the youth the opportunity to have some good old-fashioned fun with friends that would be healing and strengthening for them.

Nicole handing over gift pacakges

Besides the holiday packages, the ICEJ also sponsored the youth camp for 40 teens from Kiryat Shmona, a town on the northern border which was evacuated due to ongoing shelling and concerns over terrorist infiltrations. The families were spread among various towns throughout Israel, which meant that teenage friends who could have been a vital emotional support for one another were separated.

“These children all knew each other before the war,” Saray explained to Nicole Yoder, ICEJ Vice President for Aid & Aliyah. “They were classmates and best friends. But after October 7th, they were scattered across Israel. Through this camp, they can finally be reunited.”

“The first day of this camp was filled with joy, yet it also was tinted with the realization that their world has changed irreversibly,” she added. “Despite the beauty of their reunion, there remains a deep, lingering sense of loss and longing for what once was.”

We met the teenagers as they were heading into a dog training session. Each beautiful pedigree dog barked eagerly as they were matched with two teenagers. This activity served as a lesson in responsibility and sensitivity, and it also brought therapeutic relief in the comforting company of adorable dogs. After receiving their dog, the teens went to a field with lots of dog training equipment scattered everywhere, and a local trainer gave instruction. As the teens ran across the field with their dogs, taking them through various training activities, their voices filled the air with excited calls to their newfound furry friend.

Maya, one the camp’s dedicated social workers, explained how each activity is aimed at nurturing healing and bringing some sense of joy. From a bowling night to these animal therapy sessions, each activity provides an opportunity for the teens to process their experiences in different ways. Additionally, group counselling sessions with bonfires and the warmth of shared meals create a safe space for discussion and reflection that allows the youth to work through their emotions and build strength for what comes next.

Your generosity enabled us to sponsor this camp and invest in Israel’s youth, which are the future of this nation! Please support our continuing outreach to Israel during this difficult time by giving to out Israel in Crisis fund.

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