The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh stepped in to fund the tuition for 10 Israeli children to attend a summer camp for victims of terrorism. The camp, run by the Jewish Agency for Israel, seeks to help children who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder — mainly as a result of missile and burning kite attacks emanating from Gaza — by providing a structured schedule replete with field trips and emotional support.
The camp takes place in mid-August, when many Israeli children have not yet resumed school and have few opportunities to engage with other children in constructive and fruitful activities. This period without structured programming can be especially difficult for those suffering from PTSD.
Kimberly Salzman, director of Israel and Overseas Operations at the Federation, said in an interview that the flare-up at the Gaza border this spring increased demand for the camp dramatically. Even though the Federation provides a significant portion of its allocations each year to the Jewish Agency, helping to fund the summer camp and other Agency initiatives, she said the Federation decided that this year, more money was needed to buttress those allocations.
“The waiting list was much longer this year and the Jewish Agency this year put more of a priority on getting every single kid who was eligible to go to the camp … off of the waiting list,” Salzman said. “They felt like the need was more acute, the need was more critical this year, and we agreed with them.”
Salzman, who lived in Israel for 12 years, said the ever-present wail of sirens can terrify the entire population, especially children.
“Their entire summers have been ruined by missile attacks on almost a daily basis, sometimes several times a day,” Salzman said. “I can’t imagine the trauma, the toll that it takes on young children.”
The camp provides a range of activities to help the children gain resilience and improve mental and emotional well-being.
Campers travel to attractions around Israel, including the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem and the Superland amusement park in Rishon LeZion. They also have the opportunity to converse with other children who have experienced similar trauma.
To be eligible for the camp, children must be between 6 and 16, be recognized by the Israeli government as a victim of terror or have an immediate family member who has been recognized, and experience “continuous and prolonged” PTSD as a result of an attack, according to a summary of the camp released by the Jewish Agency.
The Agency also provides financial support for victims of terrorism, both through immediate grants in the aftermath of attacks to help replace basic necessities, as well as long-term funding to help victims overcome trauma and gain employment. Both Arab and Jewish Israelis can receive grants.
Salzman said the Federation’s long-standing commitment to Israel prompted them to lend support to the campers.
“Our Federation is highly committed to Israel, to our relationship with Israel,” Salzman said. “This is something that really pulled on our heartstrings and we felt that if we can come up with the money, then we need to.” PJC