In Sandy’s wake
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In Sandy’s wake

Community support is vital for victims of Sandy, the head of the Israel Trauma Coalition told a symposium on helping those still reeling from the superstorm.

The coalition is among the four recipients of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s fundraising initiative.

At the symposium – held at the headquarters of UJA-Federation of New York on Nov. 15 – the coalition’s director, Talia Levanon, touched on some ways that communities should help people who are suffering from the storm. Three weeks since Sandy – among the worst storms ever to hit the tristate area – thousands were displaced and homeless, and tens of thousands still were without power.

“There are a lot stress and emotions that come with weather-related trauma. I’ve seen it firsthand in Sri Lanka and Haiti,” Levanon said after the symposium. “People are unstable, physically and emotionally; they deal with fear and anger and are unsure if they can take care of themselves. Community support is what will help pull them together.”

Levanon said not to put a time frame on expected recovery for trauma victims, but added that a strong community will help people feel that they have some control over their lives.

Levanon talked about the importance of sharing useful information, including where to find food, shelter, medicine, and counseling, and suggested leaders make informational fliers to keep everyone informed.

“We need to work with people on a local level,” she said. “If you are coming in to help a community, make sure to include the voices of people living locally. They know the people, they will know what is needed.”

Levanon also emphasized business continuity and said volunteers should be working to get businesses reopened.

“When businesses close, the morale is very low. We see this in Israel when areas are paralyzed from fear of terrorism,” she said. “Try and find a way to get them open so their life’s social continuity will be restored.”

Many at the symposium spoke of the trauma they had seen.

“It’s nice to see how many have volunteered for the community. But then what? When they disappear, it is us who have to pick up the pieces,” said Ali Gheith of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, who spoke before Levanon. “Some communities in New York have been tight knit and can help each other, but there are others who have suffered serious trauma and they need us.”

Gheith warned the crowd not to make any false promises, because it’s impossible to know how long it will take people to return to their routines.

With many families who have lost their homes, cars and personal belongings, along with family photos and memories, Levanon said it was especially important to treat victims of the hurricane with kindness.

JTA Wire Service

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