Israeli visitors tour welfare facilities
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Israeli visitors tour welfare facilities

You’re 50 years ahead," said Irit Bosudan after touring Gilda’s Club in Hackensack on Tuesday. "I hope what I see here I can try to do in Israel, too."

Bosudan, the social work assistant manager for Nahariya, Israel, is one of five social workers from that city who landed in Bergen County on Monday as part of the Partnership ‘000 Social Workers’ Delegation. Hosted by UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, the group has spent the week touring social, medical, and psychological welfare facilities like Gilda’s Club, CareOne rehabilitation center in Teaneck, and Jewish Family Service to share their experiences and learn from their American counterparts.

In Nahariya, the welfare department is run by the government, so its programs are dictated by available government resources and the security situation. The government focuses more on people’s physical well-being than on their mental health, Bosudan told The Jewish Standard Tuesday. The mental health programs that do exist in Israel focus mainly on trauma stemming from terrorism or war. Programs like Gilda’s Club that deal with the mental health of cancer patients, for example, do not exist, she said. "It makes me a little sad all the time, putting resources to dealing with trauma and war."

The Israeli contingent was also scheduled to visit the therapeutic nursery at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, the trauma workshop at CareOne of Teaneck, Bergen Regional Hospital, and Hackensack University Medical Center. After visiting Cancer Care in Ridgewood and Caf? Europa (a social group for Holocaust survivors sponsored by Jewish Family and Children’s Service of North Jersey) on Monday, Chana Cohen, a social worker in the dialysis unit of Nahariya’s Western Galilee Hospital, said she was impressed by the hospitality shown to the group.

"It’s very interesting to meet social workers here and realize we’re dealing with the same issues," she said.

After meeting the Israelis on Tuesday, Lenore Guido, program director of Gilda’s Club, said Israel’s emphasis on medical care to the exclusion of non-trauma related mental health care gave her a new perspective on her own work.

"It’s encouraging that what we’re doing [here] is an important thing," she said.

This week’s trip is one of many resulting from the partnership between UJA-NNJ and Nahariya, now in its fourth year. During the Second Lebanon War in ‘006, UJA-NNJ contributed a large percentage of the funds it raised through the Israel Emergency Campaign directly to the city, which was a frequent target of Hezbollah rockets.

"During the war we had many calls from Partnership," Bosudan said. "It was something really special for us to know there are people here willing to support us."

The support goes both ways, said Bernard Hammer, chair of the Partnership ‘000 Community Task Force. The visiting social workers are a prime example, he continued.

The partnership program "strengthens the personal bonds between the people involved with the partnership here and the people involved with the partnership there," said Hammer. "These people in particular, who are more experienced in dealing with trauma, have a lot to say and teach us."

While they may not have as much training dealing with the psychological needs of cancer patients, they are very knowledgeable about dealing with trauma victims, he said, noting that differences in Israeli trauma reactions include not separating families in hospitals and making sure that victims who are in shock walk into the hospital under their own power rather than on a stretcher or a wheelchair.

"It was so logical if you think about it," said Hammer, himself a psychotherapist. In particular, he said, Israelis have much to teach Americans about post-traumatic stress, which is becoming a much more common ailment as U.S. soldiers return from Iraq.

Through the partnership, he said, North Jersey and Israelis professionals are able to share their different techniques and to do much more. For Sabach Bibar, an Israeli Druze and a trauma specialist at Western Galilee Hospital, part of her week has been spent answering questions about the Druze community.

"I’m excited to know people in America are interested in the Druze community," she said.

The entire experience goes beyond just the professional benefits, added Hammer, who was pleased to see Bibar so open in answering questions about the Druze. "This partnership is really becoming some form of family."

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