Providing a Refuge for Youth in Challenging Times
By: Nativia Samuelsen
For many of the families in Israel, the scars from the terror of the October 7 massacre are still very raw.
Having to be displaced from their homes to hotels, most families share cramped quarters in one or two rooms, with very little space for privacy. The youth find themselves struggling with uncertainty, their sense of security is shattered, and their education is severely disrupted.
In response to the youth’s emotional needs, the ICEJ provided a pop-up site in Maale HaChamisha, a community that is offering a haven of safety in this uncertain time.
Set up as a tent; the site gives youth an opportunity to retreat into their own space to enjoy evening meals and fun group activities, as well as on-site counseling. This pop-up site provides them with a chance to be a teenager.
Stepping into the tent, the laughter-filled chatter instantly calms you, and the comforting aroma of a freshly cooked meal welcomes you into what feels like a home. But beyond these joy-filled sounds and scenes, these young ones bear heavy burdens, wearing smiles over chipped hearts.
Nati, the social worker, told us: “Every day they live on the same hotel food in the same cramped rooms with no privacy, having no set routine, all while facing absence from school and having friends and family scattered to other places. Not only this, but many have lost loved ones in the October 7th attack or in the fighting. The toll this situation is taking on their mental health is both real and significant, leading to problematic behaviors like vandalism, drinking, and in some cases even drug use.”
“We need to work on setting boundaries, as youth are given a lot of freedom and no curfews. Efforts are being made to provide trauma counselling and to entertain the evacuees through various activities. However, events such as a wine and cheese night for their parents can also sometimes serve as an easy opportunity for unsupervised drinking among the youth,” Nati continues.
“The situation is shifting now as families slowly begin to relocate, often without knowing if this is a more permanent goodbye or if they will reconnect with the community later. Sometimes, the teenagers may be allowed to stay in the hotel with friends, or they may need to say a quick goodbye to friends who are an important support network in difficult times with little advance notice.”
“There are approximately 12,000 evacuated youths considered ‘at-risk’, urgently requiring emotional support. Therapists and social workers are provided at each of the hotels that house the evacuees to help with their emotional or mental health needs. Yet, they tend to cater to the needs of the elderly and adults, and the youth thrive in the informal settings which are less addressed by these professionals.”
Looking around the tent, it was apparent that these teens desired a safe space where they could connect and share heart-to-heart with each other. Everything they trusted in has been shaken and trying to deal with unprecedented and difficult circumstances is taking its toll. Therefore, creating a cozy and familiar place, especially for them, finally gives them somewhere to breathe, process, and start feeling secure in themselves again.
The ICEJ is privileged to support the 50-80 youth from the south of Israel who come each day to this oasis we have provided. Backed by trained staff, this grassroots initiative gives hope to youth who have been wounded by the atrocities they have seen and heard. Through this, we can restore their well-being and mental health while building up these Gen Z Israelis into champions of resilience and strength.
Help us provide Israelis with the necessary care and support during this difficult time.