The support group for the mothers of Jerusalem’s Beit Hakerem neighborhood began with two families making repeated trips to their apartment building’s bomb shelter on the morning of Oct. 7.
“There was a new family that just moved in and we didn’t really know them. A young couple with two little children” Dana Miller recalled. “The third time we went to the shelter, her husband wasn’t there. So I asked where he was and she told me he was notified to report for [IDF] reserve duty right away. Her face was frightened about what would happen.”
That encounter set in motion a community-wide effort to help the community’s mothers—women whose husbands are now fighting and who are taking care of children alone.
“There’s a WhatsApp group called The Mothers of Beit Hakerem and I’m one of the admins. So all the admins, we started to think about how we could help the mothers in the group. We decided to start off with a ‘Hi, how are you?’ and ask the mothers if they’re OK, if they’re alone, if their men went to reserve duty, and this how we started,” Miller explained.
The WhatsApp group has 110 families. Besides women whose men went to the army, there are mothers who gave birth in the past month, single mothers, and mothers who work in critical jobs, such as doctors.
“There’s no school, so we help the mothers with babysitting, food, shopping or having company, another woman just to be with them when they’re alone and have a cup of coffee,” Miller said.
The whole community mobilized, and not just the mothers. Teenagers not in school are helping take care of children. Husbands are delivering freshly cooked food or groceries.
Miller added, “We realized we need to make fun entertainment from time to time because of the stress, so we contacted the manager of the community center and started to make activities like workshops for children and entertainment. For the women, we’re doing meetings with therapists, giving massages, things like that. This week, we encouraged the mothers to initiate meetings amongst themselves.”
‘If you need anything, please let us know’
Bella Kamins was the mother sharing the bomb shelter with Miller that fateful morning.
“The minute that my husband, Hezy, left, Dana and our other neighbor, Adi, messaged me and called me and they said if you need anything, please let us know,” Kamins said.
“From that Saturday, we got so much help with dinner, with babysitting. We had different activities for the kids because you can imagine not having your husband home. The whole country’s in a war, everything’s closed off,” she said.
Constantly being home with children ages 1 and 3 is challenging, Kamins said.
“Your kids are home and you’re trying to emotionally be there for your kids and for yourself. The women of the community were absolutely on. They made sure my kids were taken care of,” she said.
At the beginning of the war, Kamins explained, she didn’t leave her apartment for several days. But the Mothers group began organizing arts and crafts activities, “And my kids were out of the house for the first time. And they had this huge smile to see other kids there,” she recalled.
Taking care of each other has tightened the community bonds.
“Behind every soldier, behind every hostage who was taken, behind every person that was murdered, is that each of them has a family,” said Sharon Douek Haronian, one of the mothers organizing help.
“And especially the soldiers who are now in reserve duty, their wives, their sisters, their mothers are taking care of the children in the home. And not only making sure that the house is running but [they] are trying their hardest to stay emotionally, mentally, spiritually stable,” Haronian added.
Miller explained that “some mothers feel ashamed that they need help and they had to make a kind of switch that it’s okay to be helped in tough days. After they opened themselves up to get help, both sides feel beneficial things. It’s fulfilling to give and it doesn’t matter what kind of thing you give.
“The most important thing is that the mothers feel like they are hugged by the community. I want to make sure they’re not feeling alone,” Miller said.