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Israeli kids in emotional distress aided by New York-based Ohel organization

Recent study indicates that 84% of Israeli children suffer from emotional distress since Oct. 7 attacks

The N.Y.-based Ohel translated books on emotional wellness into Hebrew for Israeli children who are coping with aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks. Credit: Courtesy of Ohel.
The N.Y.-based Ohel translated books on emotional wellness into Hebrew for Israeli children who are coping with aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks. Credit: Courtesy of Ohel.

Israeli children suffering from emotional distress following Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attacks are receiving help from an unlikely place: Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services, a Jewish organization based in Brooklyn, N.Y., that since 1969 has provided American children with mental-health support.

The organization recently translated to Hebrew, printed and distributed in Israel two of its successful workbooks for children about emotional resilience, resources that have already has helped thousands of children in the New York area by generating emotional openness and discourse.

The organization’s efforts on behalf of Israeli children developed after a study conducted by the Israeli Pediatric Association found that 84% of Israeli children suffer from emotional distress due to the Oct. 7 attacks. The study concluded that 93% of children directly affected by the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks and the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip are having emotional difficulties, with 69% of them suffering from anxiety. Ninety percent of children living in areas where many incoming-missile sirens are sounded are having emotional difficulties.

A workbook for elementary-school students to help process their emotions was translated into Hebrew after Oct. 7. Credit: Courtesy of Ohel

Israel has a significant shortage of mental-health providers for children. The workbooks thus constitute a therapeutic tool for children given too few mental-health professionals to handle this increased need.

The workbooks’ authors, Tzivy Reiter, L.C.S.W., Ohel’s director of children’s and national-trauma services, and Dr. Naomi Baum, Ph.D., from Israel, called the books a unique way to help Israeli children without the direct involvement of mental-health professionals. Teachers and parents can guide the children in reading and discussing the books.

“The workbooks enable children to talk about their feelings and create an appropriate starting point for the teachers to start a conversation with the children about the current situation,” Reiter explained. “For many of the teaching staff without training in mental-health provision, and for the children themselves, it’s difficult to discuss the current, complex situation together. The workbooks make it much easier to start a conversation.”

Teachers at an Israeli preschool use a workbook from Ohel, a N.Y.-based organization, to help children process their emotions after Oct. 7. Credit: Courtesy of Ohel

Ohel translated the workbooks into Hebrew, with versions for ultra-Orthodox and secular audiences, and printed tens of thousands of copies at Be’eri Press, the printing company of Kibbutz Be’eri, which suffered the devastating loss of many of its members during the Oct. 7 attack. (The workbooks are also available in Spanish, Arabic and Ukrainian.)

The books are “Inner Space: My Resilience Workbook (for elementary school children) and “I Feel That Way and That’s Okay!” (for preschool children).

“Inner Space: My Resilience Workbook” helps children to identify their strengths and enhances their ability to understand and regulate their emotions by developing coping tools. A companion teacher’s guide contains many supplementary activities for the classroom to integrate skills and concepts from the workbook into practice. 

“I Feel That Way and That’s Okay!” helps children to understand how their bodies experience their emotions. It is an innovative resource that touches on the four cornerstones of healthy development in young children: emotion regulation and co-regulation, attachment, communication and interception. The book helps children to identify and learn to manage their emotions with the help of adults in their lives, laying a strong foundation for building resilience from a very young age. 

“We want to teach our children to recognize their feelings and to embrace them,” said Reiter. “This creates a foundation for understanding and compassion that will last a lifetime. It teaches kids practical tools to identify and manage emotions.”

A book for preschoolers to share their feelings. Credit: Courtesy of Ohel.

David Mandel, the chief executive officer of Ohel, said that the workbooks, while a tremendous helpful start, are not replacements for care provided by mental-health professionals.

Educators have lauded the workbooks, with Israeli teachers saying that the country had lacked a tool of this kind to prompt children to discuss their emotions with teachers and parents. Following are two responses Ohel has received from Israel:

“How do you build immunity for children? How do you mediate a complex, painful and ongoing situation to them? ‘Inner Space: My Resilience Workbook’ is designed to guide educational teams for young children. This booklet is so eye-catching and encourages children to learn the practical tools of resilience,” said a principal in Efrat

“This book is exactly what we need right now,” said a teacher in Jerusalem. “It helps the children to process their emotions, allowing them to project their experiences, as much or as little as they are ready to.”

Responses from American teachers using the English-language resources include the following:

“This curriculum not only helps children understand their feelings, but equips them with valuable skills for navigating their emotions effectively. It’s a journey toward emotional resilience, where acknowledging and dealing with feelings becomes a daily practice for both educators and students,” says Mrs. Mushky Tuvel, principal of the Magen Israel Schools in New York.

“Ohel’s team has created a masterpiece. Ohel’s ‘Inner Space: My Resilience Workbook’ has taken the complex research on trauma and resilience and transformed it into an excellent workbook for elementary-school children. Each page targets another piece of the children’s emotional development, building inner strength and resilience. Our teachers enjoy teaching using the workbook, and our students look forward to their weekly engaging lessons. It is part of our social-emotional learning curriculum in grades 1–3, and I highly recommend it!” says Danit Tayri, director of counseling a the North Shore Hebrew Academy on Long Island, N.Y.

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Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services was founded in 1969 to provide foster care placement for Jewish families. Since then, it has grown into a full-service agency that meets the social and emotional needs of more than 23,000 individuals from all communities.
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