For Young Victim of Terror Attack, Summer Camp Helps Heals Wounds

More than a year has passed since 8-year-old Yaniv Amousha was wounded in a suicide bombing at the central bus station in his hometown Hadera.

But there are still nights, especially following terrorist attacks in Israel, when the nightmares return and Yaniv asks to sleep with his parents, says his mother, Tova Amousha.

“The physical recovery was easy, but the emotional recovery has been very hard,” she told JTA.

But this summer, a day camp funded by the United Jewish Communities’ Israel Emergency Campaign helped Yaniv’s emotional recovery.

“It was something else,” Amousha says of the three-week day camp program, which ended in July. “Every day, he came home with a different story He had such a good time. They went to the pool, played games, he had a great time.”

Yaniv was playing soccer in a field adjacent to Hadera’s central bus station on May 25, 2001, when a car pulled alongside a public bus and blew up. The two terrorists inside the car were killed and 45 people were wounded in the attack. The force of the blast destroyed a wall surrounding the soccer field, and Yaniv was injured in the chin and chest by flying stones.

While the physical injuries healed, the emotional ones did not.

“He internalized everything, he didn’t want to talk about it,” Tova Amousha says.

The boy’s behavior changed as well. When September rolled around, Yaniv did not want to sign up again for soccer or any other extracurricular activity. He refused to be left alone.

When he would shower, he would ask one of his parents to pull a chair into the bathroom to keep him company. Yaniv shares a bedroom in the family’s home with his two younger sisters, Leital and Zohar, and “I think he prefers the company,” his mother says.

Worried by their son’s behavior, Yaniv’s parents, Tova and David Amousha, sought out professional help to deal with the trauma.

At the same time, Yaniv’s parents wondered how they would deal with the upcoming summer break. The family lives on what David Amousha earns in a factory and could not afford to send Yaniv to day camp.

It was then that Tova Amousha’s sister mentioned the subsidized municipal day camp being offered in their area. Amousha immediately signed Yaniv up for the camp, which turned out to be a summer highlight in more ways than one.

Most importantly, Amousha says, the camp’s supportive environment helped her son reclaim some of the self-confidence and independence he lost as a result of the attack.

“It opened him up more. It gave him freedom to be on his own and deal with other kids. He went to the pool on his own, did all of these things for the first time without the family.”

The day camp Yaniv attended was part of a country-wide program funded this summer with a $25 million grant from the Israel Emergency Campaign.

The campaign, launched by the UJC and federations across North America, has already raised nearly $300 million to offset security, medical, child welfare and other humanitarian needs in Israel. The funding is administered by a committee of representatives from the UJC, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Israeli government and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

The $25 million donation for the “Summer Experience” camp program was aimed at providing a safe recreational framework for Israeli children.

Project organizers estimate that as a result of the financial assistance offered to families, participation in municipal day camps was tripled this year.

Some 260,000 children in grades one through six attended the day camps, which were funded with $20 million of the donation. The JDC, Israel’s Education Ministry and the Union of Local Authorities operated the camps.

The remaining $5 million was used for summer programs for special needs children and at-risk youths, and served 40,000 children throughout the country.

The camps were located around the country, with a special emphasis on areas particularly vulnerable to terrorist attacks, including Jerusalem, Afula, Hadera, Netanya and Kfar Saba.

The camps aimed to reach as many Israeli children as possible. They were not geared specifically towards youths who had been involved in terrorist attacks. But counselors were briefed on how to act in an emergency situation, as well as how to facilitate a discussion should children raise concerns.

Most of all, the counselors were trained to help the kids have fun.

Asked what his favorite activity at camp was, Yaniv’s answer is definitive.

“I liked the pool days best,” he says. “I learned to swim.”

Professionals who work with children who have suffered post-traumatic stress syndrome say an important part of recovery is maintaining a regular routine, instilling self-confidence in the child and reinforcing the sense that they are safe.

A summer camp experience can help kids forget pressures and fears, says Jackie Weinberg, head of school psychological services for Hadera.

“A child goes to summer camp, he’s taught to feel he’s a normal child who can play and not worry about anything happening to himself,” Weinberg says. “Kids go to camp, they forget about everything. It’s not school, not exams, no pressure. They just have a good time.”

Tova Amousha still sees the aftereffects of the terrorist attack in her son’s daily behavior. But slowly, things are improving.

“It takes time,” she says.

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