NEW YORK (JTA) – Community support is vital for victims of Sandy, the head of the Israel Trauma Coalition told a symposium on helping those still reeling from the superstorm.
Talia Levanon, the coalition’s director, at the Nov. 15 symposium at UJA-Federation of New York headquarters touched on some ways that communities should help those who are suffering from the storm, which was among the worst ever in the New York metropolitan area. Three weeks since Sandy, thousands are displaced and homeless, and tens of thousands are still without power.
“There are a lot stress and emotions that come with weather-related trauma. I’ve seen it firsthand in Sri Lanka and Haiti,” Levanon told JTA after the symposium. “People are unstable, physically and emotionally, they deal with fear and anger and are unsure if they can take care of themselves. Community support is what will help pull them together.”
Levanon said not to put a time frame on expected recovery for trauma victims, but added that a strong community will help people feel in control, since their lives have been disrupted.
Levanon spoke on the importance of sharing useful information, like where to find food, shelter, medicine and counseling, and suggested leaders make informational fliers to keep everyone informed.
“We need to work with people on a local level," she said. "If you are coming in to help a community, make sure to include the voices of people living locally. They know the people, they will know what is needed.”
Levanon also emphasized business continuity and said volunteers should be working to get businesses reopened.
“When businesses close, the morale is very low. We see this in Israel when areas are paralyzed from fear of terrorism,” she said. “Try and find a way to get them open so their life’s social continuity will be restored.”
Many at the symposium spoke of the trauma they had seen.
“It’s nice to see how many have volunteered for the community. But then what? When they disappear, it is us who have to pick up the pieces,” said Ali Gheith of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, who spoke before Levanon. “Some communities in New York have been tight knit and can help each other, but there are others who have suffered serious trauma and they need us.”
Gheith warned the crowd not to make any false promises, since the amount of time before people return to their routines is unknown.
With many families who have lost their homes, cars and personal belongings, along with family photos and memories, Levanon said it was especially important to treat victims of the hurricane with kindness.