The stress, anxiety, and apprehension were evident in the community and the Parents at the Center team in Haifa, as it was felt by Israeli residents all over. Starting from that lethal day, Oct. 7, 2023, we all entered a state of existential anxiety and conducted ourselves in a state of absolute uncertainty.

The Parents at the Center team immediately engaged in emergency efforts from the first day of the war.

From the start, already on the first day following the difficult Shabbat, a conversation emerged in the Parents at the Center WhatsApp groups, initiated by community members who wanted to help collect donations. The team listened to this initiative, established contact with organizations and centers that had taken in families escaping from the border area due to dire circumstances, and created a donation collection form. The team worked diligently, collecting numerous donations from our families in accordance with the specific needs expressed by the evacuees. The collected items included baby supplies, baby food, clothing, strollers, car seats, baby baths, and more. These donations were sorted and meticulously organized by volunteer parents in the community. Subsequently, the donations were delivered to the centers accommodating the displaced families.

Due to the prohibition on gatherings at the Parents at the Center facility, as there is no proper sheltered space, we started a wide array of initiatives that continue to this day.

We organized online sessions with the children. We prepared play dough that was colorful and enjoyable for children, and we distributed it in kits along with craft materials and activity instructions for parents, considering the situation and the children’s needs. The feedback for this initiative was fantastic. It provided a peaceful and therapeutic time for children to play with the pleasant and unique play dough.

We provide telephone support and stay in touch with many families from our community, making phone calls, providing guidance to parents, collecting necessary items, connecting them to therapeutic services when needed, and more. Additionally, we conduct urgent home visits for families, meeting parents and children individually.

In order to reach everyone, we prepared a dedicated file for collecting community needs. Families fill out this file, and we assist them according to their needs, connecting them to other organizations as well. Among the requests that came in, we encountered parents who were overwhelmed due to their spouse’s or sons’ recruitment to the reserve service, families experiencing food shortages, and even requests for assistance in filling out forms in Russian, asking basic questions about the meaning of the situation during the war and what is allowed and prohibited in these times.

In addition, throughout this time, we lead donation drives with the community to support residents of the border area, providing a platform for the coordination of these donation efforts through our Parents Leadership Forum.

Due to restrictions on gathering in groups, we have organized a variety of Zoom meetings for the community. These meetings include storytelling sessions, accompanied by gift packages that parents collect before the meetings. We have conducted discussion sessions for mothers who have faced challenging circumstances and severe anxiety. Mothers share their experiences in dealing with these challenges and, with the guidance of a facilitator, assist each other in overcoming their fears. There have also been discussions for fathers, including those serving in the military within the conflict zone. Furthermore, we’ve established a therapy group for women dealing with postpartum depression in partnership with Rambam Medical Center.

Another initiative involves connecting with refugees from the northern part of the country, by the Lebanese border. We are in contact with families who have given birth while fleeing from the north. We provide support and emotional assistance, as well as the necessary equipment when needed. We have also organized communal relaxation activities for parents and children who have escaped from the border and are staying in a hotel in the city. These activities have been highly valuable and have provided a space for dialogue and ventilation for many participating families, involving a significant number of families in each event. The Parents Leadership Forum is involved in this activity as well.

Unique aspects of working with refugees:

The refugees residing in various hotels and accommodations throughout Haifa are people who have been uprooted from their homes along the border with Lebanon and do not know if they will ever feel safe returning to their homes.

Our initial visit to Hotel Dan Carmel, a place we were accustomed to attending for galas celebrating CJP’s Boston-Haifa Connection, was a difficult and sad experience. We found ourselves holding crying infants of mothers in distress, feeding the babies, and providing parents with some time for parenting guidance and emotional support. Everything happened spontaneously, driven by the profound need that emerged immediately, tearing our hearts.

There were concerns about whether they would ever be able to return home, the deep-seated fear of living so close to the border, and the fear of being helpless. Basic questions arose, such as how to explain to the children why they couldn’t go back home, whether to tell them the truth, and how to manage sleepless nights and maintain functionality amidst such prolonged uncertainty and insecurity.

We began to provide services to support the refugee community, including:

  • Interactive and therapeutic activities for parents and children in the afternoon in collaboration with our Parents Leadership Forum, which dedicated themselves to the task with love.
  • Morning activities for parents and toddlers under the guidance of our team.
  • Training and guidance for youth from the Rabin Pre-Military Academy, who volunteered with infants during the morning hours.

In the future, we plan to organize parent support groups and offer various meetings for parents after giving birth.

All of this activity, which is essential and blessed, is carried out alongside our regular activities with our own community, within the strange emergency routine we have found ourselves in. The meaning is that we have significant workloads, far beyond our normal capacities, in order to provide assistance and support to all those in need.

As always, we are ready to go above and beyond to provide assistance to anyone in need.

Galit Yerushalmi is director of Parents at the Center, a nationally recognized model for parental engagement and early childhood, developed in Haifa and expanded throughout Israel.