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One Family: Israel's Pearl Maker

May 9, 2009 | by

Out of every evil force there is a counterforce of good. Case in point: The OneFamily Fund.

An oyster forms a pearl from the dirt that infiltrates its shell; it is nature's consummate pearl maker. The Jewish people are mankind's ultimate pearl maker, making pearls from the evil inflicted by modern day terrorism. And the OneFamily Fund, which devotes itself to assisting victims of terror and their families in Israel, is just one pearl maker.

Since September 2000, a deep wail has filled the land of Israel -- the wail of ambulance sirens, of parents who have lost children, of children now orphaned. 1,038 mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, sons and daughters, children, and pregnant women, have been buried here -- their blood flowing from the murderous hands of the terrorists. More Israelis have been murdered by terrorists in the last four years than in all 52 previous years of Israel's statehood. In addition to those frightening numbers, another 6,950 have been injured in these attacks, and of those survivors, over 2000 will live with permanent physical disabilities as a constant, ceaseless reminder (as if there needs to be one) of the evil of terror. At the date of this writing, 770 Israeli children have lost one or both parents in terror attacks.

The OneFamily Fund, founded by the Belzberg family three years ago, has succeeded in raising and distributing over $10.5 million to more than 2200 survivors of terror and their families. OneFamily's success lies in the belief that anyone, anywhere can rally to this cause and contribute any piece of good he or she wishes to offer. OneFamily provides every type of service from financial needs, legal advice, emotional counseling, physical therapy, and the simple therapeutic message that these heroes and their families are not forgotten; each of these individuals is , significant, and loved.

Through OneFamily, we have been able to witness the greatness of our courage, the largesse of our desire to give to one another, and the reminder that, no matter what differentiates us, we are all one majestic family.

Birth of the OneFamily Fund

Chantal's daughter determined to donate the funds set aside for her Bat Mitzvah party to help Israel's victims of terror, and OneFamily was born.

Out of every evil force there is a counterforce of good. The birth of OneFamily was just such a counterforce. In August, 2001, while in Los Angeles, Chantal Belzberg (who is being honored at this year's Aish HaTorah dinner in Jerusalem) received a call from her brother that there had been a pigua, an attack in Jerusalem. At the time, the family was planning to return to Israel where they live and hold a big celebration for their daughter's Bat Mitzvah. Instead, Chantal's daughter determined, with great conviction, to donate the funds set aside for her Bat Mitzvah party to help Israel's victims of terror. Out of this noble generosity, OneFamily was born.

At first the Belzbergs, with newly appointed director Avihu Cohen, who himself lost his father to terrorism, and a few volunteers in tow, investigated what services the Israeli government was able to provide to the survivors. They quickly learned that the assistance was incomplete. And so they began, visiting survivors in hospitals and homes,

“That first year," says Chantal, "there were bombings every other day. We were running from home to home, determined to pick up where Bituach Leumi (the National Insurance Institute of Israel) left off.”

Year Round Activities

OneFamily holds activities practically every day of the year to strengthen, assist, and encourage recovery. OneFamily's staff and volunteers organize workshops, retreats and support groups all around the country.

Intensive two to three day workshops are conducted with professional psychologists which save months of therapy.

The organization also hosts retreats twice a year for widows and widowers, bereaved parents, and those wounded in the attacks. Popsy Leibler, Director of OneFamily's Social Services, recalls the impact of such events through the eyes of one attendee, "I thought I was alone, and then I looked around and saw all of these people going through the same thing -- it was unbearable. I wanted to run away. But I was so happy that I didn't leave. I gasped when I realized how many -- 200 parents, and it wasn't even one-fifth of all of us -- and we are all suffering the same blows."

Due to the diversity of participants in any given event, OneFamily strives to be all-inclusive. "No one should be left out, and everyone should feel good. Religious, secular, and from any and all backgrounds are welcome," Chantal affirms.

Bereaved parents, unwittingly, often overlook the trauma experienced by their surviving children in the grip of their mourning. OneFamily's response has been to focus on repairing the mental health of these younger children. The Youth Division of OneFamily has established camps during the summer and on Sukkot, Chanukah, and Pesach to bolster the recovery of the most critically traumatized children.

In a desire to enrich these activities, Youth Director Michael Sabbag decided to add an additional element to the program last summer. The children were taught that they, too, can nurture. They provided assistance to people in wheelchairs, the poor, and soldiers.

Communities and individuals around the world are also taking part in providing assistance, including donating financial aid, to specific survivors through the Adopt-A-Family program as well as the twinning of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.

For a Bar Mitzvah boy in Afula who had never traveled to the Kotel, such support enabled him to celebrate while making his dream come true. OneFamily, through the generous donation of a parent from the Mirrer Yeshivah, brought 65 guests for the event.

The most urgent need of those affected in terror attacks consists of the day-to-day expenses that often go unnoticed.

In addition to the great value of these types of donations, the most urgent need of those affected in terror attacks consists of the day-to-day expenses that often go unnoticed, such as the need for an air conditioner, mortgage payment or the payment of an electric bill. "Seventy percent of what we provide is financial assistance -- between $75,000 to $100,000 every two weeks," Chantal estimates (these distributions are made by OneFamily's allocation committee). In answer to these prayers for financial assistance, a generous donor, in honor of his daughter's Bat Mitzvah, has offered to establish "OneFamily's Doorways of Israel", a fund dedicated to such household needs.

There is also an Orphans' Fund (OneFamily is currently attempting to raise $30 million for this fund
) and a Simcha Fund established in cooperation with the website, to provide financial assistance to survivors and their families for simchas, such as a brit, wedding, and other joyous events.

Donors can designate exactly how they want their services or money to be donated -- toward a pair of glass eyes, a leak in the roof, or a computer for a disabled child -- it goes exactly where requested.

There is also the constant need for legal assistance -- to recoup from Bituach Leumi the funds to which the wounded are entitled for the loss of an eye, an arm, or other physical handicap. This process, particularly for someone so physically and mentally defeated, is daunting, and OneFamily's legal counsel, Mickey Weinberg, provides invaluable counseling and assistance in this battle.

As these heroes and their families try to survive physically and mentally from the devastation, the holidays can prove especially empty. OneFamily strives to fill this void in providing both financial and emotional assistance.

"Every holiday we do something; the survivors and their families have come to anticipate something from us," says Dan Cohen. "On Rosh Hashanah, we send jars of honey and cakes. On Sukkot we held a whole day event in the Botanical Gardens with 1200 participants. For Chanukah, we held a four-day camp in Eilat for the Youth Division. We also organized candle-lighting events and Chanuka parties for the bereaved families and for the wounded."

Modern Day Heroes

Of all the pearls that make up OneFamily, the most inspiring ones are of the heroic survivors and the families themselves. There are so many poignant stories that reflect the light of those lost, each with its own song of inspiration. There is the story of the Sephardic family who donated a Sefer Torah in honor of their son, who was murdered in an attack, to an Ashkenazi shul located near their own. The Sefer Torah was provided by an Ashkenazi shul in the United States. Interestingly, as the hand of Divine Providence so often works, this particular hero had saved the shul from burning to the ground the previous Lag B'Omer.

There is also the story of the Bolivian immigrant child who became a surgeon only to have his eyes damaged in a terror attack. He has nobly retrained himself as a psychotherapist. Or the story of the soldier who lost his eyes and suffered severe permanent hearing damage from the force of a bomb -- he is attending university and desperately trying, through the help of funds to be raised, God willing, by OneFamily, to gather enough money to purchase an apartment. (He has already experienced two robberies in his current apartment.) There is the story of the woman who underwent 15 years of fertility treatments to be blessed with her beautiful child, Afik, murdered at the age of four when a Kassam rocket struck him in Sderot as she was walking with him to his preschool.

There are so many more lost lights along the way, and each story is more heart-wrenching than the last; the sorrow is practically unbearable.

OneFamily's Vision and Challenge.

"The greatest sense of nachas is the tremendous worldwide outpouring of support from Jews everywhere," Chantal emphasizes. Although, by her own admission, Chantal had initially thought that OneFamily would offer a temporary solution, she and the staff have come to understand that the desperate need for help continues well after the bomb has exploded. The gravest danger facing OneFamily and the world at large is the sense that these attacks are routine. "Thank God, we are not running as much as we did in the beginning as the attacks have lessened, but our assistance is more needed than ever."

OneFamily's future plans include the development of a OneFamily Center to serve as a "home away from home" for the families, that will contain workshops, therapeutic classes, and other activities. The center would include a 24 hour hotline with an emergency walk-in center and a trained staff who are willing to listen at all hours, and, of course, of utmost importance, a place to turn for financial assistance.

As with every valiant and inspirational dream, funds are needed to navigate the hope into reality. OneFamily is currently seeking a significant donor who is interested in naming this home and providing untold good to those so in need of it.

A drop of light disperses the darkness. Today, in the midst of so much normal daily stress which afflicts us all, it is sometimes difficult to focus outward -- to see that we have each other, and that each of us, regardless of, or maybe because of, our own perceived gifts and weaknesses, has intrinsic, unquantifiable value in the eyes of the ultimate Creator who formed us. We are made in His image -- giving, kind, and compassionate. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes the devastation of a terrorist assault to remind us of our ultimate mission to spread light to the world and dissipate the darkness. Together we are one family, the consummate pearl maker.

Dedicated to the memory of all the victims of terror and their families.

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