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By MARION FISCHEL

February 6, 2005 -- After three and a half years of seminars held all over the country, the Koby Mandell Foundation last week inaugurated their own clubhouse in Talpiot's Ha'uman Street.

With a staff of three, and an opening-night attendance of 30, the Koby Mandell club will provide bereaved mothers and widows from the greater Jerusalem area with a place of their own and the opportunity to use the strengths they have discovered to help others grapple with grief.

The club is housed in a large conference room. On one side, the walls are covered in panels with a paisley print. On the other side are pictures of the murdered loved ones, painted on cloth.

"It is a place to come to when you are grieving and you can't allow yourself to go shopping or to be with others. But you can allow yourself to come here, where you will be with your peers and be with others who do allow themselves to laugh and smile," says Jackie Goldberg, director of Women's Programs and coordinator of Counseling and Support Services at the Foundation.

"Grief lasts," says Sherry Mandell, whose son, Koby, was murdered in May 2001 in a wadi near the settlement of Teko'a. "People are in pain for a long time. The club gives them something concrete to do with what they have been through, with what they have. Grief is physical, spiritual, psychological and intellectual. In order to get better, you need someone who can help you hold the pain."

She continues, "Regular people look at us with pity, they are afraid, they don't see the whole person anymore. By getting together you don't feel you are the only one struck by lighting."

Instead of lectures and social evenings offered by other support groups, the Koby Mandell Club will offer body work and various classes, providing what Goldberg calls a "unique psycho-therapeutic support group twist."

Although many of the women are native English speakers, the club's activities are held in Hebrew. Many of the attendees appear to be modern Orthodox, but the club is open to all, irrespective of religious observance or political affiliation.

"We are trying to heal," says Mandell, who says that although she founded the Koby Mandell Foundation after her son was murdered, she attends the sessions like any other mother.

"Women come in very broken and we give them tools for healing," she says. "Healing comes from relationships. We turn them into givers. Healing starts when you take the pain and turn it into something you can grow from."

The club's program is called GINA (Garden) with the initials standing for guf (body), neshama (soul), yahad (together), and - in English - healing.

The three main pillars and regular activities of the club are yoga, spirituality and peer telephone-support training.

In addition to these, all the women are encouraged to share their individual talents with the group. For example, one mother will be providing cooking lessons and another, Iris Yehiye, is offering art therapy.

Yehiye had never been involved in art until she was en-couraged to make a collage during an art therapy session on a Koby Mandell Foundation seminar after the death of her daughter Yafit, who was murdered in her home in Mehora in August 2002. She is now in her second year at the Musrara School of Art.

"It started because I didn't know what to do," recalls Yehiye. "It was winter, a cold dark day and a dark day in my soul too. I went to back to bed and I wanted to die. After several hours in my darkened room, I finally told myself I had to carry on. I got up and began pacing like a lion in a cage. Then I went over to the photograph of Yafit and I said to her, 'Yafit help me, I want to die, but I don't want to, I have other children, a husband, grandchildren,' I picked up a pencil and drew Yafit's eyes."

This led to other - surprising - drawings reflecting her state of mind. Yehiye's social services counselor encouraged her to sign up for art school and she has now had an exhibition of 30 paintings and also works in sculpture.

Yehiye feels that by offering to share what she has developed she doesn't have to think about the pain for a while.

She sees the club as important because "we feel that we can be ourselves, we can cry, we can shout and no one will look askance."

The yoga classes are provided by Zehava Gilmor, mother of Eish-Kodesh, who was killed in East Jerusalem in October 2000.

The spirituality workshops, based on Hassidic teachings, are taught by Picki Aptor, mother of Noam, killed in Yeshivat Otnielin 2000. The focus of the workshops is learning how to incorporate positive behavioral patterns in order to grow holistically. They are based on each woman's individual spiritual needs and the tragedies they have suffered.

"When Picki Aptor's son was killed, that vehicle, [of hassidut and Jewish learning] gave her strength in places she thought there would be none," says Goldberg.

Aptor developed the course in order to share what she had learned with other bereaved women.

Since one of the main goals of the club is to help the women give to others, a course is available for those who wish to train to offer peer support via the telephone.

As the meetings progress, the staff will decide if, and how, to divide up a list of bereaved women among the trainees in order to phone them regularly.

Funds for the club and the seminars are raised by volunteers.

The Koby Mandell Foundation clubhouse is located at Rehov Ha'uman 18, Talpiot. For details call: 02-648-3758.