Israeli foundation helps victims of terror
TORONTO - Israelis have experienced more than their share of death and destruction at the hands of terrorists, but for years the feelings that go along with such loss have been suppressed. Today, however, “the country is coming out of an emotional freeze,” said Sherri Mandell, herself the victim of terror. “We’re part of it.”
Mandell, whose son Koby (Yaakov) was bludgeoned to death in a cave near their West Bank home in Tekoa, has created the Koby Mandell Foundation to maintain her son’s memory and to assist others to deal with the loss of loved ones.
“We are speaking a language that they are just beginning to hear – the language of feeling,” she said.
Koby, along with his friend Yosef Ish-Ran, were killed in May 2001 after playing hooky from school and going on a hike in the gorge near Tekoa. They were found in a cave a day later, beaten to death. Dental records were required to identify the bodies.
Needless to say, Sherri Mandell was devastated by her son’s murder. She describes her spiritual journey in coping with the tragedy in The Blessing of a Broken Heart, a work that won the National Jewish Book Award of the Jewish Book Council.
She and her husband Seth set up the Koby Mandell Foundation (www.kobymandell.org), a privately funded organization with a budget of around $1.5 million (US) that operates programs for those who have lost a close family member to terror. She was in Toronto recently to meet with Canadian Friends of the Koby Mandell Foundation, increase the organizations’ profile and to solicit financial aid for its work.
This week she will be in New York for a fundraising dinner that will honour baseball legend Willie Randolph, one of the first black managers in the major leagues.
Koby, who spent many of his early years in the United States, was a baseball fan who idolized Cal Ripken Jr. and who played baseball for a little league team in Tekoa. Ripken, who set the major league record for most consecutive games played, appeared at the first foundation fundraiser a year ago and helped create awareness for the organization.
Mandell was effusive in her admiration for Ripken, saying his participation opened doors that would otherwise have remained shut for the foundation.
Money raised at the Manhattan fundraiser will go to support the organization’s work of providing assistance to those who have suffered personal loss and maintaining “the healing community” established by the foundation.
The foundation operates youth camps during Chanukah and Pesach, with 300 kids attending each session. The camps provide healing activities like hiking, yoga and art therapy and guided imagery therapy. Children have fun while learning to express their emotions.
Other foundation programs include a mother’s retreat, a family healing retreat, a big brother/big sister program, and a young adult friendship program.
“Children,” Mandell said, “really are the silent victims.” They are faced for the first time with purposeful evil that has taken from them a loved one, and sometimes their family tries to shield them from that reality. At the Chanukah camp last year, a nine-year-old girl at a Shabbat program told the other campers the story of her mother’s death. Her mom was driving a car in front of a bus in which the girl was riding, when her mother was shot and wounded and taken alive to the hospital. Her father and grandmother were able to visit her but her mom died before the little girl could see her.
Another little girl sitting next to her turned to Mandell and said the same thing happened to her. “‘I didn’t get to go,’” the little girl said.
“I think they feel left out.”
Mandell said Israelis have for years dealt with the grief of losing loved ones, but the foundation provides the mechanism to “process” the feelings.
“If you can take the pain and transform it into something giving...
“Sadness has to be transformed into something positive. You can’t just sit in grief or else it will kill you or make you sick,” Mandell said.
Her own experience of losing her first-born (she has three younger children) was so intense, she compared it to becoming “a dead person.
“When you have a murder in the family, you are dead. At first you feel like you want to die. You live in another world. I didn’t want to eat.
“People would bring me food and ‘ugh, not for me. I’m not in the world.’
“It’s hard. You have to pretend everything is okay.”
Mandell said she received advice from others who experienced similar loss and she avoided the fairly common pattern of masking sorrow with tranquillizers and sleeping pills.
She was assisted by a friend who is a counsellor and who taught her “what you’re feeling is okay. She gave me permission to feel.”