Innovative Support for the Atlanta Community

January 05, 2024

Innovative Support for the Atlanta Community

Innovative Support for the Atlanta Community
Our response for those directly affected by the war in Israel

For the last three months, the war in Israel has radically affected the Jewish diaspora. But even now, in a time of horrific strife and chaos, displacement and antisemitism, we at Jewish Family & Career Services (JF&CS) have seen the resilience and fortitude of the Jewish people in new ways.

“The continuing acts of terror that began on October 7th have robbed Jews worldwide of their sense of safety and security,” said Terri Bonoff, CEO of JF&CS. “JF&CS Atlanta is called to serve those whose mental health and well-being have been impacted and are in need of support. JF&CS is honored to be of service during this critical time.”

Help For Individuals

After the war began, we at JF&CS Atlanta hastened to set up our Israel Support Task Force within days to connect community members to agency services. We triage requests with a central intake line and, from there, connect people to the help they need.

“We’re really focused on doing what we do best at JF&CS, which is providing mental health support to our community,” said Lauren Harris, Ph.D., Leadership & Engagement Officer, who is leading the Task Force.

Our clinicians here are “uniquely poised to address this crisis,” said Terri. “Many of our clinicians are deeply connected to Israel in many different ways, bringing empathy and understanding to this work.”

Anat Granath is one of those clinicians. Anat is Israeli, and much of her family still lives in Israel. She spent 2 ½ weeks there in October, volunteering as a social worker to help displaced families navigate the emergency state. While she wasn’t there in official JF&CS capacity, she took the heart of the agency with her.

“I went to provide support and to help people cope,” said Anat. “As much as we mental health providers have knowledge about trauma and working with victims of trauma, there is no protocol for working with 250,000 displaced families. This wasn’t even PTSD and post-trauma; the trauma was and is ongoing.”

Upon returning to Atlanta, Anat saw the impact of the war stateside on her clients who are mainly Holocaust survivors. “They are experiencing very high levels of stress and anxiety,” she said. “The war is affecting them deeply-many have family in Israel, and some have loved ones fighting in the IDF (Israeli Defense Force). The rise of antisemitism in the U.S. is also extremely anxiety-provoking for them; they can’t believe they’re seeing the world at a place they’d never see again post-Holocaust.”

To help her clients through this time, “we’re offering them lots of extra support and opportunities for connection,” said Anat. “We are reaching out more often, gathering them together with each other in different groups-we had a nice Hannukah event, a baking event- and connected them with One Good Deed volunteers. We’re also encouraging them to stay off the news and social media.”

All our clinicians feel the same compassion and responsibility to the community. “It’s a privilege to do this work,” said Judy Spira, LCSW. “Those of us at Frances Bunzl Clinical Services who have been working amidst this crisis with a variety of counseling situations feel highly motivated to support, in any way possible, those who are involved in this situation.”

Help For the Community

While we mainly receive requests for individual, one-on-one counseling, we’re also providing mental health support in other ways. Our clinicians are working with local day schools and synagogues, and partnering with the Consulate General of Israel to meet the needs of the community. As needs evolve, the Task Force will respond; “we convene a cross-functional group on a regular basis,” said Lauren. “JF&CS is extremely nimble and constantly adapting to meet the needs of the community during times of crisis.”

We are also offering a support group for adults led by Nicole Weinstein, LCSW. The group is not therapy or treatment but is a community group to support those who have been impacted and are struggling with the war in Israel.

“People want to feel connected, and like they are not alone in their struggles,” said Nicole. “This is a place to not feel alone. We provide space to share feelings, to facilitate discussion, and encourage people to bring and share their own viewpoints.”

The group is of no cost to participants but does require registration and is held biweekly every other Tuesday via Zoom. The next group will begin January 9, 2024, at noon.

While we’ve been working hard to help the community, our staff have received help as well. Terri has hosted weekly gatherings to allow space to process what is happening and to be there for each other. We have even received support from outside the agency – health and wellness coaches Jody Goldfarb and Jennifer Leibowitz volunteered their services to support our staff.

“They recognize that working in a health and human service agency that supports so many in the community can takes its toll and it particularly affects our clinicians who experience caregiver fatigue,” said Lauren. “Jody and Jennifer reached out in a volunteer capacity to work with our staff on a weekly basis to ensure our health and wellbeing as caretakers to the community.”

The Community Responds

A silver lining of this horrific tragedy is that “this war has really emboldened many people’s Jewish identity here in Atlanta,” said Lauren. “Because of this, many feel empowered (some for the first time) to give back. We have people stepping up to volunteer and partner, working collaboratively to serve the community.”

Anat saw the same mobilization and resilience during her time in Israel. “There was a lot of grief and fear, of course, but also a lot of determination. I saw people volunteering, supporting one another, and supporting the soldiers who were fighting. Anyone who had a kitchen turned it into a soup kitchen, cooking and packing up food and coordinating delivery to the soldiers and displaced families. People with all types of talent were using it to entertain people and keep spirits up – you saw magicians, performers, stand-up comedians coming to the hotels with displaced citizens and entertaining them. Every age group was helping.”

“What I really saw,” she stressed, “was resilience! I saw people showing up when they could have been frozen in fear. Instead of being frozen, I saw them moving through that fear, and moving toward one another.”

“Stateside, JF&CS Atlanta has been really incredible,” said Anat. “We can’t do everything for everybody, but we are doing the very best we can to support the community during these unprecedented times. I’m proud of that.”

If you or a loved one need extra emotional support during this time, we are here for you. Please contact the Israel Support Task Force by clicking here, calling 770.677.9399, or texting 678.460.9018. To register for our support groups, sign up here.

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