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Supporting Resilience: French Jewish Groups Establish Hotline for Community Members Affected by Israel-Hamas Conflict Trauma

"Amidst Growing Concerns: French Jewish Groups Launch Helpline to Aid Those Affected by Israel-Hamas Conflict Trauma"

In response to the profound emotional impact of the recent Israel-Hamas war, French Jewish groups have taken a compassionate initiative by establishing a helpline aimed at providing crucial support to individuals within the community. This outreach extends to those who have lost loved ones in the Middle East, parents navigating the anxieties of their children's reactions to the conflict, and Holocaust survivors grappling with resurfacing traumas.

Launched shortly after the deadly Hamas incursion into southern Israel on October 7, the helpline has been a lifeline for many, with dozens of people reaching out daily for assistance. Fabien Azoulay, the deputy director general in charge of solidarity at the United Jewish Social Fund (FSJU), shared that over 60 psychologists, psychiatrists, and child psychiatrists are volunteering to respond to messages left on the helpline. The spectrum of those seeking support spans all age groups, from teenagers and parents to elderly individuals.

For Holocaust survivors, witnessing events unfold in the supposed refuge for Jews can evoke childhood traumas thought to be buried. Azoulay notes the profound trauma experienced by survivors as they grapple with the unfolding situation in Israel.

The volunteers not only offer immediate support but also suggest longer consultations with psychotherapists or connect callers with relevant associations providing social assistance. The Radio of the Jewish Community, operated by the fund, has also highlighted the widespread mental health needs, receiving almost 300 questions from listeners during its first show addressing mental health issues, particularly children's exposure to stressful news.

Marie-Claude Egry, a clinical psychologist volunteering for the helpline, emphasizes that parents are primarily concerned about the safety of their children, particularly in light of a surge in antisemitic acts in France. Between October 7 and October 27, the Interior Ministry reported 719 antisemitic acts, leading to 389 arrests. However, details about those involved or the nature of the acts were not provided. The alarming rise in antisemitic incidents includes the recent arson attack on the front door of an elderly Jewish couple's home in Paris, denounced by Mayor Anne Hidalgo as an "antisemitic act."

In response to the increased threats and acts of antisemitism, France has deployed an additional 7,000 troops and heightened security measures at numerous Jewish schools, synagogues, and other locations across the country. The collective efforts reflect a community coming together to address not only the immediate trauma but also the broader challenges posed by escalating tensions.

Navigating the complex emotional terrain triggered by the Israel-Gaza war, parents in France find themselves confronting unexpected challenges in discussing the conflict with their children. Marie-Claude Egry, a clinical psychologist volunteering for the helpline, recounts the poignant story of a nine-year-old's surprising response to the presence of police officers outside his school. Unprompted, the child remarked, "Of course, I know that when there’s a war in Israel, everyone in France is going crazy." Such revelations underscore the depth of awareness among young people, who, though physically distant, are intimately connected to the conflict through news from family and friends. As Egry notes, "We’re far away and at the same time very close."

Concerns extend beyond awareness to the potential for shocking remarks and debates that children may encounter. Parents grapple with the challenge of shielding their children from the divisive nature of discussions surrounding the conflict. Egry emphasizes the unique position of the youth, engaged both locally and from a distance, navigating the impact of the war through indirect channels.

In this environment, David Krausz, another clinical psychologist volunteering for the helpline, highlights that many questions raised cannot be addressed with simple advice. The mental health issues emerging from the Middle East crisis often unveil deeper-rooted malaise that requires specialized, long-term care. Krausz shares instances of profound distress, such as a nine-year-old girl refusing to attend school due to anxiety and an 18-year-old student urgently returning from Israel, traumatized by the events unfolding there.

Beyond the Jewish community, the repercussions of the war resonate across the Palestinian diaspora in France and globally. The trauma extends to those anxiously waiting for news from loved ones in Gaza. The specter of the Nakba, the mass exodus of Palestinians during the 1948 war surrounding Israel's creation, looms large in their collective memory. As they grapple with feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, the echoes of historical trauma resurface, underscoring the profound and interconnected impact of the Israel-Gaza conflict on communities far beyond the immediate theater of war.

In the complex tapestry of emotions woven by the Israel-Gaza conflict, the challenges faced by French families and communities, particularly in navigating discussions with children, reflect the profound impact of distant conflicts on local lives. The unexpected insights from young minds, like the nine-year-old who noted the collective response in France to events in Israel, underscore the interconnectedness of global events with individual experiences. Despite physical distances, the youth are emotionally close, entwined with the conflict through news from family and friends.

The struggles of parents extend beyond awareness to the delicate task of shielding their children from divisive debates and potential trauma. The stories shared by psychologists volunteering for the helpline reveal the depth of emotional distress among the youth, emphasizing the need for specialized, long-term care to address the underlying malaise triggered by the crisis.

As the conflict's impact reverberates globally, the trauma extends beyond the Jewish community to include the Palestinian diaspora in France and around the world. The echoes of historical events, such as the Nakba, resurface, emphasizing the collective and intergenerational nature of trauma. In facing the challenges posed by the Israel-Gaza conflict, it becomes evident that the repercussions are not confined to geopolitical boundaries but resonate deeply within communities, highlighting the universal need for empathy, understanding, and long-term mental health support.