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Compassionate Support: French Jewish Groups Establish Hotline for Community Members Affected by Israel-Hamas Conflict

In response to the recent Israel-Hamas conflict, French Jewish groups have established a helpline to offer crucial support to community members grappling with trauma. From those who have lost family members in the Middle East to parents concerned about their children's emotional well-being and Holocaust survivors, the hotline has become a lifeline. Launched a few days after the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas incursion into southern Israel, the helpline has been receiving dozens of calls daily.

Fabien Azoulay, the deputy director general overseeing solidarity at the United Jewish Social Fund (FSJU), disclosed that over 60 volunteers, including psychologists, psychiatrists, and child psychiatrists, are committed to returning calls from those who leave messages on the helpline. The range of individuals seeking support spans from teenagers to parents and the elderly. For Holocaust survivors, the conflict reawakens childhood traumas, presenting an unexpected resurgence of pain.

In some instances, volunteers recommend extended consultations with psychotherapists or connect callers with associations capable of providing social assistance. The Radio of the Jewish Community, operated by the fund, has also highlighted widespread mental health needs. During its first show addressing mental health issues, the radio received almost 300 questions from listeners, primarily focusing on children's exposure to distressing news.

Marie-Claude Egry, a clinical psychologist volunteering for the helpline, emphasized that parents are primarily concerned about the actual safety of their children, given the growing number of antisemitic acts in France. The Interior Ministry reported 719 antisemitic acts between Oct. 7 and Oct. 27, leading to 389 arrests, though specific details on the incidents and individuals involved were not provided. Instances of antisemitic violence, such as the arson attack on the home of an elderly Jewish couple in Paris, have prompted heightened awareness and condemnation.

In response to the surge in antisemitism following the conflict, France has deployed an additional 7,000 troops and increased security at numerous Jewish schools, synagogues, and other locations across the country.

Egry recounted an incident involving a mother questioning her nine-year-old son, who, unaware of the Israel-Gaza conflict, astoundingly connected the police presence outside his school to the war, stating, “Of course, I know that when there’s a war in Israel, everyone in France is going crazy.” This illustrates the profound impact of global events on young minds, even from a considerable distance, as they absorb information from family and friends.

Parents are grappling with concerns about potential unsettling comments and debates their children may encounter regarding the conflict. Egry highlighted that young people are emotionally involved, albeit from a distance, through news from their social circles. The paradox of being both far away and intimately connected to the situation adds to the complexity of the emotional landscape.

France, home to Europe's largest Jewish and Muslim communities, has witnessed expressions of support for Israel as well as demonstrations in solidarity with Palestinians. David Krausz, a clinical psychologist volunteering for the helpline, noted that many questions raised by parents cannot be resolved with simple advice. Instead, mental health issues stemming from the Middle East crisis often reveal deeper-rooted concerns that require specialized, long-term care.

Krausz provided examples, including a nine-year-old girl so anxious that she refused to attend school and an 18-year-old student traumatized by the war in Israel, prompting an urgent return. The psychological impact of the conflict extends beyond borders, affecting the Palestinian diaspora globally, including in France, where thousands feel a profound sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Many in this community struggle to get updates from loved ones in Gaza, evoking memories of the Nakba, the mass exodus during the 1948 war that shaped their history. The trauma of displacement and the uncertainty of the current conflict amplify the psychological distress experienced by the Palestinian community in France.

In conclusion, the establishment of a helpline by French Jewish groups underscores the far-reaching psychological effects of the Israel-Hamas conflict, extending beyond geographical boundaries and impacting diverse age groups within the community. As families grapple with the emotional toll, particularly on children who absorb information from varied sources, the helpline serves as a vital support system.

The stories shared by clinical psychologists volunteering for the helpline illustrate the profound challenges faced by parents and youth alike. Instances of children connecting local events with a distant conflict highlight the interconnectedness of our globalized world and the need for nuanced approaches to address the resulting anxieties.

The complexity of the situation in France, home to both the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe, is reflected in the diversity of expressions—from solidarity gatherings to demonstrations—underscoring the need for thoughtful, long-term mental health care. The trauma reverberates not only within the Jewish community but also among the Palestinian diaspora in France, magnifying feelings of helplessness and a haunting resonance with historical events.

Ultimately, the helpline emerges as a compassionate response to a multifaceted challenge, emphasizing the importance of community support and specialized care in navigating the intricate psychological landscape shaped by the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.