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Chapter Eight:
The Hardest Hit — The New Immigrant Population

Not all groups are equal. When it comes to disaster and terror it is the immigrant community that faces the greatest and longest lasting hardships.

Immigrants undergo daily difficulties that most Israelis never encounter. Many Israelis, for example, have never felt the dread that even an educated immigrant adult feels when attempting to voice an opinion or ask directions in a language that's new to him. In the blink of an eye this person — who may be a respected professional or a parent — is reduced to being a child who is afraid of saying something that will embarrass himself or his family.

Almost all children over a certain age are uncomfortable being with their parents when their peers are around. Every parent has experienced at one time or another a twinge when a child begs us, Dad, just wait here, you don't have to go with me." The same child who would not let go of your hand a few years before doesn't want to be seen with you now, saying, "Make believe you don't know me."

In addition, immigrant children are naturally uncomfortable with their parents' accents, grammatical errors, and even their style of dress. A relatively veteran immigrant (5 years in Israel) who is a teacher and whose husband heads a department at Shaare Zedek Hospital was told by her five-year old son at his birthday party, Mommy, just don't talk."

Immigrant parents are well aware of this and it makes them feel even more stressed, inadequate, and lacking in control over their lives. This is especially true if their nurturing role is taken over by a younger relative or, even worse, by an outsider with the language and social skills that they lack. The natural reaction to such rejection is defensiveness, and many immigrant parents simply decide not to "interfere" with their children, hoping, in this way, to avoid hurtful situations. Yet the child needs the parents' guidance and support more than ever, especially when dealing with stressful situations.

During times of stress and terror, the immigrant feels frustrated because he can't communicate with his child at a time when the child needs him most. He's out of the loop because he can't follow the news coverage of unfolding events. He may feel uncomfortable asking the child, "Tell me what he is saying" because he is afraid that the response may be, "Not now, Abba, let me listen." This makes him feel even more detached from what is happening and more reluctant to become involved.

When an immigrant family is directly affected by a terror attack they face special problems above and beyond the usual difficulties.

Lack of Preparation

No one can be prepared for a terror attack. Yet there is a difference between those born here and immigrants. Most Israelis grow up with the knowledge that terror takes place. It is not that they become desensitized or that their world doesn't collapse when it happens to them; it's just that the idea of terror is not new to them. Over the years they have witnessed hundreds of funerals on the nightly news while thinking somewhere in the back of their minds, "There but for the grace of..."

Dealing with Bureaucracy

Even in the best of times it is natural for immigrants to have trouble figuring out what to do at the various government offices.

Israelis, on the other hand, get the information they need from neighbors, acquaintances, or through the experience of a lifetime spent in Israel. A native-born Israeli also has a better idea of his rights than a new immigrant, whose difficulties with the language and lack of experience may prevent him from even knowing which questions to ask.

It is difficult for anyone to deal with the bureaucratic aftermath of a terror attack, but for the immigrant, the Israeli bureaucracy seems like a giant nightmarish labyrinth.

Even filling out forms is complicated because the language used on the forms bears little resemblance to the Hebrew taught in ulpan.

It makes all the difference for the bereaved immigrant family if someone, ideally someone who speaks their language, walks them through the bureaucratic process. This person should serve as a go-between with the authorities, translating and explaining to the bereaved what is happening, and acting as his advocate when necessary. However, the "go-between" should be careful to refrain from being over-helpful and making decisions for the bereaved, rather than presenting the bereaved with options and letting him make the decisions.

Extra Guilt

After the suicide bombing at the bat mitzvah celebration in Hadera, one relative was overheard moaning, "Why did I come?" She was wondering why she'd exposed her children to such danger.

Every parent feels guilt when watching his children suffer. We all wonder (often over and over again) what we could have done to prevent it. To the degree that anyone can accept a child's pain, those who were born here can somehow say to themselves, "This is my home. This is where I was born." Those who voluntarily immigrate to Israel have to ask themselves an additional question, "What have I, by my choice, exposed my children to?"

While most immigrants develop a support network over the years, those who are most vulnerable in times of disaster are those who have recently immigrated and/or those who are alone. This could include the elderly, single parents, and those who lack extended family. It is natural and important that members of each immigrant community take the lead in the healing process.

However, the added problems faced by the new immigrant community in the wake of terror attacks provide Israelis, too, with an opportunity to reach out to them. This can be just as important in the long run.

A year after his wife was killed in a terror attack, Sasha, who had immigrated to Israel six years earlier, said, "I used to denigrate Israelis, quoting the old joke, 'They love aliyah but hate olim.' Yet, during the shiva and even afterwards I was shown a different side of Israelis. They gave me even more strength and support then my olim (immigrant) friends. I will always remember the Israeli couple who sent me a basket of fruit and wine for Rosh Hashanah with a note: 'We wish you didn't have to become one of us in this way.' There was no return address on it, just our name. They sent a similar basket for the next three years. That's when I knew I was not alone."