Group of caregivers help Hamas attack survivors heal with art, music

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Group of caregivers help Hamas attack survivors heal with art, music
A sound healing workshop at Ronit Farm, where some of the hundreds of survivors of Hamas’ Oct. 7, 2023 attack on the Tribe of Nova trance party have been gathering with mental health professionals, outside Tel Aviv on Nov. 6, 2023. An ad hoc center and group of caregivers are helping the survivors — some of whom are suffering traumatic effects that may be compounded by use of psychedelics at the event. (Amit Elkayam/The New York Times)

by Gal Koplewitz

NEW YORK, NY.- The gunning down of hundreds of partygoers at Tribe of Nova, a trance party in Re’im, Israel, in the Hamas-led Oct. 7 terrorist attacks has wrought an outpouring of grief for those killed or taken hostage. Yet while the more than 1,000 attendees who survived may feel lucky to be alive, many are still grappling with the aftermath of the horrifying experience.

In the weeks since, mental health professionals have scrambled to figure out how to help the party’s survivors, some of whose trauma may have been compounded by the effect of psychedelics such as LSD that are commonplace at trance events and that some of the survivors acknowledged having taken. Those who took it would have been wide-eyed and exceptionally sensate when Hamas rockets began appearing in the sky.

In one effort to help their healing, Lia Naor, a counselor and therapist who practices nature-based approaches to mental health, brought a group of fellow caregivers together. Within a week, they had set up at Ronit Farm, an upscale venue north of Tel Aviv, Israel, and transformed it into what they called Merhav Marpe, or Healing Space.

As word of the site spread on survivor WhatsApp groups and other social media, the number of daily visitors swelled to 600 or 700, the organizers said, before stabilizing at about 350. Hundreds of therapists, counselors and others volunteered to help, and those using the service have also included survivors from two smaller gatherings that were taking place nearby.

A short drive from a highway, the venue feels quiet and secluded. It is far enough from high-priority Hamas targets, such as major cities, that visitors rarely hear alarms warning of incoming rockets. The two main areas used by Merhav Marpe are a large indoor hall normally used for receptions and a lawn flanking a pond.

On a recent visit, the indoor space had tables dedicated to making art, a bar serving hot drinks and a cordoned-off area for touch therapies such as reflexology and acupuncture.

One survivor, Li-tal Maya, 27, said that after her initial massage session, her chest had “just expanded” for the first time in weeks.

Many more people were outside, where the smell of newly mowed grass mixed with incense and cigarette smoke. A small dog wearing angel wings trotted around, and workshops on acroyoga, clay sculpture and sound healing were underway. Psychotherapists held one-on-one conversations with survivors under trees or at picnic tables.

Naor stressed that the efforts were not meant as a full course of treatment, but rather to offer an “immediate and integrative response to trauma.” The survivors are referred to as “guests” rather than “patients,” and choose their own activities.

“There is a helplessness in trauma,” Naor said, “and this is one way to restore a sense of agency.”

While many said they had become less raw in the weeks since the site opened, others said they still felt weighed down and unable to go back to their previous routines. “Many of us came back almost unharmed physically,” said Bar Belfer, 34, “but with immense mental health issues.”

He said that he had yet to feel significant improvement in his own disturbance — but that, when he is at Merhav Marpe, he feels immense relief.

“Look at this place — it’s magical,” Belfer said. “It’s like Nova, but safe.”

Some of the survivors have avoided formal therapy, said Gila Tolub, the site’s interim CEO. “For some party survivors, this is the only place where nobody looks at them with puppy eyes, so they come here to feel normal,” she said. “For others, this is the only place where they feel safe — they come in and just lay down to sleep on a mattress, surrounded by love and a familiar community.”

This coming week, the team plans to reestablish the healing space at a new location a few miles south of Ronit Farm, aiming to be a long-term presence for the survivors.

As evening fell during the recent visit, a group of young people sat in a circle on the lawn, singing and playing guitar. They were going through the final sequence of songs from the Beatles’ “Abbey Road,” and together sang, “Boy, you’re going to carry that weight, carry that weight, a long time.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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