“Arab-Jewish coexistence in Israel suddenly ruptured,” a 2021 New York Times headline reads.
“The hulks of burned out cars and trucks litter the streets of the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, the epicenter of three nights of violence,” the article begins, and the writer goes on to quote heartbroken citizens, devastated by the state of affairs in their community.
“There is a feeling it’s only getting worse,” one woman said.
The city of Lod, located in central Israel, is home to nearly 80,000 people. While 70 percent of them identify as Jewish or other, the remaining 30 percent are classified as Arab. Conflicts stretch back across millennia, traced throughout Scripture and modern history alike. These conflicts are not relegated to the past. Instead, they shape the current day-to-day interactions of citizens.
In May 2021, violence and riots broke out so fiercely that the mayor referred to the situation as “civil war,” and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a state of emergency in Lod.
Now, the city is still considered unsafe with high rates of crime and volatility. For children growing up there, that means coming of age with the daily fear of destruction and death. At risk for PTSD and ongoing mental and emotional health issues, the children of Lod have inherited a legacy of suffering. Their plight begs the question: where is God in the face of fatal conflict?
Troubles at the Root
When Nicole Yoder, vice president for Aid and Aliyah at the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ), visited grade schools in Lod, she quickly learned that trauma-informed engagement was as vital to the educational approach as any academic curriculum. Administrators, teachers, and school psychologists explained that they were educating children facing acute trauma—including sirens blaring in the night and missile attacks shaking them from sleep—and PTSD. Leaders at the school know that the time they spend with these children each day could make all the difference.
“This is almost the only opportunity for the children here to get help,” explained Diana, a school psychologist. “They need to get help at school to return them to a good development path because they likely will not receive it anywhere else.”
Grade school counselor Sabrin echoed Diana’s thoughts. “If the children do not get the help they need, we see the results in the community, with an increase in suicide, drugs, and crime,” she said. “We must deal with the troubles at the root.”
Those troubles at the root include grief and anxiety, which are prominent among children growing up in high-conflict areas. Research shows that children facing such issues benefit from therapeutic support.
One meta-analysis reports that children or adolescents who were treated with group therapy were “better off” than 73 percent of their peers who were not. In addressing communal trauma, advocates are treating the whole person and acknowledging the connection between mental and emotional health and spiritual well-being.
Education leaders like Diana and Sabrin know that school is an ideal place for children to receive therapy, counseling, and support. For many, school is the safest place they encounter each week, and the adults there are among the most reliable and trustworthy people they know. In partnership with the ICEJ, schools throughout Lod are implementing a project that is already changing lives.
Places of Peace
Through a project called Havens of Calm, the ICEJ is establishing spaces for effective therapeutic interventions. These bright, colorful rooms facilitate therapy, diagnostic services, group work, and parent support for both Jewish and Arab families. School counselors and psychologists meet with children as part of their school day, helping them address crises and trauma that range from social upheaval to parental neglect, sexual abuse, and domestic violence.
As cultural and religious turmoil in Israel continues, perhaps comfort can be found in the words of Jesus when he said, “Let the little children come to me” (Matt. 19:14). Through Havens of Calm, the ICEJ is serving the children, the weary mothers and fathers, and the heavy-laden families through trauma-informed therapy and emotional skill-building.
By supporting their work, Christians an ocean away can cultivate peace in a place torn apart. We can be part of dealing with the troubles at the root. And we can answer the question, “Where is God?” with a certain truth: “Right here, with you, in the midst of your suffering.”