We met dedicated people who work effortlessly to help all Israelis – soldiers and civilians – who experience trauma as a result of ongoing conflict in this sacred land. Although their work is much broader than JF&CS Shoulder to Shoulder's work, their commitment to try to positively impact the family is the same," says Stacie Fredricksson, JF&CS Shoulder to Shoulder program manager and former US Air Force Reserves member. Fredricksson was one of four Shoulder to Shoulder staff and advisory board members who visited Israel in May as part of a collaborative research project through a grant awarded by the Andrea & Charles Bronfman Philanthropies in 2016. Focusing on innovative practices addressing the integration of military members into civilian life, the collaboration could not have been a better fit. Shoulder to Shoulder provides unique home-based services, along with connections to community resources and family events, to strengthen the resiliency and improve the lives of military and veteran families throughout Eastern and Central MA.
Margot Davis, PhD, a member of the Shoulder to Shoulder Advisory Committee, is Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Behavioral Health at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. Davis was responsible for drafting the grant proposal for the project and for bringing Shoulder to Shoulder together with the Israeli groups and universities that became part of this initiative.
Davis, Fredricksson, and Shoulder to Shoulder founder and JF&CS Board President Jamie Grossman and Major (US Army, retired) Bob Kinder, met with numerous Israeli resiliency programs and mental health professionals to study how Israel deals with the effects of trauma on military members and the reintegration of military members back into society and back into their family units after service. Because of its long history of addressing noncombat community crises as well as the diverse needs of post-deployment reintegration, Israel is a good collaborator for the development of best practices in the US.
Focusing on the family as an agent of both change and stability, the JF&CS delegation sought to answer the following questions:
1) What innovative practices are promoted in Israel to foster family resilience?
2) What indicators are used to measure program impact?
3) What policies are in place to support the work of reintegration into the soldiers' home community?
They learned that despite some obvious differences between service in the US and in Israel, the struggles faced by soldiers upon deployment were strikingly similar.
"As staff and advisory committee members of Shoulder to Shoulder, we took with us the experience of serving US military and veteran families. We shared some of the struggles and challenges US military and veterans face, and in turn, learned how IDF soldiers deal with those same challenges," Fredricksson remarks. "We learned quite a lot about resilience," she adds.
"Military families are at greater risk of facing major adversities, which may result in damage to relationships, depression, anxiety, PTS, and numerous other stressors," continued Fredricksson. "Thus, it is essential to tend to our resilience stores regularly to insulate us from these unique risk factors. By doing so, we can ensure that we are more capable of ‘weathering the storm' when we have to."
"In the US, service members do not share stories and emotions, which results in a lack of empathy from civilians as well as a stoicism about the military. There's a disconnect," remarks Grossman. "Israel recognizes that families are on the front line of seeing the need for help. They realize that families must be supported. A stronger family equals a stronger service member. In Israel, we learned that outreach is a key component of our program as military members often shy away from asking for assistance. We continue to identify need and increase our outreach efforts, ensuring that the military communities know that JF&CS is here for them."
Shoulder to Shoulder hopes to work together more in the future with the people and organizations it called upon in Israel. "You never know what will come of these collaborations. They can be quite fruitful," says Davis. "We came away with such a breadth of understanding. It was great. This is the beginning of many other collaborations with Israel and the military population and other populations that experience trauma. We all learn from each other.
"I want to give kudos to the Bronfman Family Foundation," she adds. "Programs like this have real vision. The model of an academic institute collaborating with a community program like Shoulder to Shoulder is quite a wonderful synergy."