TORONTO — After witnessing the carnage of a 2002 terror attack that killed 12 students in a cafeteria at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Orly Vaknin developed a classic case of post-traumatic stress disorder.
The One Family Fund recently held a 50-kilometre bike ride. Participants included, from left, Lauren Albert, her mother Pam, the executive director of One Family, and Orly Vaknin, who represented the One Family Fund in Israel.
The 28-year-old teacher and pilates instructor from Jerusalem said she was immobilized by anxiety and depression, but she couldn’t afford the long-term psychotherapy she needed to rebuild her life.
She was subsequently referred to the One Family Fund, a non-denominational, Israeli-based organization that helps victims of terror.
“They sent someone to my house and two days later, they gave me a cheque for psychotherapy for a year and a half.”
Vaknin was visiting Canada recently as an ambassador for the One Family Fund. While in the Toronto area, she took part in a number of fundraising events for the organization, including a 50-kilometre bike ride organized by Daniel Winberg.
Pam Albert, executive director of the Canadian branch of the One Family Fund, said the organization helped Vaknin complete her education and get a career. She was matched with an adoptive family, Tom and Karen Ehrlich of Toronto, who have assisted her financially and emotionally.
The Ehrlichs have visited Vaknin in Israel and she was their guest on her recent trip to Toronto, Albert said, noting that One Family has also helped Vaknin build a support network with other victims of terror.
“She teaches pilates classes to bereaved mothers at the One Family centre. She’s like a daughter to these bereaved women, and they’re like mothers to her. ”
Vaknin said the organization helped her forge social ties with people her own age. She recalled how therapeutic it was for her to travel to England two years ago with peers from One Family. She described her ease in connecting with members of the group because of their mutual experience with terror.
“They understood what it’s like to be so scared that you feel like you’re going to die.”
She said one of the activities funded by One Family that helped her the most was her participation in a full triathlon in New York last summer.
“They gave me a coach to train me. This really helped me. When you become strong physically, you feel stronger emotionally,” Vaknin said.
“That’s what I want to do now. I want to help people with emotional problems deal with their problems through physical activity.”
Albert said that six years ago, a group of volunteers in Toronto and Montreal decided to support the One Family Fund after raising $250,000 through their synagogues for victims of the second intifadah, which began in 2000.
“Over 3,500 families are being helped by One Family,” Albert said.
She said the organization offers workshops, art and physical education classes, support groups and other therapeutic activities at its centres in Jerusalem and Ranana.
“We run retreats for bereaved parents, wounded couples, and orphans. We help everyone who’s been in an attack. We send 350 kids to camps in Israel.”
The organization has also hired a psychologist to be a front-line caseworker in Sderot, the Negev town that’s under constant bombardment from Gaza.
This summer, 25 Israeli children, many of whom are from Sderot, will be attending two Ontario camps through One Family. Camp Gesher will take five children, and 20 will be going to Camp Timberlane.
As well, a group of Bel Ewart cottagers, organized by Ari Belzberg and Emanuel Greenberg, will be hosting a group of Israeli children at their cottages in July.
Albert said there are many ways people can become involved with One Family, such as through missions to Israel, where participants can connect with victims of terror, as well as through such initiatives as family adoptions, bar and bat mitzvah twinnings, and golf tournaments.
In mid-June, a whirlwind of fundraisers kicked off with a party at Hava Nagila night club organized by Dorit Elbaz and Israeli television host Gila Yefet, of Mifgashim. More than 200 women, many of them Israeli, sang and danced the night away in support of One Family.
The bike ride, which drew 100 participants, and several smaller receptions followed. Upcoming fundraisers include an annual golf tournament on Aug. 11 at Devil’s Pulpit, and the Sea to Sea hike in Israel, a five-day excursion from Rosh Hanikra to the Sea of Galilee that runs from Nov. 2 to 6.
Vaknin credits One Family with helping her rebuild her life over the last six years, which has involved learning to cope with the fear she still harbours from the terror attack at Hebrew U.
“I’m teaching in the gym. I’m biking. I keep myself busy. I still have fear in public places,” she said.
“You have to accept that you have this [fear]. It’s there, but to lead a normal life, you need to figure out how to go on.”
For information about the Sea to Sea hike or other One Family Fund events, visit www.onefamilyfund.org, or call 416-644-4955.