Established in 1971, ERAN – an acronym in Hebrew for Emotional First Aid – is the only charitable provider of telephone and Internet emotional support and suicide prevention in Israel.
Volunteers who are fluent in Hebrew, Arabic and Russian provide confidential, 24-hour support to more than 500 distressed people every day – from soldiers, to Holocaust survivors, to youth and the elderly, of any gender, age, race or religion. Some 1,200 volunteers undergo a strict selection process, extensive training and ongoing supervision. About 800 lives are saved annually by the organization.
However, in recent years, ERAN’s lines have not been sufficiently manned during the evenings. So last November, ERAN CEO David Koren went to the Israeli-American Council conference in Washington, D.C., hoping to find Hebrew-speaking Israelis in North America who could help.
He met a group of Israeli-Canadian women – Sara Dobner, Galya Sarner and Sigal Almog, all of whom live in Toronto – who offered to build a volunteer network in Canada to answer ERAN calls from Israel from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Eastern, which is late at night in the Middle East.
“This is a unique opportunity for Israelis. It’s a win-win situation, where we can contribute to Israeli society. The time difference in hours can be used to our advantage: there are a lot of volunteers during the day in Israel, but, during the night, they are asleep. This is where we can help,” said Sara Dobner, one of the Canadian volunteers.
ERAN’s volunteers answer calls from adults and children ages 10 and up.
“It could be anything from loneliness, social and personal anxieties, bullying, sexual identity, eating disorders, trauma, depression, economic distress, adolescent crises, violence, abuse, self-image, Holocaust-related distress and difficulties raising children,” said Dobner.
David Koren came to Toronto in February to lead two information sessions. The response was overwhelming, with some 70 Hebrew-speaking Israelis in attendance.
“The recruitment process was done in focus-group workshops, with both local professionals and ERAN professionals who came in from Israel,” said Dobner.
“Volunteers needed to have certain requirements: they must be active listeners, they must understand and empathize, they must be patient and tolerant and capable of containing the pain of others from a distance.”
After a rigorous screening process, 25 people were selected for the week-long, 32-hour training workshops that were held in early May at the Schwartz/Reisman Centre and the Prosserman Jewish Community Centre.
The workshops were led by ERAN trainers and family therapists Eti Siton and Dina Oren.
It’s a win-win situation, where we can contribute to Israeli society.
– Sara Dobner
“We are teaching techniques and skills to the dynamic Toronto volunteers. At the end of the week, the volunteers were engaged in live conversations. We are grateful for the motivation of the volunteers,” said Siton.
The workshops taught many skills that the volunteers will rely on in their work.
“We were trained to listen actively, reflect back to the caller by letting them know they are heard and not judged. We learned to reframe what they said – you can repeat the same thought, but reframe it in a more positive and hopeful light. You have to show you understand and you must have patience. People may repeat the same thing over and over. You can’t question their feelings and emotions and thoughts. You contain them and contain their pain and give them a lot of empathy. We are not there to solve their problems. We provide emotional first aid, not psychotherapy, and we show them that someone cares about them and offer them temporary relief of their pain. That is really the main goal,” explained Dobner.
Volunteers are expected to work at least two years after receiving the training.
“The two shifts are from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.,” said Dobner.
ERAN also runs a separate hotline for Holocaust survivors and soldiers. During periods of heightened geopolitical tension, the number of calls to ERAN can surge by up to 60 per cent.
“It’s been an amazing and very emotional week-long training. We have an incredible group of committed volunteers,” said Dobner. “Every time we save a life, or offer a helping hand in a moment of darkness, it’s equal to saving the whole world.”
To help fund the Toronto project, visit neemanfoundation.com/donate-now and select “Eran Emotional First Aid.”