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Mind Over Terror

Binyamin Rose

Rabbi Benyaacov-Kurtzman and his volunteer crew have trained more than 150 London mental-health workers in the Israeli intervention techniques used to help traumatized citizens in the aftermath of terror attacks

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

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HIGH ALERT Britain has been hit by three separate Islamic terror attacks in the last six weeks, which have killed at least 37 people and injured more than 200. Despite a growing British BDS movement, Israel has been the key provider of intervention training to UK officials struggling to prevent their citizenry from succumbing to trauma (Photos: AFP/Imagebank)

Rabbi Dov Benyaacov-Kurtzman earned a degree at Herziliya’s Interdisciplinary Center in political science specializing in counterterrorism, but seven years ago, he decided to transform theory into practice. It couldn’t have come at a more propitious time for terror-plagued Britain.

For much of the last two weeks, the Scottish-born rabbi, who made aliyah when he was 20 and served in the IDF, the Israeli police, and the prime minister’s security detail, has been a fixture on the scene of the recent terror attacks in Manchester and London. He and a team of volunteers — many imported from Israel — are training more than 150 British psychologists and mental health workers in techniques fashioned out of Israel’s unique experience battling war and terror to counsel traumatized youths and parents.

Rabbi Benyaacov-Kurtzman and his crew were not difficult to spot, in their distinctive orange T-shirts emblazoned with the logo and information about Heads Up CIO, the UK nonprofit he founded with a goal of establishing “pop-up” trauma counseling centers, wherever needed, throughout the UK.

The group’s services were in high demand Sunday in Manchester at a special benefit concert by the same performer whose May 22nd concert in that city ended with a devastating suicide bombing that killed 22 young people and wounded dozens. This time, many parents took no chances, and accompanied their children to the performance.

Rabbi Dov Benyaacov-Kurtzman shares emergency mental-health interventions with terror-traumatized Britons, while prime ministerial candidate Jeremy Corbyn is sending chills down the spine of the Jewish community

"Parents were very nervous and apprehensive and were extremely grateful for people there like us to talk to,” Rabbi Benyaacov-Kurtzman told Mishpacha. “We had a force of over 20 therapists and we reached hundreds of people, letting them know the services we can offer them.”

The services are based on techniques for emergency mental health interventions developed during the course of 20 years by a team headed by Dr. Moshe Farchi, the head of Stress, Trauma and Resilience Studies at Tel Hai College in Kiryat Shemona (see sidebar). The concept of the “pop-up” center is based on Dr. Farchi’s research proving that rapid intervention at a disaster scene can prevent the onset of more severe psychological symptoms.

“If you make the intervention where the event happened, it takes between one to two minutes to shift the person from a sense of despair and helplessness to a person who is collaborating with you and helping others,” said Dr. Farchi. The IDF has integrated his system into soldiers’ training programs, enabling them to acquire the skills to helping their fellow soldiers during any crisis.

Ironically, in Britain, where the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) movement against Israel has been particularly strong, especially in academic circles, it has been noticeably absent in the wake of the Israeli volunteer effort.

“Everyone here knows the protocols we are using come from Israel. It’s been an overwhelming positive process for the people we are training, and for Israel too,” Rabbi Benyaacov-Kurtzman said.

Enough is Enough

While Britain’s Jewish community was not the target of this latest outbreak of Islamic jihad, for which ISIS has now claimed responsibility, it has required Britons to draw on all their reservoirs of resilience.

“It’s a phenomenon that existed in England before the Second World War. People took the attitude then they were not going to be cowed by Hitler, nor will they let terrorist cow them now,” says Rabbi Avrohom Pinter, principal of Yesodey HaTorah Senior Girls’ School and a leading spokesman for London’s chareidi community.

Britain has been hit by three separate Islamic terror attacks in the last six weeks, which has killed at least 37 people and injured more than 200.

The most recent attack occurred Saturday night at the famed London Bridge and Borough Market, where terrorists rammed passersby with their vehicle and then emerged with knives on a stabbing rampage, before police responded and killed them. The terrorists claimed the lives of seven people and injured 50.

This last attack occurred just five days before Britons go to the polls in a snap election called by Prime Minister Theresa May in her effort to win a larger mandate to negotiate Britain’s exit from the European Union, known as Brexit.

The attacks are not expected to have a major impact on the decision-making process in a campaign that has focused on Brexit and other domestic economic issues and where many voters already cast early ballots by mail.

But May’s once sizable 20-point lead in the polls has dwindled to as low as 1% in one poll, at press time, even though more optimistic polls show her Conservative Party (the Tories) with a more comfortable 8–14% lead over Labour, led by the controversial Jeremy Corbyn. British pollsters are still smarting from their failure to predict the Brexit “leave vote” last June, as well as the wide margin of victory of May’s predecessor, David Cameron, who stepped down after voters rejected his entreaties to remain in the EU.

Pollsters insist they have tinkered with their systems this time around, and attribute the wide variation in the numbers to uncertainty over the volume of young first-time voters, and if those voters will turn out in force to vote for Labour and their promises of free university education.

In an effort to hang onto, or pad her lead, May has been talking tough on terror, admitting that Britain has been soft on Islamic extremism.

“It is time to say enough is enough,” said Prime Minister May. “We cannot and must not pretend that things can stay as they are. The recent attacks are connected in one important sense. They are bound together by a single evil ideology of Islamist extremism that preaches hatred.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 663)

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