By Carin M. Smilk/JNS.org
Terrorism has been a fact of life in what’s now the Jewish state since the earliest days of modern Zionism. Even when it’s calmer, work is being done to help those affected by an attack. And when tensions spike—when it’s on the brink of conflict, as it is with Iranian forces and Hezbollah entrenched in Syria and Lebanon to the north, and Hamas-sponsored mass demonstrations of Gazans at the border to the south — those in the business of preparing for the worst ramp up their readiness. Perhaps no one knows that better than Rabbi Menachem Kutner, director of the Chabad Terror Victims Project (CTVP), which regularly coordinates all kinds of relief for Israeli terror victims and their families, including hospital, rehabilitation-center and home visits, and arranging bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies for orphaned children.
What is the main work of CTVP, when did it start, and how many people are associated with the organization?
Rabbi Menachem Kutner: The activity of our organization is unique in that we provide personal assistance for each affected family according to their needs. This comes in three ways: economic, spiritual and emotional. I am the principle worker with the families, but get assistance from 450 emissaries, or shluchim, and Chabad centers all over Israel. We also utilize local volunteers who maintain contact with families during routine times, especially during Jewish holidays. They create personal and lasting connections. The activities began immediately after the 1967 Six-Day War with widows and orphans of Israel Defense Forces’ soldiers at the personal request of the Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson—under the auspices of the Chabad Youth Organization in Israel, with the head office in Kfar Chabad.
When did you get involved, and in what ways do you assist individuals and families?
Rabbi Kutner: I entered this mission 15 years ago, when the second intifada began. One example: Eden, aged 16, was seriously injured two years ago in a bus attack in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood of Jerusalem. Eden suffered from severe burns and has been undergoing difficult treatments, and our organization pays monthly for a medical ointment on the recommendation of her doctors. The ointment is very helpful and not paid by the state; we also recently bought her a special bed and an air-conditioner for use at night.
Is there a difference between the work you do in wartime and when it’s quieter in Israel? How do you prepare when Israel is in a state of high alert, as it is now?
Rabbi Kutner: Our operations are divided into three phases: emergency assistance immediately after an attack, interim assistance for the period of three months after the attack and long-term assistance that can last for many years. In times of emergency, we work all at once with many families in need of immediate urgent assistance. For example, with a family injured in Netanya, the mother was hospitalized at Laniado Hospital there, while her son and daughter were hospitalized at Hillel Yaffe Medical Center in Hadera. The father and two other children were at home in Netanya. Our organization paid for taxis for 14 days so the father could visit his wife and children, instead of traveling long hours on buses. We also organized volunteers who brought hot food to the family’s home every day, as well as a cleaning staff before Shabbat. The recovery period is more in-depth and emotional, and so we provide an attentive ear to families with home visits and assistance according to personal needs.
Please describe an instance when you assisted an Israeli soldier or terror victim.
Rabbi Kutner: One soldier wounded in a terrorist attack was seriously injured in the leg. He needed a special medical device to “hold” or support his foot so he could walk more stably. Our organization bought this device for him for $2,000; it’s new and manufactured in Canada, and not recognized in Israel.
How long do you stay in the lives of those you help?
Rabbi Kutner: Our organization adjusts assistance, financial and otherwise, according to each family. Some families return relatively quickly to normal life, and there are other families that need us for 15 years.
How does CTVP assist orphaned boys and girls in celebrating their bar and bat mitzvahs?
Rabbi Kutner: We teach the child to read Torah and put on tefillin. We take the whole family out for a fun day in Jerusalem, buy festive clothes for the children, and give the bar mitzvah boy or bat mitzvah girl a gift. And we celebrate an exciting bar mitzvah ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem with singing and dancing, so that the child will remember this moment with joy and happiness. After the ceremony, they go to a restaurant for a festive meal and then tour the city.
You work with a predominantly secular population in Israel. So, how does prayer help spiritually? Can it help heal?
Rabbi Kutner: Our spiritual assistance is very meaningful for the families of terror victims, as we often arrive at their most difficult moments. We publish lists of the names of the wounded for others to pray for them. We offer them the spiritual power of prayer and a prayer for a speedy recovery they can carry with them, which gives them a lot of encouragement, especially during visits to soldiers before long operations, surgery, and while they are recovering.
What is the mood in Israel right now after Iran recently fired rockets in the north, and as the Palestinians in Gaza hold weekly mass border protests in the south?
Rabbi Kutner: At the moment, there is a sense of uncertainty and fear that the situation may continue and even reach a state of war. These days our alertness is high, so that we can provide an immediate response as needed. We are hoping and praying that the situation will remain calm.
What does this work mean to you?
Rabbi Kutner: Every morning, I thank G-d for the wonderful privilege of acting on behalf of Chabad in this endeavor. I feel that we are changing the lives of the families, making them happier and adding to their lives.