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Honoring The Strength Of Soldiers’ Families: JCT Event Highlights Resilience

Prof. Judith Shamian Reflects on Empathy and Support at JCT Gathering for IDF Reservists' Partners

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Prof. Judith Shamian was surprised to witness the remarkable resilience of the wives and partners of soldiers who are in the IDF reserves, many of whom have barely seen their partners in weeks and have been managing their household all alone. (Photo: Supplied)

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Supporting our heroes at home

Last month the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT) invited Prof. Judith Shamian to an event for wives and partners of soldiers who are in the IDF reserves during the Iron Swords War.  Despite serving as a Board Member of the College, the Chair of Canadian Friends of JCT and President Emerita of the International Council of Nurses, Shamian anticipated it would be a gloomy evening, filled with stories of loss, tragedy and challenges. Instead, she was surprised to witness the remarkable resilience of these women, many of whom have barely seen their partners in weeks and have been managing their household all alone.

As a woman who endured a similar experience during the Yom Kippur War, Shamain strongly empathized with their struggles and found the night to be uplifting spiritually and emotionally. In the interview below, she reflects on the recent event as well as her own experience as a wife of a soldier during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, almost exactly 50 years prior.

The event was just one of the many ways the college has helped its students. In addition to gatherings aimed at boosting morale, JCT has also offered stipends up to 6,000 NIS for students in reserve duty, provided soldiers access to classes that were pre-recorded so they can continue their studies during their service, tutoring services and, in some cases, the school reduced credit requirements.

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Q: What was your impression of the event at JCT?

A: I anticipated a somber atmosphere but was pleasantly surprised to find the opposite. The gathering was a lively event of women, some who knew each other and some who didn’t, engaging in meaningful conversations. They shared a common bond forged by significant experiences. Observing them, speaking with them, I saw heroes displaying extraordinary resilience.

The choice to host a stand-up comedy show for the event was fitting. The quartet of comedians, themselves spouses of IDF reservists, skillfully brought laughter through anecdotes about everyday life moments — children, work and the husbands’ brief visits home.

Q: Can you describe the challenges you faced as a young mother with a husband in the reserves?

A: During the Yom Kippur War, my husband was called up to reserves while I cared for our four-month-old daughter and 20-month-old toddler, all while working as a nurse at Shaare Zedek Medical Center. These were trying times following suicide bombings, with burnt bodies arriving at the hospital, leaving lasting impressions. This was my first exposure to harsh images, which turned from treating terror victims to war casualties.

At home, I juggled full-time motherhood and evening shifts at the hospital; amidst the chaos of an overload of patients, all while my husband was at war and I was caring for wounded soldiers. One day, a severely burnt soldier was brought to the hospital. This soldier apparently knew me and called me by my name. Because of the level of injury, I was not able to recognize him until he said to me, ‘Judith, don’t you recognize me?’ As we spoke, I recognized his voice. A few years later, I met him again. He was scarred in the face, but I felt immense relief at his survival.

The reality was harsh and complex. There was little time for personal reflection amidst the chaos. Back then, I did not have enough time to process my thoughts about the situation and develop anxiety and fears, as I do today as a grandmother. There were worries and the war was not easy, but the need for survival kept me busy and focused.

Q: Did any unique insights emerge from your conversations at the event?

A: Absolutely. Returning to normalcy after such upheaval isn’t easy, especially with young children. They may develop resentment towards absent fathers, viewing their departure as abandonment. Even upon return, rebuilding familial bonds takes time. The expectation that the husband arriving home for a brief visit will shower and put the children to bed is not something that happens automatically. Therefore, even when the husband is finally released from reserve duty, the children have complete dependence on the mother, as a defense mechanism for fear that the father will leave them again.

When those women shared their experiences with me, I recalled my oldest daughter’s initial reluctance to embrace her father after his return from duty. It was a struggle after my husband had served three consecutive weeks. Today, we see women and children enduring months of separation from spouses in frontline service.

The women I met are true heroes, navigating these challenges in an admirable way. There are women there who became acquainted with each other in the married students’ dorms, and even the bonds formed at the event between strangers, speak to the strength of community that will last for a long time.

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Q: What message do you wish to convey to these young women?

A: Self-care is paramount. A woman’s collapse reverberates throughout the entire family. It’s crucial to recognize personal needs, seek help and rest without hesitation or shame. Anger and tears are valid; one can’t be both a full-time hero and mom.

I have traveled to dozens of countries around the world, and I noted in Israel an amazing phenomenon that does not exist anywhere else — and that is mutual support. Israel’s unique culture of mutual support is invaluable. Seeking or offering help isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a lifeline of sanity in turbulent times.

Q: How do challenges faced by today’s generation differ from yours during wartime?

A: Today, there is heightened awareness of emotional trauma, unlike in my youth. I remember that three soldiers came to the ER back then with no physical injuries, and I was told that everything was fine with them and their discharge from the hospital needs to be expedited so that they would return to their military base. I looked at their faces, I saw breathing physical bodies with no spirit. I am not a psychologist, yet it was clear to me that they needed help and that they could not return to their base. I referred them to mental health counseling.

The women I met at JCT’s event were full of energy, but in many cases the beautiful faces and smiles hide the reality at home. The husband returned home safe and sound for a short visit or was released from reserve duty, and yet it is very likely that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. His struggle is also her struggle. So yes, even if he’s back at home – they still need help.

It is our responsibility as a society to be alert to the matter and academic institutions must play a role in identifying and supporting struggling students. It is important to spot the students who fall between the cracks or show signs of distress and offer help.

There is a significant difference on a personal level between my generation and today’s generation. The digital age brings both blessings and burdens. While communication is easier, constant exposure to frontline updates and social media adds complexity. Visual stimuli and prolonged separation strain families in ways unfathomable in my time.

My father lost a wife and seven children in the Holocaust. He remarried and rebuilt his life; a testament to resilience. I’m his last living daughter. I cannot fathom where he and the generation of Holocaust survivors found the strength to restart from scratch. They generated an entire generation and I hope we too will be able to navigate our mental and emotional regeneration. There are many people who struggle to return to work and maintain a normal life routine. This is a matter that we do not yet fully understand; its aftermath is a process yet to be fully understood over the next few years.

J Cubed Communications is an international PR firm based in Tel Aviv committed to generating tangible results for its diverse client base through public relations and marketing.

With networks in New York and London, J Cubed specializes in international media placement for Israeli and international entities in the public and private sector that are seeking to take their message to a global audience.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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