With deep empathy for those who live in anticipation of “the next bad thing,” Rosa Naveh treats psycho trauma with tender loving care.
Rockets never fell on upstate Gloversville, New York, where Rosa Naveh grew up. Yet the psychologist empathizes with the immigrant population that predominates in Sderot, the working-class Israeli town whose proximity to the Gaza Strip has brought it nine years of Qassam missile attacks.
“I grew up in a professional world, but like the people of Sderot, I also needed a sense of safety because I was an immigrant and my parents were in post-traumatic stress from the Holocaust,” Naveh tells ISRAEL21c. “In Sderot, I have no problem relating to the people, because that’s my soul.”
Naveh recently received Ben-Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev’s Spitzer Prize for Excellence and Innovation in the Field of Social Welfare for her directorship of the nine-year-old Center for Children and Parents in Sderot. Though the Qassam attacks have more or less stopped – though occasional missiles do still fall – the psychic damage has not.
We need healing to live
She well understands the feeling of “waiting for the next bad thing to happen,” as she describes it; and also the power of helping a vulnerable child to feel secure: “The priest at my Roman Catholic kindergarten across the street gave me a snowsuit, and I’ll never forget it,” she relates.
Naveh trains her six part-time therapists, social work students from BGU, family therapy residents, and animal therapists from Sderot’s Sapir College to take a gentle, low-tech approach. The clients referred by municipal social workers – troubled families of children aged six to 12 – are guided to fill the voids in their lives with cooking, gardening and other soothing, practical activities as a pathway to healthy serenity.
In a poem she co-wrote for the award ceremony to describe her philosophy, Naveh sums up that “once upon a time people lived and living was healing. Today people need healing to live.”
Naveh, 63, received her master’s in social work from Boston University in 1973. Five years later, she and her husband immigrated to Israel with their daughter, now 32 and the mother of two children. They had a son, who is now 28, before divorcing in 1998. Naveh left her private family therapy practice in Israel and returned to Massachusetts.
“I missed the States,” she explains. “I had a longing to go back.” She worked at a Starbucks, a doughnut shop, and a country club. However, after a year she returned to Beersheba, Israel’s southern hub, to be with her children.
Back to Israel and fulfillment of a dream
When the regional social welfare office in Beersheba hired Naveh to run its planned center in Sderot, “It fulfilled a dream I had to start something according to a model that people simply need tender loving care,” she recounts.
Some of the mothers in Naveh’s program made a quilt composed of patches depicting houses. “We called it ‘The Emotional House in Sderot,’ and we hung it in our center,” says Naveh.
Each client is entitled to 18 months of treatment, but many continue to drop in to feel the sense of community and safety Naveh has created. She sees many children – particularly boys – with symptoms of post-traumatic stress that had gone unacknowledged before hand.
“Because most of the age group we deal with has grown up in a Qassam atmosphere, a lot of them react to certain situations by becoming aggressive to protect themselves. They look for action all the time because they’ve always felt ‘on call’ [to run to a bomb shelter]. These kids have problems with concentration in school, they expose themselves to dangerous situations, and they talk about death.”
Naveh proudly relates that one especially violent boy, referred to a therapeutic boarding school after an unusually long, two-year treatment at her center, recently received a prize for excellence. “You just have to take the kid out of the environment and give him protection and love,” she concludes.