Children in Sderot being hugged by Hibuki. Photo courtesy of JDC-Israel
Children in Sderot being hugged by Hibuki. Photo courtesy of JDC-Israel

Israel’s community of social workers and psychologists is responding in a variety of ways to the distress of hundreds of children in rocket range of Hamas’ missiles from Gaza.

One therapeutic approach is Hibuki (Huggy), a stuffed dog with a sad face and extra-long arms. Professionals and parents are trained how to use the doll to calm their frightened children. When they get a Hibuki doll, the kids are told he is upset about the missile attacks and they’re encouraged to comfort the pup. The idea is to transfer the child’s emotions onto the toy and give a measure of control to the child.

Hibuki is not a new program, but rather tried and true. It was the brainchild of Tel Aviv University Prof. Avi Sadeh in 2006 when northern Israel was bombarded with rockets fired from Lebanon by Hezbollah, and his psychology student Shai Hen-Gal approached him to help devise a quick, effective treatment strategy for displaced children. Sadeh looked in toy stores for a stuffed animal that might help, and came across Hibuki, made in China.

Hen-Gal administers the program on behalf of the Joint Distribution Committee-Israel’s Ashalim program for at-risk children and youth, along with psychotherapist Flora Mor, a project director specializing in trauma at Ashalim and the Israeli Education Ministry.

About 60,000 Israeli children have received a Hibuki doll since then — during the two previous Gaza conflicts, the 2010 Carmel fire and other disasters.

Hen-Gal, Mor and Daniella Hadassi, an art therapist working with the Foreign Ministry, brought 180 Hibuki dogs to Japan and taught locals how to use them to soothe children traumatized by the 2011 tsunami and 2012 earthquake.

“The Hibuki doll is a simple solution to the complex problem of trauma,” Mor said in press reports. “Children receive the doll with an explanation that it is in distress, like the distress in which they find themselves immersed. The teachers give the children a task to treat and care for them. It is amazing how quickly we see results.”