May 16, 2024
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May 16, 2024
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Our Family First Holds Therapeutic Retreat for Soldiers and Spouses

(Courtesy of Our Family First) Members of Unit 9221 of the Israeli army were invited to the Ramada Hotel in Jerusalem for the first couples retreat of Our Family First, which took place on May 10-11. Twenty-seven military couples who serve as reservists and were called up to active duty on Oct. 7 enjoyed a beautiful weekend after six months of combat and separation. The group included both religious and non-religious soldiers, some who were newly married and others who have been married for over 30 years.

Our Family First was established by Dr. Barbara Lauer Listhaus and Daniel Krausz, together with Daniel Jacob, an IDF commander, in response to the specific request to assist chayalim and chayalot as they returned to their families from the front lines. The name of the organization highlights the focus on helping each of the chayalim achieve a sense of security and stability in their families so that they can return to combat with the clear mind that is necessary to protect the members of their military family. The group’s primary mission is to address marital and parenting issues; however, this first retreat revealed that these gatherings provide so much more.

The weekend began with a woodworking workshop geared toward improving communication and teamwork, during which the couples created beautiful message boards for their homes. The group leader recommended using the boards to convey words of love and encouragement, and that upon their return to combat, each father leave a message that his family can read daily while he is away. Many commented that the process of completing the project together highlighted the strengths and challenges in their marriages.

Penny and Co. assisted with several of the details and Studio Shira provided beautiful hospitality bags. Friday night dinner was arranged so each couple ate alone, reconnecting after their long separation. Dinner was followed by an Oneg Shabbat during which Lauer Listhaus spoke about handling life together after trauma. She emphasized using interpersonal and marital strengths to address current emotional challenges and focus on problem solving and conflict resolution.

Throughout Shabbat day, each of the couples attended a private session focused on reconnecting as a couple. Concerns among participants included children who continue to struggle with nightmares and anxiety despite being reunited with their fathers. Several wives discussed the immense emotional turmoil they feel as they are simultaneously concerned about their spouse’s safety (especially since they will be returning to active duty in the next few weeks), and their children’s fears and insecurities. The wives shared that though they were initially able to function as single parents, it has taken a toll on their mental health and they are unsure whether they will be able to continue to function as before. The spouses reassured one another and discussed specific ways they could provide support prior to and during the return to active combat.

The second workshop drew parallels between the teamwork that is required to function as a family and within the military. The concept of self-care was presented and several of the participants mentioned that this is not a common concept in Israeli culture. After the presentation, many of the soldiers remarked that though they are still in a state of shock and grief, they are appreciative of all that their wives did to keep their children safe and feel they must do more to support them. They appreciated the recommendation that they take some time for themselves and that they give their spouses the opportunity to do the same.

Our Family First has received many requests for future retreats with other army units. The next weekend with Nachal Charedi is scheduled for July.

For more information or to contribute, contact [email protected].

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