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The Israeli secrets to resilience that anyone can learn


Abigail Klein Leichman

NOVEMBER 15, 2020

Dr. Naomi L. Baum, left, and Michael Dickson, authors of a book profiling 14 resilient Israelis. Photo by Roy Stein

How did Israeli Air Force helicopter pilot Noam Gershony go from a near-fatal crash to winning a Paralympic gold medal in wheelchair tennis?

How did a little boy go from the hell of Nazi camps to becoming the chief rabbi of Israel?

How did a 12-year-old girl go from a treacherous four-month trek from Ethiopia to earning a doctorate and directing a nonprofit organization?

It’s all about resilience.

The 14 profiles in ISResilience: What Israelis Can Teach the World — released November 11 by Gefen Publishing House – prove it’s possible to succeed in life despite terrible tragedies and formidable obstacles.

“I’ve been living in Israel for almost 15 years and I meet all sorts of people in my travels,” says coauthor Michael Dickson, executive director of StandWithUs in Israel.

“I’ve always been convinced there is something special about the way Israelis cope, whether they know it or not. They wake up in the morning and don’t know how the day will end. They live with uncertainty and yet they bounce back from personal and national tragedies.”

Six years ago, a book started taking shape in his mind.

One of Dickson’s first interviews was with psychologist Naomi Baum, then founding director of the Resilience Unit of Metiv, the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma.

Baum’s Building Resilience Intervention (BRI) – a training program for caretakers, such as teachers, to build resilience in themselves and in those they care for following any sort of trauma — has been implemented following mass disasters in Israel, the United States, Mexico, Spain, Haiti, Namibia, Nepal and Turkey.

Dickson asked Baum to join his “voyage of discovery.” The two began interviewing Jewish and Arab Israelis with inspiring stories of resilience.

“The concept includes two seemingly contradictory abilities: on the one hand to withstand and hang tough, and on the other hand to be spontaneous, to improvise, and to dare to attempt hitherto untried solutions to difficult problems,” the coauthors write.

“If something bad happens and you are not feeling okay, it is not written in stone. It takes strength and energy, but you don’t have to feel as bad as you feel right now,” Baum tells ISRAEL21c.

“One takeaway message from our book is there are things we can do to increase our resilience and we know what they are.”

The authors say the three keys to resiliency are empathy, flexibility and making meaning out of whatever happens.

Resilience with an Israeli flavor

Of course, Israelis don’t have an exclusive on resilience, says Dickson.

“But there is something –perhaps the combination of having no other land and having a community that helps them overcome tragedy –that embodies the three keys of resilience with a specifically Israeli flavor,” says Dickson.

The 14 profiles chosen from a long list (a sequel may be forthcoming) include famous Israelis, such as Natan Sharansky, who survived brutal Soviet imprisonment and became a beloved Israeli statesman, and less well-known Israelis such as Nadav Ben Yehuda, who was severely injured while saving the life of a Turkish climber on Mount Everest.

There’s Amit Goffer, who was paralyzed in an off-road accident and invented ReWalk and UpNRide to get paraplegics and quadriplegics on their feet.

There’s Gadeer Kamal-Mreeh, who overcame racism and sexism to become Israel’s first female Druze parliamentarian.

There’s Sherri Mandell, who wrote The Blessing of a Broken Heart and The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration in the wake of the murder of her teenage son, Koby.

Humor is a common thread

Mandell and her husband, Seth, founded the Koby Mandell Foundation to help other family members of terror victims heal. One of their regular fundraisers in Israel is “Comedy for Koby,” a standup show featuring American comedians.

“A very good sense of humor was a common thread through everyone we met,” says Dickson.

“Some suffered horrific tragedies but still have the capacity to laugh. Natan Sharansky used humor as one of his tools to cope with solitary confinement. He told the guards jokes because if he could get them to smile it was a win.”

Says Dickson, “I expected our interviews to be a sorrowful experience, but they were uplifting and enjoyable because of that sense of humor.”

Dickson and Baum are headlining virtual book talks and events to promote ISResilience.

Some upcoming engagements available to the public include an Israel Bonds event on November 16, a “2 Nice Jewish Boys” podcast on November 19, and a JNF book event on April 22.

Dickson says they envision two types of readers.

“One group is people who already know Israel to a degree. For them, the book will give more color to who Israelis are. The second audience is the general public, who can connect to Israel by seeing Israeli people they admire, respect and may want to be like.”

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