Israeli girl finds her voice again at Rockville fundraiser

Anat, from left, Noam and Coby Saban: Trauma from a rocket attack left Noam mute from age 3.Photo by Stephanie Sporkin
Anat, from left, Noam and Coby Saban: Trauma from a rocket attack left Noam mute from age 3.
Photo by Stephanie Sporkin

In a soft voice, even with the help of a microphone, 10-year-old Noam Saban told her audience, “It is so nice to see your faces and to get your nice hugs.”

For the 140 people at AMP by Strathmore in Rockville last week, the point was not to hear Noam word for word, but that she was speaking at all.

Until recently, she had not spoken above a whisper since the age of 3, when a rocket fired from Gaza landed near her family’s home in Ashkelon during Israel’s 2008 war with Hamas.

The trauma left her silent and clinging to her mother night and day. “Only writing and whispering,” said her father, Coby Saban.

Many in the audience at the Operation Embrace annual dinner already knew the Sabans. The Potomac-based nonprofit was created in 2001 to aid Israelis who suffer from trauma in terrorist attacks. Noam was one recipient of the group’s funding, therapeutic retreats, medical services and programs. At the dinner, she and her parents were the guests of honor.

“For five years we’ve been connected [with Operation Embrace],” Coby Saban said in an interview. “They support us. They came to visit us. They encouraged us to feel good.”

Years of testing and treatments by physicians and psychologists led to no change in Noam’s condition, the father said. He doesn’t know why Noam began speaking when she did, but he said it followed treatment by Dr. Menachem Oberbaum, head of the integrative medicine unit at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center and a practitioner of complementary and alternative medical treatments.

“It’s not perfect,” Saban said. Noam still must be at her mother’s side and the large groups she is being introduced to can be overwhelming. But she could be heard as she thanked the group “for helping me to find my voice again.”

At the Nov. 23 event, which at press time had raised $125,000, Operation Embrace honored Michelle and Michael Glick as its volunteers of the year. Dinner chairs were Debbie Klis and Stuart Melnick, and Robin and David Gould.

When it comes to trauma, children bear the brunt of the conflict. A 2012 study by a team of Israeli, Palestinian and American researchers found that exposure to violence makes Israeli and Palestinian children more violent. The result of this exposure is an increasing level of aggression at school, at play and at home.

That’s the reason a school principal in Israel’s south approached clinical social worker Judith Spanglet to treat students traumatized by the cycles of war.

Spanglet, who grew up in Richmond, Va., and lives in Beersheva, told the Operation Embrace audience that her approach to treating children “is based on faith and spirituality that is anchored in our bodies.”

She said that traumatized people can learn to calm themselves using a “calming touch” on the heart and stomach, and slow body movements.

“Simple, mindful body awareness is one of our most powerful resources in calming down,” she said. “We can’t change the political reality, but we can lower the trauma symptoms.”

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