Arye Weinstock laughed when he said that Israeli soldiers like him don’t believe in psychotherapy.
“I thought it was for girls. We didn’t think we need it. The army, they don’t teach you to be soft.”
But last week Weinstick, 39, who lives in Gush Etzion in the West Bank, came to Silver Spring for intensive therapy. It was one stop for him and 14 other reserve members of the Golani Brigade who are enrolled in Israel Center for Psychotherapy’s nine-month Peace of Mind program.
Peace of Mind assists soldiers who don’t have a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Weinstick’s group served in the early 2000s during the Second Intifada and the Second Lebanon War.
Their home base in Silver Spring was Kemp Mill Synagogue, which provided home hospitality, as well as space for group therapy sessions with an Israeli clinical psychologist. Visiting a Jewish community outside of Israel is an integral part of the program.
Since the men served together, there is an already established sense of trust that allows them to speak openly about what they experienced.
“The idea is to use group cohesion,” said David Etrerman, another member of the group. It’s a way to open up [about] some direct experiences, some issues. I would say it’s good to process it. I don’t think it’s therapy. It’s a treatment. It has foundation in that fact that we were a very tight-knit group for many years.”
Felicia Gopin, director of Peace of Mind Canada, said that because military service in Israel is mandatory, people think, “’We all go through this. You need to let go and get on with your life.’ Because the soldiers are able to function in day-to-day life, any psychological issues are not taken seriously.”
Taking them out of the country helps to put them into a different mindset, Gopin said. “They don’t have to think about their everyday lives and they are put into a space that allows them to be vulnerable. The abroad aspect also helps to convince soldiers who might be hesitant.”
The program also includes therapy sessions in Israel. While in Washington, the group also played tourist. But Gopin said participants are often surprised by the experience of their sessions abroad.
“They think it’s just a trip to the U.S., Canada or Europe. They have no idea of the intensity of the week. They have no idea what’s in store for them,” she said, adding that visiting Jewish communities abroad helps them feel outside support for their service to Israel.
Kemp Mill Synagogue member Jeffrey Elikan learned about Peace of Mind during a business trip to London. Seeking to spend a Shabbat dinner with a family of the Western Marble Arch Synagogue, he was invited instead to a dinner for Peace of Mind soldiers and their host families.
“Most charities, you just write a check,” Elikan said. “There was an immediate, tangible connection between the soldiers and the community at Marble Arch.”
He bought his discovery back to Kemp Mill and the congregation rallied behind the idea of being a host congregation. In just a few months, the congregation raised $70,000 to bring a unit of soldiers to Silver Spring.
“It’s an amazing project.” Weinstock said. “It’s good for us. We’re helping each other. We’re seeing [things] much more clearly.”