Tuesday, February 25, 2020

This Motzei Shabbat, join Peace of Mind of Highland Park/Edison for a night of comedy with comedienne Talia Reese. Reese is a baalat teshuva and former corporate lawyer who now performs nationally. The event will be held at Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva in Edison on Saturday, February 15, beginning at 9 p.m.

The Peace of Mind Program was developed in Jerusalem to help Israeli soldiers transition to civilian life by spending a week in a warm, loving, supportive Jewish community where they relax, have fun and participate in daily therapy. The Highland Park/Edison area was first introduced to Peace of Mind in 2012 when a group of soldiers was hosted by Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick. Temple member Elissa Rozov reached out to neighbors and friends of the Orthodox community to host visiting observant soldiers. Groups also came in 2014, 2016 and 2018, and the current goal is to raise enough money to host a fifth group. The soldiers come mostly from elite combat units who serve five or more years protecting the state of Israel.

Rozov, a psychologist, was intrigued with the concept when she learned about it from American-Israeli Modern Orthodox Jewish author and playwright Naomi Regan’s blog in 2010. As someone who works with trauma, it seemed like a non-political, non-denominational way to help support the state of Israel. Planning for the first group of soldiers took nearly two years.

Roseanne Koenigson of Edison noted that she was intrigued by the program when she learned about it while hosting some soldiers in 2012. She learned more about the program while visiting Israel in 2013. While visiting the main offices in Jerusalem, Dr. Danny Brom, founder and program director, met with her and her husband for over an hour describing the program.

The program has over a dozen professional psychologists who contend with the growing phenomenon of psychotrauma in Israel. An estimated 9% of Israelis suffer from functional impairment as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is three times the level of that in the United States and other western countries. The Peace of Mind program works with Israeli soldiers, usually from elite combat units, by bringing them to Jewish communities outside Israel. Accompanied by psychologists, the units have therapy each day of their week-long visit, when it is easier for them to address emotional and mental issues outside of their regular routine; evenings are reserved for fun cultural and social events such as trips to sporting events, museums etc. The most recent group went to the World Trade Center Memorial in New York, hosted by the Memorial’s Israeli-American architect, Michael Arad, who addressed the group in their native Hebrew.

The Peace of Mind model brings soldiers who have been serving in the same unit or team together for two-day preparatory workshops, the week-long overseas program and follow-up work over a six-month period. Participants are assessed on their emotional resilience and well-being during the program, with additional therapies offered to those who need additional support.

Peace of Mind programs have been held in the United States (Massachusetts, California, Florida, New York, Michigan, New Jersey), Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Monaco. Interestingly, many of the soldiers previously had no idea how much Diaspora Jews love and support them. Army service is taken for granted in Israel as something virtually everyone does. The soldiers are often surprised and gladdened by the show of support and warm welcome the host communities offer. The soldiers do not feel that they are doing anything special, but are made to feel appreciated during their stay. Many hosts and soldiers have stayed in touch long after their visits, with host families being invited to Israel for weddings and family simchas of soldiers.

The current planning committee consists of a broad cross-section of the community with members from local Orthodox synagogues Ohr Torah, Ahavas Achim and Ohav Emeth; The Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth; Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple; and the Highland Park Minyan. Lacking large-level sponsorships, multiple fundraising opportunities are presented to the community to achieve the goal of bringing a unit of soldiers and support staff (approximately 20) every other year. Over the course of the program, 1500 participants have been helped—but the need grows larger each year.

Contact Roseanne Koenigson at [email protected] for additional information, donation and sponsorship opportunities and how to volunteer. Donations can also be sent to American Friends of Peace of Mind, c/o Koenigson, 221 Washington Avenue, Edison, NJ 08817.

Doors open at 8:30 p.m. for this Saturday night’s performance, with the show starting at 9 p.m. Tickets are $40, with sponsorships starting at $120. Reserve now before tickets are sold out. Contact Debbie Teitz at 732-476-4677 or [email protected] for tickets or more information.

Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva is located at 2 Harrison Street in Edison.

By Deborah Melman