To listen to the cheers and applause that followed the performance by singer/guitarist/song writer Gilad Vital, one might have leapt to the conclusion that he was a rock star. He had written the two songs that he sang. The singing and the songs were fine, but neither was actually the reason for the reaction of the crowd. The reason for such a positive outburst was that Vital is a recovering victim of a post-traumatic stress disorder.
He was singing at the President’s Residence at a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of NATAL, the Israel Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War.
NATAL was conceived by the late Yossi Hadar, a physician who had suffered PTSD after fighting in the Yom Kippur War of 1973.
It had been difficult for him to gain understanding for PTSD in Israel, which despite having been caught unawares in that particular war, and losing so many soldiers, continued to maintain a macho image.
Hadar had shared his concerns with Judith Yovel Recanati, who worked with him in trying to put the message across. Eventually, it was she who founded NATAL. Hadar, in addition to suffering from PTSD, was also diagnosed with cancer and died without realizing his dream. But Yovel Recanati continued to go ahead with it until it was widely accepted.
She saw it as a mission in life to help build up Israeli resilience.
Since its establishment, NATAL has affected the lives of more than quarter of a million people. Vital, who was a member of the Golani Brigade, is one of them. He had been in and out of Lebanon many times, and wasn’t aware that he had PTSD until after he fought in 2006’s Second Lebanon War, he said. But his condition worsened. He was unable to sleep, had groundless fears, and life became a nightmare.
But at least he had the courage to confront his demons, admit that something was wrong, and ask for help.
NATAL operates a multi-discipline treatment center for direct and indirect victims of trauma. It also works in schools and in the community to provide guidelines for prevention and intervention, and has a training center for mental health professionals and for the volunteers who maintain telephone help lines for adults and children who find themselves in crisis situations and needing help.
Almost everyone in Israel knows someone who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, said President Reuven Rivlin, who related to the struggle endured by victims who are trying to return to normal family life, to their places of employment or to their studies.
“This is a wound without any visible scar,” he said, noting that war and terrorism are unfortunately part of living in Israel. In recent years he said, the home front has become part of the front line.
Yovel Recanati concurred with Rivlin with regard to the security reality into which Israelis are born. This reality “influences our lives,” she said. Whereas Israelis tended for years to ignore PTSD, there was a sea change in the 1990s, during which, she said, NATAL “was in the right place at the right time.”
Two years ago, NATAL decided to establish a public council and invited former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz to head it.
Gantz commended Yovel Recanati, the professionals and the volunteers of NATAL for taking on a tremendous challenge and making it their mission. “Post-trauma changes people’s lives,” he said.
“Speaking as someone who has lost many of his soldiers over the years, Gantz said that he welcomed the opportunity to do something through NATAL for soldiers who came home.”