"How long will you wait before coming to take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has given you?” the biblical leader Joshua asks the Children of Israel in the book bearing his name.
That directive was given in Shiloh, where the tribes of Israel gathered after 40 years searching for the eternal homeland that God promised them.
David Rubin, founder of the Shiloh Israel Children’s Fund, has taken the significance of Shiloh to heart and rebuilding Gush Shiloh (Shiloh Township) has governed both his personal and professional life.
“I saw a quote once, when I was trying to decide where to live [in Israel], that said, ‘Before there was Jerusalem, there was Shiloh,” Rubin recalls. On a personal level, this seemed an opportunity to live in the mountains, enjoying the quiet and the fresh air, which is something I really wanted to do. But on a deeper level, I learned that Shiloh was the first capital of ancient Israel in the time of Joshua and Hannah and Samuel the prophet.”
Despite its deep religious significance – or perhaps because of it – among the rocky hills and natural beauty, Shiloh’s precarious location among Arab neighbors makes it susceptible to terrorist attacks.
It is an ugly truth that has traumatized, to varying degrees, nearly every one of the township’s approximately 7,000 residents.
“As someone who believes strongly in Israel’s claim to its historic places, I understood that this is the front line in the struggle for the land of Israel – the heart of Samaria,” Rubin told The Jerusalem Post.
“I’m not exaggerating when I say there is not one child in Shiloh – and it’s probably true in many other communities – that hasn’t been affected by terrorism.
Here in particular, there is hardly a child who doesn’t have a neighbor, teacher, friend or family member who has been hurt or killed in a terrorist attack,” he said.
The Rubin family is tragically not exempt.
A near brush with death 16 years ago almost killed Rubin and his three-year old son as terrorists from al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade fired at their car on their way home.
They both survived – Rubin with a serious gunshot wound in his leg and his son with a bullet that crashed into his head and through his neck, missing his brain stem by a mere millimeter.
Although the incident itself lasted a few minutes, the psychological trauma ran deep – especially for his son who, weeks later, often experienced screaming and crying in the middle of the night. The family was at a loss with how to help his son cope with the inner demons that were tormenting him. “How do you give therapy to a three-year old?” Rubin remembers asking himself.
While recovering at home several weeks after the attack, Rubin recalls seeing his son, still with a bandage on the back of his head, quietly playing in the living room.
“I perk my ears up and hear him talking, while sitting in a toy car. He picks up a doll and says, ‘This is the abba [father] – he has a hole in his leg – and this is the little baby, he was shot in the head,” Rubin remembers solemnly, “I became very emotional, I had tears in my eyes. I realized that this is how you heal the trauma – through play.”
As such, in 2004, Rubin established the Shiloh Israel Children’s Fund to heal trauma and to restore the lost innocence of childhood. The organization initiates and supports a wide range of integrated therapeutic, educational and recreational programs.
“I understood that the children didn’t move to Samaria because of ideology, as did many of their parents, but we need to take care of their needs,” he explained.
Therapeutic programs were established, using music, art, horseback riding, and multi-sensory safe room therapy (to name but a few). Youth programs, summer camps and playgrounds were built in Gush Shiloh and beyond. SICF, partnering with local authorities and schools, with the support of friends overseas, helped to create a magnificent therapeutic-educational campus with a formal therapy center, called Mifgash (Meeting Place), informal therapeutic stations, two regional schools and kindergartens, as well as a nearby horseback riding farm, all serving more than 2,000 children.
After her husband was shot in the head and barely survived when their car was ambushed by terrorists, Sarah Avitan suddenly found herself as one of the beneficiaries of the SICF’s good deeds. The mother of seven daughters desperately needed a place of refuge for her children while her husband – who was blinded in the attack – needed time to heal.
“Right after it happened, they approached us,” Avitan says of the fund. “Everyone was close by, we didn’t have to go far. The therapists there are very professional.”
“It was a very difficult time. We tried to get back to normal,” Avitan said of the period after the 2009 attack. “The only way we could achieve some sense of normalcy was therapy.”
This proved to be especially true for her young children, because, like Rubin’s son, she found that children aren’t yet capable of verbally expressing their feelings and working through their emotions.
“For children, it’s very difficult to talk to a therapist.
It’s much easier for kids to relate to art and music and games as opposed to talking about their feelings,” she said. As Rubin points out, “The animals, art, music and other media are the intermediaries that help the children to open up to the therapist.”
The trauma never totally goes away, but through therapy, the child expresses feelings in a safe environment, thereby learning to contend with the trauma. Avitan cites the flexibility of the programs and the plethora of therapeutic methods available as reasons why Shiloh Israel Children’s Fund was such a lifesaver at a critical time for her and her family.
For Benny Shoham, who grew up in the Samaria region, his family wasn’t so lucky to come out with everyone alive. While he and his wife were driving home one night, terrorists hurled a large rock at their car – striking their five-month old son Yehuda in the head.
The blow was a fatal one.
Shoham and his family have suffered greatly, but he is passionate about seeing the heartland come back to life. As a building contractor, he helped to build a new high school for boys that rests on a hilltop with a panoramic view overlooking ancient Shiloh.
Established and sustained by Shiloh Israel Children’s Fund, it is the first boys high school to be built in the community in the last 3,300 years.
“David’s projects are not just for the trauma of terrorism. It’s to help everyone. He helps with the development of the community and even helps children with developmental challenges. He believes in giving children a leg up and helping them through every process of life,” Shoham said.
Like Rubin, Shoham is channeling all the flurry of emotions stemming from his personal tragedy and using them to do good.
“I think after experiencing hardships, people want to move on, but to respond in a positive way. For David, it gave him energy and motivation to do something substantial for the communities of Gush Shiloh. It’s admirable and necessary, especially after all the terrorist attacks. He gives us the power to soldier on,” he said.
“Shiloh is no different from any other place in Israel as far as we’re concerned,” Avitan said.
However, for a place that housed the Ark of the Covenant, where the land was divided among the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and which served as Israel’s capital for 369 years, its special place in history and the resilient people who now inhabit it cannot be ignored.
This article was written in cooperation with the Shiloh Israel Children’s Fund.