Students return from Israel after inspiring workshop in disaster preparedness

IDMH trip to IsraelSUNY New Paltz graduate students were brought together with their Israeli counterparts in January during a weeklong workshop in crisis counseling and psychological first aid.

This unprecedented international partnership for the Institute for Disaster Mental Health (IDMH) at New Paltz began when Ben Gurion University (BGU) faculty’s Professor Richard Isralowitz invited New Paltz students and IDMH Director James Halpern to Beer Sheva, Israel.

During the trip, both New Paltz and Israeli graduate students were able to complete coursework in disaster preparedness, response and recovery. As a result, both groups gained a broader understanding of different types of crises and how to provide the most effective assistance in an ever-changing world.

“The class work completed at Ben Gurion University was an extraordinary, unique and beneficial learning experience for me and my fellow SUNY students,” said James DeArce ’00g (Sociology).

Raya Truman, an Israeli student, shared this sentiment. “I can say that it has been one of the most interesting courses I’ve learned in the M.A. program,” she said.

The course included group excursions to communities in conflict as well as cultural sites like the Holocaust Museum and Jerusalem Old City. Students were brought as close as possible to the villages on the Gaza border and met with agency heads and officials from USAID in Tel Aviv who were in charge of mental health, children and other vulnerable populations.

“All of these towns and areas have been regularly hit by rockets and are often threatened,” said Halpern. “Most of the population has spent considerable time in shelters.”

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signing to formalize the collaborative relationship agreement between SUNY New Paltz and Ben Gurion University was held in October 2014. At the signing, SUNY New Paltz President Donald P. Christian spoke enthusiastically about the collaboration.

“This MOU allows our students and faculty to participate with their counterparts in a unique, rich, and culturally diverse experience,” said Christian. “I hope both universities can learn from each other.”

Almost all costs of the partnership, excluding student airfare, but including meals, guides, transportation, and lodging, are supported by private gifts. In an effort to continue the SUNY New Paltz-Ben Gurion partnership, IDMH aims to raise $70,000 to support the program for three more years.

For the past six years the IDMH, led by Halpern, has provided expertise over winter break to give graduate social work students at Ben Gurion University knowledge and skills to address emergency conditions, mirroring the training IDMH provides to counseling graduate students at SUNY New Paltz.

About IDMH
Founded in 2004, the internationally recognized SUNY New Paltz Institute for Disaster Mental Health (IDMH) offers education and training in disaster mental health for students, professionals, and paraprofessionals that reflect recent research and best practices. For more information visit