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‘Project Firecracker’ — IDF combat veterans seek to soothe PTSD

By Sveta Listratov

JERUSALEM — In light of the war with Hamas, Israeli society was reevaluating one of its longstanding Purim holiday traditions — firecrackers.

Kfir Doyeb shares his story of fighting in Gaza — and the reper- cussions for him as he returns to civilian life. (Kobi Natan/TPS)

Kfir Doyeb shares his story of fighting in Gaza — and the reper- cussions for him as he returns to civilian life. (Kobi Natan/TPS)

The firecrackers and other loud noisemakers are popular because of a custom to drown out the name of Haman, the Book of Esther’s villain.

But this year, there was a new sensitivity for soldiers returning from Gaza with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

This led to the launch of Project Firecrackers. The initiative brought reservists to Israeli high schools to share their experiences with students ahead of Purim, March 24.

“Along with the pride of serving the country in this war, I’ve become highly aware of anxiety, triggered by mundane sounds like honking horns or sudden shouts,” Kfir Doyeb told a class at a ORT high school yeshiva in Jerusalem.

“I have been experiencing pressure, insomnia and very uneasy feelings after leaving the frontline fighting. As I talk to my friends, I understand that many people who leave the fighting experience these feelings.

Even at home, I find myself scanning for threats,” said Doyeb, who was a communications operator for a tank division commander during a two-month deployment in Gaza.

This was Doyeb’s first time sharing his story with students. He spoke frankly about the distressing nights punctuated by explosions and relentless shelling, and the tragic loss of a comrade killed by an improvised explosive device.

Doyeb said he realized just how much the trauma shapes his reality when he was sitting in a restaurant with a date when a glass fell from a nearby table, badly startling him.

“With Purim coming up, it’s an opportunity to talk about what we feel when we hear the explosives,” Doyeb said.

“I joined this project as a reservist who has experienced things that still stay with me after the service.
“Many of my friends are feeling the same, and I hope this way to help them and myself to feel better in public spaces.”

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health condition that can develop in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event.

People with PTSD often experience intrusive memories, flashbacks, nightmares or severe emotional distress when reminded of the event.

Project Firecracker is the brainchild of Ori Fried, a social worker and lecturer at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“Instead of teachers going into classes and telling kids, ‘Don’t use firecrackers,’ let’s have soldiers come back from the battlefield and tell the teenagers about their experience with firecrackers when they come back to society,” Fried said.

“A lot of men come back from fighting and it’s a big struggle to go back to social activity. This is our commitment to them. They gave all they could for us.”

Fried and his team identify soldiers returning from Gaza who are willing to share their experiences, and arrange for them to speak to high school students.

The initiative is building other kinds of bridges. Despite intense social debate over military draft exemptions for religious students, the ORT high school yeshiva was among the first to express interest in participating in Project Firecrackers.

Doyeb was surprised to discover that many of the students had family members serving on the frontlines as soldiers. One of the students even shared with the class that his father suffered PTSD from his service in the navy.

“It gives you a bigger picture. Makes you see we all are in the same boat. It was exciting,” Doyeb reflected.

Rabbi Rafael Cohen, the school’s administrative coordinator, invited Doyeb to participate in a special prayer that the students have been saying for the safety and success of the soldiers.

“When we see such a person, standing in front of us and explaining to us the things he went through, making personal sacrifice, for whom? Obviously for us, for all the people of Israel. There is no greater message in it than that of unity,” Cohen said.

Said Doyeb, “After the talk, many of the students came to me and told me how they felt. One of them also told me, ‘Every year I’m using firecrackers on Purim, and this year I decided I’m not going to touch it anymore. It’s for you and all the soldiers of Israel.’ It was, whoa! This is why I’m here.”



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