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October 23, 1987 - Image 38

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-10-23

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An Israeli woman grieves at a grave
in a military cemetery near Tel Aviv.

Because of the
number of
women who
have lost their
Israel makes a
good case study
for ways women
cope with
widowhood, and
the way society
treats its


FRIDAY, OCT. 23, 1987



Special to The Jewish News

arah was married at
age 20. At age 24, she
became a war widow
when her husband, Reuven,
was killed in the first few days
of the Lebanon War. At the
time, they had one small
daughter and Sarah was
Almost five years later,
Sarah is raising her two
daughters alone in 1b1 Aviv.
She has not remarried nor
does she expect to remarry in
the near future. She misses
Reuven a lot.
Sarah, unfortunately, is not
alone in Israel. According to
government statistics, since
the 1948 War of Indepen-
dence, 3,305 Israeli women
have lost their soldier-
"The status of war widows
in Israel is a very special one,"
says Dr. Ruth Malkinson,
who teaches in the School of

Social Work at 1bl Aviv
University. "Society needs
them. They remind us that
someone died to protect us."
Malkinson, an Israeli who
holds a doctorate in counsel-
ing education from the
University of Florida, has
been studying the relation-
ship between war widows and
society for the past 20 years.
Israeli war widows, she has
discovered, receive a double
message. On the one hand,
their deceased husbands are
considered heroes and,
therefore, these women
themselves are heroines. They
are expected to be strong and
to uphold the memory of their
late husbands. "Society tells
a widow that she is a living
monument," Malkinson says.
"Through you, it says, we can
remember your husband."
This very honorable role is
counterbalanced by another
message from society, which
can be interpreted as, "You've
paid the highest price. You've
suffered enough. You deserve

a better life." This message
encourages her to stop
mourning and to rehabilitate
"The war widow is con-
fronted with a dilemma,"
Malkinson suggests, of bal-
ancing these two messages
and behaving accordingly.
While usually feeling a strong
need to remember, the widow
often fears that if she remar-
ries she will fail society by
forgetting the person society
has obligated her to
In Israel, where war widows
serve a symbolic function in
society, the Defense Ministry
tries to compensate them for
their loss by providing
monthly financial allowances,
assistance with mortgages,
reduced taxes and other
financial aid.
Besides material assis-
tance, the ministry's social
service staff helps widows
deal with their grief by pro-
viding individual and group
therapy. However, Malkinson,
who led one such group
recently, estimates that no
more than 20 to 25 percent of
widows take advantage of
group therapy. "They're
afraid of being exposed to the
pain," she says.
Malkinson's first ex-
perience working with war
widows occurred after the
1973 Yom Kippur War when
she responded to a Defense
Ministry request for profes-

sional people to help bereaved
1bn years later, after work-
ing with a group of widows
from the war in Lebanon, she
produced a radio program
called "Meir's Boots Are Still
On The Balcony." Several war
widows who heard this pro-
gram asked the Defense
Ministry's Rehabilitation
Department to put them in
contact with Malkinson.
"They saw this as their last
chance to be helped," she
This initiative resulted in
the formation of a therapy
group. Seven women, mostly
older widows from 1973, met
with Malkinson and a male
co-therapist, David Elhanati,
bi-monthly for two years.
"These were busy working
women and mothers from dif-
ferent ethnic backgrounds,"
she recounts. "The purpose
was to help them reach a
point where they could deal
with unresolved grief." This
unresolved grief, a result of
pent-up feelings of anger,
shame or guilt, prevents a
woman from passing com-
pletely through the recovery
This process, as described
by Naomi Golan, a former lec-
turer at the School of Social
Work at Haifa University,
leads the mourner from being
a wife to becoming a widow
and then a woman, and may
take months or years .
"As soon as a wife hears

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