Among the many remarkable people who work at Hadassah Hospital, few are in the league of Professor Esti Galili-Weisstub. 

While most are expert at healing broken bodies, for which there are clearly defined methodologies and where Hadassah is an acknowledged leader, Esti works in the inexact field of damaged minds.

Here too there are established methods, but not all fit the dynamic environment of a war zone or a large-scale natural disaster. 

Esti is one of the world’s most sought-after child psychiatrists.  She heads paediatric psychiatry at Hadassah and is the founder of the Jerusalem Crisis Intervention Center, with Australians, through the agency of Hadassah Australia, being the largest non-government funding source. 

She visited Melbourne and Sydney during May, a matter of weeks after terrorists in Gaza sent more than 400 rockets into Israel. 

Esti spoke on the theme of ‘Terror, Trauma, Transformation’, and how the Second Intifada (2000 – 2005) helped to drive a new awareness at Hadassah in the treatment of vulnerable children and adolescents.

“For the first time, we started to consult to affected children in the emergency room,” she said, as the images on television horrified even the most hardened in her professional community.

“In this way I could mobilise myself along with our staff, and we realised that we had the strength to deal with this trauma.  Through our strength and belief that we could make a difference to damaged young lives, we were able to give the children a similar sense of hope.”

According to Esti, the message was that things could improve, that a transition could take place and lives could be rebuilt.

“We also learned through this experience that minutes and hours after the trauma, we were able to pinpoint children who were at a higher risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

It was a learning process.  They tended to hundreds of children and gave them the contact numbers of staff, and told them to call if they were experiencing issues they needed to talk about.  The phones were silent.

“It was only much later we realised that children were trying to ignore the pain, that it was an embarrassment or an unwanted intrusion into their lives,” Esti said.  “And yet we became aware than more than 50% of the children were still presenting with symptoms nearly two years after the trauma.”

This was the driver behind the establishment of the Jerusalem Crisis Intervention Center.

For Esti, the knowledge gained became invaluable, not only in Israel but in many places around the world where children were impacted by trauma.

The President of Hadassah Australia, Ron Finkel AM, said that while the JCIC wasn’t the first centre providing psychotherapeutic support to children in Israel, it was the first of its kind to provide a range of modalities that could be tailored to suit individual circumstances.

“Many people believe the inter-communal conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is the greatest cause of stress in society,” Ron said.  “In fact, there are many other situations affecting young children and adolescents, like bullying, domestic violence, sexual abuse and family members dealing with mental health issues.

“And there is also poverty – Jerusalem is the most poverty-stricken city in Israel – which feeds into many of the issues that send young people to Esti and the JCIC.”

Ruth Ramone Rosen, Executive Director of Hadassah Australia, said having Esti address audiences in Australia is a great privilege because she is articulate, passionate and a great example of Israeli excellence in the field of psychiatry and psychotherapy.

“It was inspiring to meet someone with the skills and vision of Prof Esti Galili,” Ruth said.  “Through her eyes we understand how widespread this trauma is, and why it is critically important to continue funding these initiatives if we want to save the children, their families and society from the terrible consequences that can follow if the issues aren’t addressed.”