Photo Credit: courtesy, Israel Ministry of Defense spokesperson's office
Defense Ministry social worker Ruti Eilam and Arieh Mualem, head of the ministry's Department of Families and Commemoration, visit a 92-year-old bereaved mother in Eilat.

Israelis are preparing throughout the country to grapple once more with the deaths of loved ones while serving their nation.

More than 100 families have been added this year to the list of the bereaved. Israel’s Ministry of Defense reports that 59 soldiers have fallen since last year’s observance of Memorial Day, and another 86 disabled veterans have succumbed to their conditions. All were officially recognized by the Defense Ministry, which means the families are entitled to certain services and rights.


After a soldier falls, the IDF nearly always “expresses its heartfelt condolences to the family” and says it will “continue to accompany and support them.”

But what does that mean in practical terms?

Ruti Eilam, a Defense Ministry social worker who is responsible for the care of bereaved families living in the Eilat and Arava regions in Israel’s southern district, explained it all in an interview with

Eilam’s role includes providing emotional support for all the bereaved families living in those areas, “from the moment when tragedy strikes . . . and throughout their lives.”

The process gets underway immediately with Eilam, a Master’s level social worker, first reaching out to the family during the seven-day shiva mourning period.

“We work to ensure the families’ well-being, yes, but also their legal rights,” Eilam told

Those legal rights include access to mental health services — psychotherapy provided at MOD and/or paid-for psychotherapy throughout the year if the family desires – including individual, couples and family therapy, as well as hydrotherapy and other similar treatments.

“We do whatever we can to customize ourselves for the family,” Eilam said.

Even though mental health services in southern Israel don’t always measure up to those in other parts of the country, the comparison ends when it comes to bereaved families under the care of the defense ministry.

“They get the same standard of care as anywhere else in the country, and in a timely fashion — and sometimes even more so because we are smaller, so everyone knows everyone else since there are so many small communities,” she said.

“We make sure the family gets the care that they need when they need it. Nothing and no one is left behind, even as far south as Eilat.”

The connection – and the care – is lifelong, she noted, emphasizing that “every family is special to us; we’re very close. It’s an intimate connection.”

The Defense Ministry’s Department of Families and Commemoration is leading Remembrance Day events this year, as always, preparing, maintaining, and cleaning the 52 military cemeteries, the Memorial Monument to the Bedouin Warriors, hundreds of military burial plots and thousands of graves across the country.

The department also has reached out over the past several weeks to the thousands of bereaved families to provide any assistance they may need.

The visit by a department delegation, and Ruti Eilam to the Eilat home of a 92-year-old bereaved mother who lost her son in the Yom Kippur War, was part of the pre-Memorial Day outreach.

Eilam, Arieh Mualem, head of the Defense Ministry’s Department of Families and Commemoration and a delegation of other department officers visited the elderly bereaved mother just two weeks ago.

“It was a privilege to get to know her, to hear her relate to us her experiences, and to honor her son,” Eilam said. “It was a very special moment.”

Eilam and others from the department visit the elderly mother frequently, she said. “We care for her and for many others in the aging community.”

Bereaved families receive a monthly allowance, as well as financial aid to buy a first apartment or to customize a home for medical needs. They also receive transportation assistance to help with getting to a cemetery, for example, as well as medical benefits to supplement those not entirely covered by the country’s national medical insurance, the kupat holim. In addition, bereaved families receive help with accessing services from Israel’s national insurance (like the Social Security Administration) institute, Bituach Leumi.

“All of this is based on the law,” Eilam emphasized. “The families are legally entitled to these services.”

The social workers who reach out to bereaved family also receive professional support, to make sure they themselves can cope with the constant tragedies they face as part of their job. It’s called “secondary trauma” in professional parlance, and if not addressed it not only can destroy a social worker’s ability to help, but also can destroy that professional’s life as well.

“The ministry provides us with a lot of support,” Eilam noted. “We get personal and professional supervision at the ministry as well as externally, and we have a peer support group as well.

Moreover, the Defense Ministry provides us with a lot of courses and professional education within the ministry but externally as well.

“We have a very innovative, modern department and a lot of the social workers continue to work here for many years because of all this support,” she added.


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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for, and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.