In addition to her graduate studies in both special education and social work, Madelaine Ellberger considers herself “a religious Jew and a very strong Zionist.”
So on Aug. 24 she left her home in Livingston on a four-day trip to Israel, where she volunteered with the One Family Fund to meet with wounded soldiers and bereaved families whose relatives have been killed in combat or in terrorist attacks.
“I help people here, and I felt very strongly when the war broke out that I wanted to help people there however I could,” said Ellberger, a member of Synagogue of the Suburban Torah Center in Livingston, in an Aug. 27 telephone interview, a day before heading home.
Because she has not yet completed her master’s degrees at the Bank Street School of Education and Columbia University School of Social Work, Ellberger could not serve officially as a trauma counselor.
But she sat beside trained professionals and “had a lot of conversations. It was about understanding the whole person, not just the immediate situation of a soldier or a parent who lost a child.”
She met with the families in Netanya before visiting soldiers at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer in Ramat Gan.
“To speak to a wounded soldier who said ‘thank you for coming here’ is truly inspirational,” she said. “I told him, ‘I speak to clients at home and I am not at a loss for words, but now that I am sitting here with you I don’t know what to say but ‘thank you.’”
She came back home and to her husband, Shai, before preparing to resume her studies after Labor Day.
But the notion of returning to Israel remains strong.
“I will go back whenever I can but I don’t know when that is,” she said.