By Karen Billing
The stories of lives ripped apart by acts of terrorism in Israel often start out as any normal day: a father taking his sons to lunch, a man gardening in his own front yard, children waiting at a bus stop.
It takes just a moment for a family’s happiness to be decimated by a terror attack. Local organization Adopt a Family Foundation aims to step in and provide support for that residual impact of loss, fear, shock and stress that comes with these traumatic events.
Founders Carine Chitayat and Iris Pearlman believed they could not stay passive as atrocities occurred and started their organization to bring emotional and financial support to victims of terror; to help people come to terms with the shock of the loss of their loved ones; or to overcome fear of terror events that have become a part of their everyday lives. They stay “forever connected” and form lasting friendships with the people they support.
“They really become family,” Pearlman said. “There is no time limit.”
The organization also seeks to raise awareness about what is happening in Israel, to look beyond a news report on a terrorist incident that says there are “no injuries” or “no damage.” That isn’t true, Chitayat and Pearlman will tell you.
“You can’t even count the damage, it affects the entire region, all of the families, all of the children and all of the adults,” said Chitayat, a Rancho Santa Fe resident.
Adopt a Family will celebrate its 10th anniversary with a gala on Saturday, April 27, at the home of Dr. David and Miriam Smotrich in Rancho Santa Fe. The event, from 8-11 p.m., will offer a musical performance from world-renowned artist Liel Kolet, a singer and peace advocate. There will also be a silent auction.
The foundation started in 2003 as a partner of Congregation Beth Am in Carmel Valley, but as it has grown the foundation has become an independent 501c3 non-profit.
Chitayat became moved to start the group after she heard a guest speaker from Israel talk about how her daughter was seriously injured in a terrorist attack at a bus stop in which 20 children were killed. She was touched by her story and realized how blessed she was to live in a place where she has no idea what people go through every day.
She got Pearlman on board and they went to work finding families to support.
“At best we can bring them extra love and support, to listen, and to be there for them,” Chitayat said.
In addition to providing contact and communication, they can also help facilitate therapy for post traumatic stress disorder and try to help people move forward by supporting their businesses. For the Galkowicz family, that meant helping purchase an oven so they could open a restaurant in memory of their daughter Dana, who was killed by a mortar rocket—the 22-year-old who aspired to be a dancer had always loved her father’s cooking.
One of their longest supported families is also one of their most difficult cases. In 2002, a suicide bomber killed Rachel Koren’s husband and two sons as the family ate at a restaurant in Haifa.
Tears fill Chitayat’s eyes whenever she even thinks about Rachel and what she has been through. Unlike another charity organization where a check might be handed out and that is the end of the connection, Chitayat has been connected with Rachel since 2003, forming an extremely close bond. She does what she can to help her in her struggle with an enormous loss.
“I love her dearly,” Chitayat said. “I talk to her all the time, we’re very close and if I even say her name I start crying. She keeps telling me she has nothing. We try to find her little miracles, we need to find her new miracles to keep her alive because deep down she is destroyed.”
They recently purchased her a camera to help her explore a newfound passion for photography. Being behind the lens on a photo shoot with fellow amateur photographers, Rachel was able to find a bit of tranquility.
The relationship with Rachel illustrates many of the connections Adopt a Family has—they go through all the emotions with the families they serve, the good times and the bad.
“The connections made are very rewarding,” Pearlman said. “You go into it feeling like you will provide all the care and the nurturing but at the end it turns out that the people we’re helping give back as much as we give them. It’s a beautiful reciprocation. The connections are so wonderful, it’s been really special.”
Adopt a Family additionally tries to do one community-wide project a year. Last year, they donated necklaces to women living in the impacted region of Shaar Hanegev on the border of Gaza.
“It was our message of love,” Pearlman said. “That little gift was a really big deal to them. Just a little gesture meant a lot to the women, that someone was paying attention.”
Another project Adopt a Family is working on is to publish a children’s book about dealing with trauma to distribute for free. They aim to publish 1,500 books and then do a second printing in Arabic for Palestinian children.
As they enter their 10th year having made connections with 11 families so far, they hope for peace but as violence persists, to continue to reach people in need of that extra love and support.
“It gives so much… it’s like recharging a battery,” Chitayat said. “When I first started someone told me ‘Never expect a thank you.’ But we get so much love back and so much gratitude it’s amazing. Even though we are miniature drops in the ocean, we can still touch lives and make a difference and it means a lot.”
To register for the April 27 event, email email@example.com. Registration is encouraged by April 22. Donations can be mailed to PO Box 7278, Rancho Santa Fe, 92067 and for more information on the foundation, visit