Strength to Strength’s Weekend Retreat – Sharing Experiences of Loss 10.31.14 – 11.2.14


How do you get over being the victim of a terrorist attack? As the people who joined a weekend retreat in Lakewood, New Jersey can attest to, the answer is you don’t, you learn to incorporate it into the person you have become since the attack. Strength to Strength (www.stosglobal.org) is a non-profit organization founded by Sarri Singer, a woman who survived a bus bombing is Israel. Strength to Strength was established to support victims of terrorism around the world with long-term psychological needs through regular meetings, provision of information and advice, and raising awareness of the unmet needs of victims and their families.
The purpose of the weekend retreat was to unite victims, survivors, recovery workers and bereaved family members who have all experienced firsthand the face of terrorism. The goals were simply to relax, relate and learn ways to help ourselves and one another. The gathering included citizens from America and Canada who experienced terrorism domestically and abroad. Many participants felt that peer support was an invaluable resource, because many traditional therapies were not geared towards understanding the effects of terrorism.
The weekend included group sessions, where everyone was encouraged to share as much, or as little as they felt comfortable with. Charlie Kaczorowki, a survivor of the ’93 bombing on the World Trade Center, 9/11 and a Vietnam War Veteran, gave words to the true meaning of the weekend. ”I can honestly say that my level of perseverance went one step higher after sharing a weekend with twenty amazing people, people who have survived an act of terrorism in their lives where I found myself connected to a whole new family that understands the definition of, resilience. Being a Nam Vet, a survivor of the '93 WTC bombing, survivor of '9/11', and now trying to survive the numerous health ailments that was attributed to being at Ground Zero, for 10 months, I found great relief of sharing each one of these events with members of a very caring organization.”
This feeling of perseverance was felt by many. “Following the terrorist attacks 6 years ago in Mumbai I have felt disconnected and isolated.” Said Autumn Gilles of Oregon, “Strength to Strength brought me together with other victims of terrorism from around the globe this past weekend and for the first time in a long time I felt a connection again. I don't feel as isolated and now have peer support to turn to when I am haunted by the terror I endured November 26, 2008.”
The weekend reminded us all that terrorism is a world problem. Lori Ssebulime, a native of Pennsylvania who experienced 2 attacks in Uganda, reflected, “None of us chose to be touched personally by terrorism but, we have been. Strength to strength has allowed me to connect with so many other incredible and courageous people who have also experienced the hate and cowardly actions of terrorists. It amazes me how we can relate to each other’s feelings, emotions and reactions despite differences in religion, political views and cultures, and the people I have met through this organization have truly touched my life and I'm so grateful."
This sentiment was shared by Dot Hill, an Oklahoma City survivor “It was an honor to stand strong with individuals of attacks from all over this world to learn and to share what works and what doesn't work on the path to healing, and to see the strength we offer each other down that path. I was impressed by each individual's desire to keep this from happening to others, and the devotion to each other that we have even though most of us had just met.”
Although there were fun activities planned throughout the weekend, such as wine tasting and shopping, the group was so involved in relating to one another that fun was secondary. “This weekend was so compelling that I didn't even have time to go in the hotel hot tub” Tom Canavan, a 9/11 survivor stated. Tom is a living miracle and an example that a sense of humor is crucial to our recovery.
The role of spouses and first responders, and well as bereaved family members was also key in the discussions. There is a sense among some that if they weren’t injured, or weren’t physically there during an attack, that somehow their pain should be less, but the survivor guilt is just as real for these members. “I can’t begin to know what it was like for my wife to escape the World Trade Center on 9/11” said Jerry Lanski, husband of Wendy Lanski who was on the 29th Floor of Tower 1. “I just know that I can try to help and support her now, and do whatever I can to keep the memories of all victim of terrorism alive.”
This was the first in what Strength to Strength hopes to continue as a series of retreat weekends in the future.

This article was written by Wendy Lanski, 9/11 Survivor and Board Member of Strength to Strength.