Cuddly toy heals Israel’s children one hug at a time

The children are able to project their emotions onto the Hubuki dog


A small stuffed dog called Hibuki is being distributed among children in Israel to help them deal with anxiety.

MyIsrael, a charity founded in 2008 by British-born Danni Franks, has launched an appeal to scale the toy-based therapy for four to10-year-olds across Israel.

Hibuki is Hebrew for cuddles, and, with its downturned puppy face and long arms, the toy is designed so that children can project their sadness onto the doll one hug at a time.

Speaking to the JC from Israel, Franks said, “It’s a specific attempt to reduce anxiety and offer some calm and safety for these children.”

Therapists work with children and their parents in group sessions to introduce Hibuki. When children are asked to take care of Hibuki, their focus shifts to the problems of the toy.

The dolls were distributed soon after the October 7. Franks said: “When there is mass trauma the quicker you can get children the dolls the better. The group trauma therapy with the dolls tries to prevent PTSD.”

“The first question therapists ask children is: ‘How do you think Hibuki is feeling?’ This can be a way for young children to explain their emotions and experiences through the toy. One kid might say that Hibuki is feeling really angry, and you can ask him why.”

Frank said that one child said Hibuki that was stuck in a suitcase, he didn’t have anything to eat, he couldn’t breathe properly, and he couldn’t go to the toilet. “This was a child explaining their experience inside a saferoom on October 7 via the doll. The therapist asks: ‘How do you think we can make him (Hibuki) feel better?’”

According to Frank, another child said: “Hibuki is feeling sad because his dad died. He’s feeling alone and afraid because there is no one to take care of him anymore, but I’m going to take care of him now.” One girl made an ID card for Hibuki and put her name as the mummy, she said.

Children can be seen carrying the doll in the Dead Sea hotel where the displaced survivors of Kibbutz Be’eri are living.

The doll therapy was designed by clinical psychologist, Dr. Shai Hen-Gal, during the Second Lebanon War. The dolls, and the accompanying therapy, were found to enable children and their families to work through trauma.

Hen-Gal has gone global with the therapy, heading to Japan after a tsunami and to Turkey after an earthquake.

In Israel, the therapy is funded by the Ministry for Health, but MyIsrael is helping to fund the dolls themselves. The charity’s MyChankhakGift campaign has launched an e-card for £18, through which a doll can be bought for a child in need.

Franks said: “Wherever you look in Israeli society, there is trauma, but these dolls are one small part of the healing process.”

Other MyIsrael campaigns range from funding respite centres for soldiers to wash their uniforms to making sure children with parents in the IDF are sent birthday presents. The charity is also funding smart watches for people who are hard of hearing to be alerted to rocket sirens and food vouchers for families struggling during the war.

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