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Shabbat on Mental-Health Needs Being Planned rss

Posted on: May 7th, 2010
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    Here are some suggestions on steps that congregations can take to respond to mental-health needs in the community, as suggested by Rabbi Edythe Held Mencher, a consultant for UJA-Federation’s Shabbat of Wholeness, Holiness, and Wellness.
    • Incorporate references to the ways faith and a caring community can help in sermons and educational programs.
    • Post suicide-prevention materials and hotline information.
    • Encourage and invite those who may be suffering silently to consult with clergy.
    • Offer text studies and other opportunities to use Jewish music, ritual, and wisdom to provide comfort, strength, and hope.
    • Find opportunities for members to volunteer at local agencies and congregational programs that help those with mental-health conditions.

Mental-health challenges such as depression, anxiety, and addictions affect individuals and families in society broadly, including in the Jewish community, and often lead to myriad problems.

To share ways to help, and to prepare for a communitywide focus on mental-health needs during this fall’s Shabbat of Wholeness, Holiness, and Wellness, nearly 100 rabbis, social workers, educators, and others joined together on May 6th for a symposium at UJA-Federation of New York.

The project aims to engage synagogues and other organizations throughout New York City, Long Island, and Westchester in creating mental health–related programming and awareness for the Shabbat of Wholeness, Holiness, and Wellness on October 15th and 16th, as well as for ongoing attention.

Speak Openly

“Are we truly creating responses that reflect holiness?” asked Rabbi Edythe Held Mencher, a rabbinic consultant for the project. “Can we speak openly about mental illness?” She said a high priority is to reduce the stigma that has long surrounded mental-health issues, and help those affected find support within their communities.

David Pelcovitz, a professor of psychology and Jewish education at Yeshiva University, said the needs are substantial, as Jews have been documented, for instance, as at increased risk for depression compared with other groups. He spoke of the importance of community support in mental-health issues, citing a study that included an experiment where people were taken to a mountain and asked how tall it was. Those who were taken to the mountain alone thought it was the tallest, while those there with someone close to them said it was the shortest and most approachable.

Another speaker, Rabbi Richard F. Address, a specialist and congregational consultant for the Union for Reform Judaism, said involvement with mental-health issues is key to synagogues being relevant.

Rabbi Mencher offered a number of suggestions about how synagogues can bring mental-health issues into their Shabbat services and programs, including education for various age groups, having members share their stories, and inviting in professional and lay speakers. She said planners of the Shabbat program will continue to draw on the responses of synagogues, clergy, mental-health and agency professionals, and Jewish movement specialists in the next months, developing materials that will be distributed to synagogues and other organizations in advance of the October Shabbat.

Building on Initiatives

Roberta Leiner, managing director of UJA-Federation’s Caring Commission, which is the lead organizer of the Shabbat program, said it is “an outgrowth of our work to build caring and inspired communities.” The Shabbat will build on existing UJA-Federation mental-health initiatives, including Connect to Care, Mental Health GPS, and Partners in Caring.

SYNERGY: UJA-Federation of New York and Synagogues Together will alert area synagogues in coming months. SYNERGY Director Dru Greenwood said the project offered synagogues an opportunity “to join with others across New York in offering help and healing in their communities.”

The symposium was organized by UJA-Federation along with the New York Board of Rabbis and the major Jewish movements — the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation of Metropolitan New York and New Jersey, the Orthodox Union, the Union for Reform Judaism, and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.