When we are invited at Shabbat services to share the name of a loved one in need of healing, is there a reluctance to ask for blessing for someone who struggles with mental illness? Do we shy away from talking about psychological or emotional pain? Do we fall behind a curtain of silence, unable to care for the soul in the same way we care for the body?
We are a group of congregants interested in mental health and Tikkun Olam who are organizing an effort to support those in our community touched by mental health challenges. In March of 2015, we had a Shabbat Reflection on Mental Health and Wellness. Our goal was to move from silence to action regarding mental illness and mental well-being and to take guidance from Jewish text in caring for the soul. Inspired by the Shabbat Reflection, we have created action groups to make a difference in our community here at TBE and in the Boston Greater Area.
Please contact Alan Posner or Sandy Aronson for more information
Mental Health Resource Guide
Our TBE Mental Health Initiative has created a resource guide. This Resource guide provides a basic list of community-based mental healthcare providers serving the many Temple Beth Elohim members cities and towns. It is intended to be a reference source if you, a member of your family, or someone you know is facing mental health, emotional, or behavioral challenges. We will update this guide periodically!
Shabbat Speaker Program with Dr. Ed Scolnick
On Friday, May 18, 2017 the Mental Health Initiative held its third major event which included a presentation at the Shabbat Service, a community dinner and an impressive lecture by Temple member and Broad Institute Research Director, Dr. Edward Scholnick. During the Shabbat service, particular emphasis was placed during the healing prayers on mental illness, and the need to remove stigma. In addition, members of the Mental Health Initiative were honored with an opportunity to light the Shabbat candles, and Dr. Scholnick gave a brief summary of the points he was later to discuss. The dinner, attending by over 60 people, provided an opportunity for members of the community to communicate with each other in an informal and supportive setting. Dr. Scholnick's presentation emphasized how little research and development of medications has occurred in the area of mental health – compared to e.g. cardiac problems – and described the excitement surrounding recent gene related developments that promise great progress in the future. Mental illness does not differ from physical illness except, perhaps in the fact that it is genetically more complex than many physical diseases. Most importantly, given the physical nature of illnesses ranging from schizophrenia to bipolar disease and many others, the idea of stigma being associated with mental illness is untenable.
The Mental Health Initiative is deeply grateful to Dr. Scholnick, to Rabbi Sapphire and to Sandy Aronson for coordinating this magnificent evening.
TBE’s NAMI Walk Team had a great time walking along the Charles River in support of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Our work is part of TBE’s Tikkun Olam campaign to reduce stigma, which actually makes mental illness worse, and to support the many people, including many of our congregants, who suffer with mental illness. Our team raised more than $2000 to support NAMI’s programs.
CJP Article - "One Congregation's Journey to Support Mental Health"
We are both honored and humbled to be featured by CJP. You can read the article about our mental health initiative and the journey our community is taking to support those struggling with mental illness by clicking here.
October 2016 Update
Thank you to everyone who attended our "Beyond Stigma" program. For a full breakdown of the event, please click here to see our post-event email.
After hearing the story from a member of our community, we created breakout groups with clear next steps. See below for our groups and their descriptions. If you want to join, please contact Alan Posner.
Support: This group will focus on finding ways to best support our community, including but not limited to programming, trainings, and a resource guide.
Education and Advocacy: This group is dedicated to educating our community about mental wellness and providing opportunities to fight against stigma and for policies that will improve the mental health support system in our state and country.
External Partnerships: This group will focus on building and strengthening relationships with organizations that also work in the mental health field, such as NAMI, Riverside, CJP, and even other synagogues that do this great work.
Summer 2016 Update
A service for comfort, hope and renewal. This service has been held twice since the creation of the mental health initiative. Working with Cantor Sufrin and the caring community we are planning a third healing service during the next three months. We are coordinating with Cantor Sufrin and the caring community team.
Last spring saw a very successful 12 week Family Education Program offering coping skills and support under the auspices of NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness). We are grateful to TBE member, Steve Rosenfeld, past president Boston NAMI, for his outstanding work, and we look forward to scheduling more support and educational programs from NAMI.
Creating an Active Resource and Referral List
The mental health initiative has been working to create a comprehensive resource and referral list to enable congregants who are searching for services in the mental health field to find the best resources. That list will be available online very soon. Contact Alan K. Posner, (617) 330-7081 or Sandy Aronson, (781) 235-8419 x218 to join our efforts and programs.
Spring/Summer 2015: Action groups
On March 25, we held a follow-up meeting to the Shabbat Reflection on Mental Health and Wellness. Eighteen people were in the room and we had incredible energy for moving forward. Our goal was to clarify which action areas we plan to pursue, and to reduce the amount of overlap between action groups wherever possible to avoid duplication of effort. Thank you to all of you who attended -- your input was invaluable.
The action groups we identified last Wednesday are as follows:
This group will focus on educating the TBE community on issues related to mental illness and mental wellness, and on existing local mental health resources. Some things this group may pursue include hosting a forum of local mental health organizations to educate the TBE community on existing support and care resources, as well as disseminating more general information about mental illness, such as symptoms, how to reach out for help, and ways to provide help to those in need.
This group will focus on helping people who are living with mental illness and/or caring for someone with mental illness find and secure care and support. Areas for action could include creating a list of mental health resources, creating a help line to help individuals connect with local resources when needed, and creating support networks for those in need.
NAMI and Advocacy:
The NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) group will work to establish a connection with NAMI and on developing that relationship in whatever way makes the most sense for TBE. Possible partnerships may include creating a NAMI chapter at TBE, as well as finding ways to leverage NAMI's work to help the TBE community fight the stigma associated with mental illness. Given that NAMI is nationally recognized for their advocacy work, this group will use the partnership to pursue justice via political and social activism.
Prayer and Healing:
This group will focus on connecting with the TBE Caring Community to provide non-clinical care and support to those living with mental illness or caring for someone with mental illness within the TBE community. This team will work to find ways to help those who are affected by mental illness find healing through prayer, meditation, and creating a welcoming space within our building for those who are looking for non-clinical care or support at TBE. It is likely that this group will work with the NAMI group to address the issue of stigma within the TBE community.
This group will focus on providing TBE staff with the education and training they need to deal with mental health issues that they are asked to address in their work. The group will work to identify staff members who could benefit from such education and training and determine how best to meet their needs.
Considering the barriers that must be confronted, we need Koach B'Yachad (strength together) to effectively make systemic change. If you have any questions about our progress, the current action groups, or the reflection itself, please don't hesitate to contact us.
We look forward to responding to this issue, as a community.
March 7, 2015: Shabbat Reflection
We would like to thank you for your attendance and full engagement in the Shabbat Reflection we held at TBE on Saturday March 7th to respond to the needs of those grappling with mental illness in our midst. The turnout, the energy in the room, and the level of discourse surely showed us that this is a topic ripe for our community to respond. Everyone heard loud and clear that there has been silence and stigma around mental illness that has been left unaddressed. Our hope is that this is just the beginning of an on-going set of conversations and, more than that, that it gives birth to some new mental health and mental illness initiatives of which, one day, the TBE community will be known. It is also apparent that a particularly Jewish response to these complex issues adds dimensions to the existing support and services. Our congregants, other Jewish people in our community, and the community at large all have unmet needs for support, education, and advocacy. This is not a set of issues that pertains only to helping "those others"; it is a set of issues that is about all of us. Again, that was brought home by the personal stories of our planned speakers and of so many of you during the course of the afternoon.