Tidewater Jewish community addresses mental health awareness

by | Sep 2, 2021 | Trending News

Sunday, October 3 and Monday October 4


This year’s Milton Mickey Kramer’s Scholar in Residence Fund of the Congregation Beth El Foundation’s Tidewater Together will bring mental illness and addiction out of the shadows and consider ways that Tidewater’s organized Jewish community can support those who need help. To begin this important work, Tidewater will welcome author and journalist Stephen Fried, who has dedicated the past five years of his career to engaging Jewish communities in supporting, including, and understanding those with mental illness and addiction, their families, caregivers, and clinicians.

On Sunday, October 3 at 5:30 pm, Fried will join some local Jewish clergy: Rabbi Rosalin Mandelberg, Rabbi Michael Panitz, Rabbi Ron Koas, Cantor Jennifer Reuben, and Cantor Wendi Fried, for a discussion on brain health and faith. They will focus on why brain health and mental well-being matter to the Jewish people, and what can be done as a Jewish community to bring these topics forward.

Monday, October 4 at 7:30 pm, the entire Tidewater community is invited to learn about the important work being done locally to address mental well-being, what needs to be done, and how to help. A panel discussion will feature Stephen Fried and representatives from Jewish Family Service, the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), the Virginia Beach Crisis Intervention Team, I Need a Lighthouse, and the VB Strong Center.

This topic is timely

“From its very beginning to its contemporary iterations, our Jewish tradition teaches that the most essential fact of being human is our tzelem elohim, the divine image that inheres in each of us,” says Rabbi Michael Panitz of Temple Isreal. “Not our powers, not our areas of excellent ability, not the ‘best foot forward’ that we strive to project, but “the image”—that’s the most important human quality. We always need to keep that prominent in our consciousness.

“This fact came into high relief during the recent Olympics with the angry chorus of condemnation that erupted just in the face of the acknowledgement by champion gymnast, Simone Biles, that mental health issues were serious enough to sideline her,” continues Rabbi Panitz. “This shows just how woefully ignorant much of our society is about the reality of the emotional component of wellness. For shame! That people who literally haven’t got a clue about the life-limiting, even life-threatening, mental challenges that can wreck the quality of one’s life, would rush to judgment. Clearly, they have not given even a moment of thought about how unreasonable it is to suppose, as they evidently do, that this young woman, having literally dedicated her entire life to the pursuit of excellence in gymnastics, would give it up because of a single failure, a moment of weakness. Alas, Americans have so far to go.”

It matters to the Jewish people

“Judaism teaches that we are all created in the image of God, meaning every aspect of each of us is sacred. This goes for our physical bodies, and also our mental states,” says Rabbi Rosalin Mandelberg of Ohef Sholom Temple. “Everyone struggles at some time in our lives. We experience loss, anxiety, and depression and our instinct is to isolate ourselves and not let anyone see our pain. The irony is that none of us is perfect; that is why the purpose of Judaism is tikkun olam, the repair, healing, and wholeness of the world. And tikun olam must always begin with tikun atzmi, healing of self.

“Our community of faith and love and hope ought to be a place of support and strength for those who are suffering,” says Rabbi Mandelberg. “We try woefully hard to reach out to those who are in need through the incredible work of our Caring Committee—helping the stranger, feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked. We reach out to those who are physically ill—checking in on them, providing for medicines, doctor’s visits, and meals. But for those who are mentally unwell, often we are afraid or ill equipped to help. It is so important for our community to de-stigmatize the diseases that afflict our loved ones and temple family members and to garner the training and resources to be and do better.

“That is why creating a Tidewater Together program on the topic of mental health is so critically important. We may feel on top of the world today and that is awesome; but someday, sometime, we or someone we love will falter and it is then that I pray our Jewish community and congregations can be present to extend ourselves with compassion.”

Out of the shadows

“I wish to create a space at Congregation Beth El where there is little to no stigma about discussing our mental health issues. People should feel as comfortable talking about their depression as they do about a broken ankle! Through learning sessions and dialogues, we can discuss how ancient Jewish ideas connect to modern mental health treatment,” says Congregation Beth El’s Rabbi Ron Koas.

“My hope is that Congregation Beth El can become a space where people who are comfortable can talk about their experiences—no matter how difficult they may be. Hopefully by reducing this stigma we can show that there is no shame in receiving treatment and support for both your physical and mental health.”

For more information or to register for these FREE and open to the community events, visit JewishVA.org/TidewaterTogether or contact Sierra Lautman, director of Jewish Innovation, at SLautman@UJFT.org or 757-965-6107.

-Sierra Lautman