Congregation Beth Israel, in San Diego, CA, is moving forward with a program to raise awareness within their community of the challenges of mental health. I just completed a few days of working with their Caring Community program, under whose guidance this project will evolve. The assignment was to discuss how to move the congregation, and hopefully the larger community, to a new sense of concern and support for individuals and families who deal with this issue. At a very intense meeting, family members from the congregation discussed some of their challenges and their desire that their congregation be more aware and supportive. The meeting, attended by representatives of the local Jewish Family and Children’s service, was helpful in building a consensus and a commitment was made to move forward in this. The congregation, under the leadership of Rabbi Michael Berk, used the Shabbat sermon to focus on the issue.
This issue of mental health awareness is one that needs to be discussed openly and with caring in every congregation. From youth to older adults, the concerns are manifold. Every congregation, regardless of denomination, deals with this. For Boomers and our parent’s generation, this challenge presents itself in many ways. The incidents of older adult suicide are well documented. Much of this is related to illness or the “alone-ness” factor that faces so many. Depression and fear are often contributors. The growing reality of the expected rise in Alzheimer’s and dementia is also something that we cannot ignore. The current figure of 5 million people with Alzheimer’s is expected to grow, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, to some 15 million as Boomers age out. There are not enough qualified care-givers to meet this demand.
Judaism has much to say from our classic texts about these issues. It is important that we educate our people as to how Judaism sees mental health issues and hoe some of the texts can help guide a family in making decisions about care-giving. Rabbi Berk and Beth Israel have joined a number of rabbis and congregations across the country in recognizing the need for the congregation to be aware of and respond to this need. They hope to provide support and to reduce the stigma that still exists within much of our community around issues of mental health. Jewish Sacred Aging would love to hear from your congregation if you have developed a program of caring and support.
Rabbi Richard F. Address. D.MIn
**** for additional resources: “R’Fuat Ha Nefesh”: a congregation program resource boon on Judaisma nd Mental Health (URJ Press)
“Judaism and Mental Health” workshop provided by Jewish Sacred Aging