What is also becoming important is the realization that mental health concerns play a part in so many personal and family behaviors. Issues such as self-inflicted violence and eating disorders among young people, addiction and anxiety among middle-aged people, and loneliness and depression among older adults are finding a wider avenue of discussion and study within the Jewish community. Why? The answer is that so many more of our people are experiencing these issues and these same people often turn to their clergy and congregation asking how or if Judaism and Jewish tradition has anything of value to say to them. The reality that Judaism has spoken to mental health concerns for much of its history often is liberating and comforting.
Congregations, Jewish Family Services and Jewish Federations are each creating more opportunities to raise awareness and reduce stigma. In addition to synagogue sponsored conferences and sermons, Family Services and congregations are adding support groups and programs to their schedule of offerings that speak to issues that span experiences from addictions to Alzheimer’s to care-giving and loss.
The Jewish Federation of New York has even undertaken a major yearlong campaign to raise this issue within all denominations this year. The program was launched with a communal conference in May of 2010 and will feature educational materials and a Sabbath devoted to mental health awareness this fall (contact Rabbi Edythe Mencher who is developing this material at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Other resources include:
- R’fuat Ha Nefesh: Caring for the Soul (URJPress), an overview on Judaism and Mental Health and includes essays on texts and healing services that speak to the issue.
- Resilience of the Soul (URJPress), a program book for congregations that looks at resilience and issues of self-destructive behavior.
- L’tapeach Tikvah: To Nourish Hope, a text-based program guide for congregations that wish to examine the subject of eating disorders (available from my office at URJ).
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.