2019 Convention – Imagine Life

Imagine Life – A Mental Health Initiative Before It’s Too Late

July 4, 2019, at the International Convention of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, the Foundation of Jewish Life sponsored a “day of community-open and honest reflections.”  Rabbi Daniel Cohen spoke of the Joshua Moment in each of our lives, which is our recognition of moments that define us.  We recognize and accept that we are not perfect and have imperfections.  The purpose of Imagine Life – A Mental Health Initiative Before It’s Too Late, is to create awareness, prevention, and education for combating drug addiction, suicide, anxiety and depression, and to provide a model of support for families.

Rabbi Mark Borowitz and his wife Harriet, from the Bet T’shuvah Center in California, told their story of how they developed the first Jewish recovery center in California.  This program has been operating successfully for 25 years. Many attendees approached me to tell stories about a family member. A father and mother indicated that their daughter had been hospitalized in a psychiatric facility,  but they told other family members that she was “away at college”. A brother told me that his sister had committed suicide, but told other family members that she had “died in a car accident”.  A father reported that his daughter died from an overdose of drugs, but told his family members that she died of “a heart condition” at age 17.

There were breakout groups following the morning talks, including Rabbi Iggy, who will be starting a Bet T’shuvah Center in New York in Fall 2019.

My wife, Heidi, facilitated an expressive writing group with 5 men and 5 women. The theme was Healing and used the music and lyrics of Leonard Cohen. Many participants read their responses to the music and prompt, including a woman from the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, who found the expressive writing activity to be the catalyst for her healing from the gun violence of the mass shooting last fall.  Other group facilitators outlined warning signs and positive family and community interventions and resources.

At the final wrap-up session in the afternoon, the following ideas were proposed:

  • Education for the clergy to become a resource for congregational families with mental illness, including suicide and substance abuse
  • The synagogue venues become available for support groups
  • The Men’s Clubs take the lead to initiate programs within their synagogues to honestly discuss mental health issues, for example, hold a Mental  Health Shabbat
  • Explore resources and partner with community agencies, such as the Jewish Family Services, NAMI and others.

We want to reduce the shame, stigma and secrecy by open disclosure and support from others.  We recommend the use of professionals and Peer-led support groups, including those with lived experience.

The FJMC will promote programs, build community, and foster friendships. We are committed to Torah study, worship, and social justice to strengthen us for a better life.  We hope to hear your ideas as we move forward.

Steven Mandel MD
Lenox Hill Hospital
Professor of Neurology
Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell