Rabbi:Whymentalhealth Shabbat is so important
THE RABBI behind the UK’s first Mental Health Awareness Shabbat wants it to become as much a fixture of the communal calendar as Mitzvah Day and Shabbat UK.
More than 60 synagogues of all denominations across the country will this weekend incorporate into services a sermon by Cockfosters and North Southgate Synagogue’s Rabbi Danny Epstein. It will be based around this week’s Parashat Bo, telling of the Plague of Darkness, which has obvious symbolism for those dealing with mental health issues. The special Shabbat is supported by communal mental health charity Jami.
“I think it is the most important conversation you can have with the Jewish community today,” Rabbi Epstein said. “Mental health has always been so important.
“I’ve done 115 funerals since I got this job in 2014. At times I’ve been doing three funerals a week and have thought and read a lot about how to stay positive, or at least sup- Rabbi Danny Epstein port the people who are coming to me for guidance while not actually losing the plot myself, so to speak. “Jami have been excellent in this respect. I remember a conversation with one member of the community who was eventually placed in a mental health institution. “I was exhausted, drained — and I burst into tears as soon as I came off the phone. Without the help of Jami, I just wouldn’t have been able to do it.” Another factor in his determination to raise awareness of mental health was the suicide of a young man from his community in 2015. “The notion that a suicide is irresponsible and selfish and, as such, requires burial at the edges of a Jewish cemetery has long since passed,” Rabbi Epstein noted. “Suicide is seen as the sad culmination of a mental health-related illness that results in a devastating decision as a way to end the pain that precipitated it.” Speaking to young people in his congregation had made him aware of “real challenges” that could impact on their mental well-being — “family relationships, personal dating issues, pressures of exams. They are getting into stuff they are just not equipped for. Living with social media, young people are being exposed to too much too fast, often without being able to comprehend what they are seeing.”
On Monday, more t h a n 1 5 0 p e o p l e attended a debate on mental health at Rabbi Epstein’s synagogue with a panel including Jami chief executive Laurie Rackind, mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin and medical experts.
Schools including JFS have held sessions on mental health issues and on campus, J Socs will hold themed dinners to mark the special Shabbat.
“It would make me happier than anything else in the world if this were to become another Mitzvah Day and Shabbat UK, because it deserves to be,” Rabbi Epstein concluded.
“Our mental health is so important. There’s too much sickness and not enough mental healthcare.”
It’s the most important conversation you can have with the community’