Rabbi:Why­men­tal­health Shab­bat is so im­por­tant

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMUNITY NEWS - BY LEE HARPIN

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’

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