I want to highlight Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob & David’s recent Shabbat Shalem. Shabbat Shalem, an initiative of MetroWest ABLE, is Greater MetroWest’s celebration of Jewish Disability Awareness Month, dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of including all members in Jewish life in Greater MetroWest.
Synagogue inclusion shouldn’t happen just one weekend a year. We should always be mindful of our neighbors and our friends who are not being included and who may be feeling excluded.
As part of Shabbat Shalem, AABJ&D dedicated the Leil Limud — the Friday night communal learning program — as well as the drashot from our rabbi, Eliezer Zwickler, to understanding our responsibility to help our neighbors with mental health challenges. For too long, the community — our Jewish community,
as well as the community at large — has marginalized those people and their families. One of our presenters prefers to refer to their illness as “emotional pain,” and surely each of us can think of someone we know who is experiencing that. Another presenter looked at it as “suffering” and discussed ways in which each of us can help alleviate that suffering, if only a little.
It’s interesting that the Hebrew phrase for mental health is actually briut hanefesh. The implication here is that it’s not the mind that is “sick,” it’s the nefesh, or soul. One does not choose to suffer from depression, from bipolar disorder, a child’s adjustment disorder, or an eating disorder. But many of those people and their families suffer from a secondary, “social illness” — that of exclusion — and we are all part of the cause.
On Feb. 22, in six homes in the West Orange community, neighbors got together to hear presentations on these issues and to discuss this normally taboo subject. It wasn’t easy; many people were uncomfortable. But for maybe the first time, in a community forum, we took a look at how we may have inadvertently contributed to someone’s suffering and how we can help. We took a step towards destigmatizing mental illness.
AABJ&D Inclusion Committee chair and MetroWest ABLE cochair