Conversations (17)

This is a great question! The National Council for Behavioral Health teaches a Mental Health First Aid  course that outlines a crisis intervention action plan, guided by the acronym ALGEE.  ALGEE stands for: 

Assess for risk 

While it can be challenging to directly confront someone about difficult topics, it is important to directly ask about self-harming behavior, and not shy away from the topic.  Do not be afraid of directly asking, "Are you thinking about harming yourself? Do you have a plan?"  These questions can save a life, and help you better understand the severity and urgency of a situation. 

Listen nonjudgmentally

Let the person know you are concerned and willing to help, and discuss your observations with the person.  Do not express negative judgement, and separate behavior from the person (i.e., not - "You are a drunk," but "I see you drinking excessively and it worries me."  The individual's behavior is not who they are; it is an expression of an unmet need. Try to use "I feel" statements to present what you see in a way that isn't attacking or blaming. 

Give reassurance and information 

Treat the person with respect and dignity, and try to share pertinent information.  

Encourage appropriate professional help 

Identify potential professional help that may be available, such as doctors, psychiatrists, mental health professionals, peer specialists, teachers or guidance counselors, crisis hotlines, and other professional supports. 

Encourage appropriate self-help

Speak with the individual about appropriate self-help, such as support groups, family, friends, and faith networks, Al-Anon or Al-Ateen, exercise, relaxation, meditation, and other self-care practices. 

As a starting point, these points can be a touchstone to return to in a difficult situation.  From the perspective of what does Judaism have to say about this, I like to turn to turn to a text from the Talmud (Bava Metzia 84a) to approach this question.  In the text Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish has passed away, and Rabbi Yochanan, his chevruta, is extremely distressed.  The text explores various ways Rabbi Yochanan's colleagues attempt to comfort him, ultimately unsuccessfully.  To me, this text raises a couple of key questions:  What did Rabbi Yochanan need, how did his community respond, and how could they have responded differently that might have better supported Rabbi Yochanan in his distress? How does this relate to how we support individuals and families in their struggles?  What are our automatic reactions, and are some support options more difficult than others, and thus we shy away from them?  There aren't answers in the text, but it provides a lens to explore how exceptionally challenging it can be to appropriately support someone impacted by mental illness, and how often we revert to easier, but perhaps less effective, methods because of our own lack of understanding of that distress. 

This is a very important question. Trying to determine how to take action when someone you care about is exhibiting behavior that causes you to worry or fear for their safety can be daunting. 

Miriam and Jory have given some great advice and resources in their replies so I'll just chime in here with a few comments and links.

Here are two good links that describe the warning symptoms for mental health issues and addiction:

NAMI's Know the Warning Signs

NIDA's Signs & Symptoms of a Drug Use Problem

NAMI has some excellent practical advice for supporting someone during a crisis and for the long-term that can be found here. For direction in helping a loved one with substance use disorder, Al-Anon has a section on their website titled "How do I help my Alcoholic Family Member or Friend," that has specific strategies depending on the relationship (partner, parent, child, etc.).

Self-care is paramount when helping a troubled family member or friend. You can't effectively help others if you're depleted. Know when you need to step back, don't be afraid to seek professional help for yourself, and check out ongoing support groups.

As far as Jewish-specific suggestions, local Jewish Family Services agencies can be a wonderful resource for counseling and/or referral services to the most appropriate help. 

There is a component of spiritual depletion in these illnesses and also in caregiving. I've found it helpful to seek out comforting Jewish texts and prayers. These will be different for everyone. For me, certain Psalms (Tehillim) speak to me in troubling times.

I'll end with a quote from Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi: 

"A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness" - Tanya, Chapter 12. All we can do is try our best to bring some light and help to the situation.

Our mesorah has lots of emphasis on justice, caring, and compassion including innovating within the system where the status quo was unfair and particularly where it ended up causing violations of other laws and values (e.g. ketubah, pruzbol).  This mesorah calls on us to be open to recognizing areas where we were blind to certain groups that have been treated unfairly and to seek to change our perspectives and practices to accommodate our new understandings (with some of the caveats and concerns I've discussed above cautioning us from "throwing the baby out with the bathwater.")

I apologize that this is response is late and should be inserted before the last set of questions. I’ll try to tackle those questions directly later.

Thank you Leah for bravely identifying and facing critical issues, and R. Aviva for your sensitive and thoughtful response. I recognize and acknowledge fully the damage Leah reports, and the unfortunate dichotomy R. Aviva reports. I have and continue to devote myself both personally and professionally to preventing the first and resolving the second.

My commitment to women’s equal opportunity in Torah study goes back to fifth grade, when my Modern Orthodox school started a Talmud enrichment program for three of the four best Mishnah students, i.e. the boys. But I also had the advantage of growing up in a family that surrounded me with brilliant women, so that the idea that women were intellectually less capable never seemed plausible to me.

There are of course triggers of exclusion other than gender. One of my high school rebbeim openly debated whether it was wise to teach me Torah, or whether it was a case of arming the enemy, because of my commitments to Zionism and to the value of “secular” literature and philosophy. People (such as me) are excluded from specific visions of Torah because of their clothing choices, their political commitments, their (stance on) sexual orientation, and so forth. These exclusions work both to the right and to the left.

What this means is that Torah is a morashah but not a yerushah – it is an inheritance that nonetheless has to be actively acquired. This model, as R. Aviva beautifully points out, requires hope that is grounded in faith. I would explicate this further by saying that one has the hope of finding a place within the tradition that empowers you to live a life that accords fully with your deepest values and aspirations, and this hope is grounded in the faith that the tradition embodies what is good for the Jews to do. Where it gets hard is that one has to live in the here and now, where the hope has not yet have been fulfilled, the faith not yet justified. Not every tradition deserves that faith. I understand why people lose their faith in traditions that I care deeply about. I understand why people often try to “eat their tradition and have it to”, i.e. to introduce radical departures while claiming that they are true heirs.

In the end of the day, my two lodestones are that Jewish masoret requires halakhah to preserve its identity, and that according to my understanding of that masoret you can argue for any halakhic result you want, so long as you recognize that your argument may lose, and see yourself as bound by the result when it does. This seems to me the best way to balance inclusion with what might be termed a tradition’s right to self-preservation in the most literal sense.

Rabbi Lau (Chief Ashkenasic rabbi) claims that the list is made up of rabbis who did not give in their paperwork properly (their letter wan't on synagogue letterhead or they were missing forms etc. ) and that it has nothing to do with trusting them as rabbis.

I do not believe this to be accurate as at least one rabbi on the list said that they never had any paperwork rejected or that they have not needed to submit any paperwork as none of their congregants even considered getting married in Israel.

We had this problem last year with one of Rabbi Lookstein's converts. Rabbi Lookstein (of KJ and Ramaz school in Manhattan)  was not recognized by the Beit Din in one of the cities (Petach Tikva) and although he is not on this list his assistant rabbi is.  

I wan to go back to Tzohar - I agree with Chuck - they are part of the Rabbanut - they are no an alternative to the rabbanut. So for all those Israeli couples who were not recognized as Jewish enough by the rabbanut, they are not a solution. and they are not a solution to couples in which one is an oleh from FSU and has only a Jewish father but was brought up Jewish, served 3 years in a combat unit at the IDF etc. and they are not a solution to orthoodx couples who want a ceremony where the woman says a blessing under the huppa...and of course Tzohar doe not solve the problem of reform or consdrvative couples who want their rabbi to perform their marriage ceremony. ALL these couples are interested in a traditional Jewish wedding (at least in appearnce), since this is part of their identity and culture, as well as religion. Untill the rabbinate stops being a monoploy, there will not be a solution to all of them.

Hi Everyone, welcome to JOFA's online panel conversation on Feminism, Zionism & Intersectionality. We've got a really great cohort to begin what I'm sure will prove to be a robust conversation. For those just tuning in, you can visit JOFA's website to find a full list of panelists and their bios.

Here's our first question for all the panelists: What are the values that inform your activism, whether it be religious, political, or social in nature? Do you experience these forms of activism in a way that is interconnected or independent of each other?

Thank you for including me in this conversation and, through me, National Council of Jewish Women. It is critical that we have "difficult conversations" not only with those with whom we agree but also with those with whom we disagree in our own families, our communities and beyond. I would urge us to engage Melissa Weintraub, director of "Resetting the Table" in facilitating a larger conversation among leaders 

in the Jewish community. I believe she has support from UJA New York and, perhaps, we can expand our conversation to include representatives of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable AND the Conference of Presidents. I am a member of both organizations and would be happy to reach out to each of them. Noone should be asked to compromise their personal or institutional values, but as Jewish communal leaders each of us must be willing to listen and learn from those with whom we may not agree. 

And let us say, AMEN!

It's great to be part of this conversation. My earliest memory in this regard is not specific to just panels, but to the entire flow of a program from my time at Limmud NY (  I remember Shifra Bronznick pointing out to me that the whole line-up for a Havdallah program at the conference was all men.  The idea was the same: why did the committee seem to think that only men could close out Shabbat?  This put "gender goggles" on for me in a number of arenas (who is quoted in a news article? who is represented in the full speaker line-up for an event?) - including not being able to "unsee" an all-male panel.

Also, I do not think there is a dearth of religious leadership in the right-wing Orthodox community. There are many women who are religious leaders, albeit without the title rabbi and not poskim (decisors of religious law). The single-sex nature of the community actually helps to cultivate leaders. But because these women get less exposure  (b/c they often not speaking to men), they don't achieve the celebrity status some male speakers enjoy. Further, because religious authority is generally associated with male rabbis, some might think that female speakers don't have the same gravitas as male rabbis. So there are certainly a lot of sociological issues to contend with, but the talent is there.