In First

The Luke Sklar Mental Health Initiative at Holy Blossom Temple

How do you describe the uniqueness … the specialness … the Luke Sklar-ness of Luke Sklar? He was a man who radiated – absolutely radiated – passion, intelligence, creativity, humour, heart and generosity of spirit. A loving family man and a true leader in business and the community, Luke listened deeply, advised selflessly and sparked so many essential conversations. Luke’s care and strategic guidance helped to build a better Holy Blossom Temple and enriched our congregation immeasurably. He was an absolute mensch.

After a 3-year battle with severe depression, Luke died by suicide in May 2018. As his illness progressed, he and his family opened up about his struggle and were overwhelmed by the positive response from those who had dealt with mental illness but had never felt comfortable talking about it. Following his tragic death, his family felt it important to keep the talk going.

In any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians experiences mental illness. This can interfere with some to all aspects of everyday life and have an impact on families, friends and co-workers.

Late last spring, and endorsed by the Holy Blossom Temple Board, a group of temple members, Rabbis and professional staff met to establish the Luke Sklar Mental Health Initiative as a tribute to this much-loved member of our community. Its mission is to provide education, support and resources related to the challenges of living with, or supporting someone with, a mental illness. We believe that by talking about and supporting mental health, this initiative will work toward ending the stigma around mental illness, and encourage others to seek help.

Our vision for this new initiative is to offer talks by mental health professionals, create small support groups, and provide a listing of resources for those in crisis.  We are privileged to partner with JF&CS (Jewish Family and Child Services) to provide education and workshops on mental health awareness and support, as well as crisis training for key laypeople and clergy. We are also fortunate to draw upon the professional expertise of some Temple members for mental health programs.  A partnership is also in development with JACS Toronto, Jewish Addictions Community Services.

In addition to this, our congregants have long found meaning and spiritual care through our Daily and Shabbat worship services, as well as through many opportunities for community involvement – central to our Holy Blossom Department of Kehillah Kedoshah, where congregants help congregants.

The success of this initiative depends on volunteers in our community to help with events, share knowledge and experience in mental health support, and offer financial support toward the Luke Sklar Mental Health Initiative Fund.

It is our hope that this important initiative in the memory of Luke only adds further strength to our promise that “Life can blossom here.”

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  • Therese Dejean (Sunnybrook Hosp.-NHI staff)

    I am very glad that such a program has been initiated in memory of Luke Sklar. Luke’s death has made me see mental health from a different perspective. Mental illness is a stealer of the human soul! If Luke was able to take his own life, no one with mental health related issues should be underestimated! The moment a “red flag” is raised, care, love acceptance, assertiveness, patience understanding and help, be it professional or spiritual, should be a priority regardless of the person’s behavior or reception to our suggestions and encouragement. Luke’s memory will remain with me for the rest of my life. He will forever have a special place in my heart – and my heart goes to his family, his spouse and his beautiful girls. I have a family member struggling with a mental health related illness and Luke’s death is a constant reminder of how careful I should be in my approach to care and help in dealing with this delicate situation – it is a constant struggle! But with the help of our creator, and by doing our part; doing the best we can, a difference can be made in the lives of the people and loved ones around us that are struggling with this condition. Bringing more awareness to mental health and doing more to end the stigma should be a priority for all – NO ONE SHOULD BE LEFT BEHIND.

  • David Kaufman

    Dear Yael,

    I attended the event at Holy Blossom the other night. I admire your courage, efforts and the desire to break the stigma surrounding seeking help for mental illness. Your story and willingness to talk about it in such a meaningful and educated manner was compelling. I hope your message continues to grow.
    David Kaufman
    Director of Outreach and Education
    Jewish Addiction Community Services

  • Dr. Barbara Landau

    Dear Yael
    Last night was an amazing beginning. The program that Holy Blossom has embarked on in the memory of Luke Sklar, a relative of ours, is so important and so well thought out.

    All of the speakers were wonderful. Changing attitudes and connecting the synagogue with personal support for those who are struggling with mental illness is such a positive step – you keep amazing me with your inspirational, open and welcoming leadership!

    I am a former Chief of Service at Queen St. Mental health Centre. In keeping with Dr. David Goldbloom’s excellent presentation, my unit was designated “The Unit for the UNTREATABLE Adolescent” – the name speaks for itself as to how the teens I treated were viewed by everyone.

    I am offering a warm “Thank you” and a HUG to all involved.

    Dr. Barbara Landau

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