Mental Health and Well-Being
May is Mental Health Month, a time when we consider ways to prevent and treat mental illness. In this last week of May, we celebrate Shavuot and read the Book of Ruth; which tells of Naomi, a widow at midlife so despondent and hopeless that she tells her daughter-in-law Ruth to call her Marah, the Hebrew word for “bitterness,” rather than her actual name, which means “pleasantness.” Shavuot offers us a powerful glimpse at how others in our tradition and history faced unimaginable and unrelenting losses. There are powerful lessons for us within the story of Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth about faith, resilience, love and well-being.
We find many other examples of biblical characters in the Torah and among the prophets who struggled with their mental well-being as well. Jacob suffered from loneliness, Saul suffered from terrors, Hannah coped with depression, and David was troubled and battled deep despair. In many of the Psalms, David writes of his anguish, loneliness, fear of the enemy, and the guilt he struggled with.
“My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear.” Ps. 38:4
“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Ps. 42:11
During these challenging times of isolation and anxiety, please know that you are not alone. Even as the Holy Blossom community practices physical distancing, we are making every effort to connect to one another with spiritual nearness.
On Monday, I had the privilege of joining the Holy Blossom Teen Mental Health Initiative during their HABSTY Virtual Lounge night. The conversation was led by the teens and provided an opportunity to share and listen to personal experiences and stories, engage in Jewish learning, and create a safe space to discuss the challenges of isolation. Our young people never cease to amaze me. Their insights and expressions of compassion were deeply moving! This evening, which was proudly supported by The Luke Sklar Mental Health Initiative, was just the first in what will be a series of mental health awareness programs planned by our teens!
On Tuesday, the entire Holy Blossom staff took the time to engage in a professional development opportunity with the Gerstein Centre. Thanks to the sponsorship of the Luke Sklar Mental Health Initiative, our staff, administration and clergy joined together for our second interactive workshop on mental health crisis management. We are already blessed with an incredibly caring and compassionate team of professionals at Holy Blossom, and I am proud that we took the time to deepen our learning together. I am very grateful to the Luke Sklar Mental Health Initiative for bringing this thoughtful and necessary focus to what we already offer our congregation.
In these trying times, it is important to remember that our mental health is equally as important as our physical health and that there are many ways to practice self-care. Whether you find solace in prayer, music, nature, or community, I encourage you to carve out space for yourself!
Mental Health Resources:
- Luke Sklar Mental Health Initiative Covid-19 Resource Guide
- Live Stream Shabbat and Yom Tov Services
- L’Chayim – Daily gathering hosted by Cantorial Soloist Lindi Rivers and Jack Kugelmass
- Songs of Healing – An album recorded by Cantor Beny Maissner
I also want to promote a really unique opportunity for online learning. Yale University is offering one of their most popular class of all time, “The Science of Well-Being,” online at no cost. This self-paced course is complete with videos, readings and assignments with flexible submission dates. There are currently over 2.5 million people who have registered for this free course! I am only a few lessons in but have found the class stimulating and refreshing. You can find more information and register for the free course by clicking here!
To conclude, I want to share with you a prayer of healing for mental illness written by Rabbi Elliot Kukla. Rabbi Kukla was born in Toronto and was an active member of Holy Blossom’s 20’s & 30’s YAD programming before he was ordained. Rabbi Kukla writes:
May the One who blessed our ancestors bless all who live with mental illness, our caregivers, families, and friends. May we walk in the footsteps of Jacob, King Saul, Miriam, Hannah, and Naomi who struggled with dark moods, hopelessness, isolation, and terrors, but survived and led our people. Just as our father, Jacob, spent the night wrestling with an angel and prevailed, may all who live with mental illness be granted the endurance to wrestle with pain and prevail night upon night. Grace us with the faith to know that though, like Jacob, we may be wounded, shaped and renamed by this struggle, still, we will live on to continue an ever-unfolding, unpredictable path toward healing. May we not be alone on this path but accompanied by our families, friends, care-givers, ancestors, and the Divine presence. Surround us with loving-kindness, grace and companionship and spread over us a sukkat shalom, a shelter of peace and wholeness. And let us say: Amen.
Wishing you and your loved ones a Shavuot of growth, learning, introspection, strength, good health and inspiring Torah! Chag Shavuot Sameach!
Busy While Awaiting Trial
On his way to court to hear the charges against him and to confirm that he understood them, Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the nation to “explain” what all that was really about: the Left could not defeat him at the ballot box. (In fact, Likud, the party he leads, got more and more votes in successive elections. No single political party in Israel has ever had greater support.) Therefore, his political opponents decided to unseat him by abusing the judiciary (encouraged by the attorney-general and former cabinet secretary), the police (including its former national chief) and, of course, the media. He reiterated the mantra that the charges are pure fiction, invented by forces of evil.
The argument by Netanyahu and his followers is that the attack is not really against him personally, but against democracy in Israel, indeed the ship of state. His critics argue the opposite: his and his supporters’ attacks on the institutions of justice seek to subvert democracy in the land.
The prime minister assured us in his speech that because of his commitment to the Jewish state and the Jewish people, he would overcome the stumbling blocks the Left placed before him. Several of his cabinet colleagues stood by his side to confirm their support trying to assure us that he and he alone is the worthy leader of the nation. The Netanyahu era is not over yet.
Netanyahu’s legal team asked not to start proceedings before next March, but the court decided to go ahead in mid-July. Between now and then the prime minister will have his hands full with matters of state: security on Israel’s borders made recently even more problematic by the threats from Iran, and the need to deal with the corona epidemic – now in decline, though a second wave is not impossible – by balancing the demands of the ministry of health against the needs to help the economy to recover.
And, of course, the annexation issue will loom large. It is part of the current government’s program to which Likud’s partner Blue and White seems to have acquiesced, perhaps in the vain hope that the project would never materialize. But Netanyahu seems bent on getting there while Trump is still president, as it is by no means certain that he will be re-elected.
Annexation is also important to Netanyahu because it would render irrelevant the political party, led by Naftali Bennet, that describes itself as being “to the right” (Yemina) and supports the settlers. It is already in opposition and, with Netanyahu’s help, it may end up in oblivion.
Yes, American Jewry may protest, but that may not matter very much. To start with, Jewish institutions seem to be financially depleted by the corona crisis and politically divided, as reflected in the tensions within the Conference of Presidents. And infinitely more important: compared to the support for annexation by the evangelicals, objections by some Jews are insignificant.
The Palestinians do not count for much either. Though they have threated to break all security ties with Israel, everybody knows that they are more dependent on Israel than is Israel on them and that breaking ties would enable Hamas to take over. Jordan has also expressed its disapproval of annexation, as have the Europeans, but they do not seem to count for much either. The other Arab states seem to have given up on both the Palestinian and the Jordanian leaders – in favor of better ties with Israel.
Where is Gantz and his Blue and White party in all this? So far, nowhere in sight. Alas.
Jerusalem 25.5.20 Dow Marmur
Mazel Tov to our Melton Graduates!
A warm Mazel Tov to our Graduates:
- Yoel Abells
- Michael Davis
- Aubrey Freedman
- Donna-Lee Kauffman
- Wendy Melvin
- Debra Merowitz
- Kathy Morrisey
- Geri Prendergast
- Henny Rappaport
- Les Rothschild
- Mark Schlossberg
- Janet Shiner
- Nikki Stiavnicky
- Barb Wiseberg
Below, please find a compilation of our 2020 Melton Reflections.
A Gem. A Hope. A Blessing.
Please join in the tribute for Hope Maissner this coming Sunday morning, Rosh Chodesh Sivan. We will honour her many additional contributions to Holy Blossom Temple over 41 years. These are the words delivered at a Chanukah party in our Schwartz/Reisman Atrium in celebration of the reopening of our Judaica Shop and in honour of three women who have created and sustained it for decades — Penina Margolese aleha ha Shalom, Hope Maissner and Mary Seldon.
Each one unique. Each loves and leads Holy Blossom Temple in her own way. Each chose the Judaica Shop as a vehicle to express her devotion to our congregation.
Penina’s most lasting contribution to the Judaica Shop, I believe, was her INSISTANCE that there be a shop in the plans for the renewed Holy Blossom. She made it a personal mission to have a Judaica Shop written onto the map. The blueprint placed this shop in prime real estate thanks to Penina’s loud and clear voice. Today we remember Penina’s devotion to Sisterhood and to Holy Blossom. We miss her dearly and when we see the success of the Judaica Shop today we thank her for her leading voice. She would have been so proud. I can picture her minding the store, with a smile that shows a little mischief and a lot of love. Penina means gem. She was a gem of a human being. We miss her and we have her to thank for this gleaming gem of a shop today.
Hope. Without Hope there might be a shop, but the shelves would be empty. Hope founded Tikvah Judaica. With business savvy, she made the careful selections of inventory. In the early years, I believe, she went to trade shows and brought back beautiful items of Judaica from Israel every time she traveled. Her keen eye and business smarts made the shop a shop. She kept up on the latest trends, made sure there was a range of price points for every shopper, and came up with a business plan that benefitted Sisterhood and the Temple at large. Hope is Hope! Tikvah! In an age when most Judaica Shops have been replaced by online shopping, we need Hope! Hope Maissner’s vision and no-nonsense business know-how will ensure our success as we write the next chapter in the life of this shop.
Mary Seldon, our Temple Warden. Among the many roles Mary plays at Holy Blossom, she has been the face of the Judaica Shop for years. She is the one who polishes the silver and dusts the crystal, and makes sure the shop and everything in it shines. More, than that, Mary makes the sale! Never pushy, but steady and secure — Mary Seldon is our secret weapon. She invites people in with her unassuming ways; she draws them closer just with her warm presence. Even people who have no reason to come into the shop, wander in, because there is something irresistible about Mary. She’s like a magnet. And Mary’s a good listener, so she gets to know the shopper, makes them feel cared for, because she truly does care. She makes gentle suggestions; she offers encouraging words and then CHACHING! The sale is made! She seals the deal and the next thing the passerby knows, out comes the credit card. But it isn’t about the sale that matters, of course. Mary knows it’s all about connection. Her Hebrew name is Bracha, which means blessing. Mary Seldon is a blessing to our congregation. She reminds us to slow down – to take time for connection, for storytelling, for listening, to discover a beautiful Jewish object that brings joy to both the giver and the receiver and can become nothing less than a vehicle for Jewish continuity.
Penina, a gem.
Mary, a blessing.
Each has poured herself and her heart into this Judaica Shop, because she understands that it actually has the potential to provide something very important. Each understands that more than our shoppers are shopping for something beautiful, they are searching for something meaningful. They want a precious thing to make a precious memory. They yearn for a pretty object to make an impact on a Jewish home, to teach a Jewish family the joys of Shabbat and Holy Days, the joys of the life cycle and marking milestones. They want a special gift to express gratitude. They want a ritual object to be an educational tool to teach and learn the ways and rhythms of Jewish life. They want something that may even one day become a family heirloom.
Penina, a gem.
Mary, a blessing.
This glistening and colourful corner of the Renewed Holy Blossom Temple IS a gem; it IS a symbol of our hope for the future; and yes, it IS a blessing that sustains our people – L’dor VaDor.
We are grateful to all the women who have sat at the counter, quietly contemplating the mysteries of the links in the chain – from grandmothers to mothers to daughters – making Jewish life beautiful and strong, precious and simple, delicate and enduring, fragile and solid, traditional and creative, old and ever-new.
Mazel Tov! Yishar Koch’chen! And Kol HaKavod, everyone!