One of the UK’s biggest synagogues is launching a “ground-breaking” mental health initiative to help British Jews address a subject some still feel ashamed to discuss.
Borehamwood & Elstree Synagogue (BES), which has more than 4,000 members, said it was working with shul goer Dr Judith Friedman, a clinical psychologist, to run a series of Shabbat workshops called BES Cares, starting later this month.
Sessions starting on 26 January will cover areas such as mindfulness, an increasingly popular psychological technique championed by the NHS which encourages people to “pay attention to the present moment”.
Friedman will work with BES’s rabbinic team and qualified social worker Karen Moss to deliver the sessions, which the shul said “aims to develop the community’s ability to practise and talk about emotional wellbeing without fear of prejudice”.
Friedman said Jews “are affected by mental health problems as much as anyone else,” adding that while synagogues often support members financially and physically, few structured programmes has been developed to support them emotionally.
“This is a long-term programme which will lead to us being a community that can weave in emotional wellbeing to our everyday talk, that can discuss mental health without fear of stigma, and ultimately, that can look after our own emotional wellbeing whilst being there to support those in need,” she said. “It is part and parcel of being a community.”
BES Community Rabbi Alex Chapper said: “I’m proud we’re being proactive and taking the lead in addressing the issue of mental health in all its guises.”
The issue of mental health in the Jewish community has come to the fore in recent months, with interventions by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis encouraging school leaders to tackle the prejudice impacting hundreds of Jewish teens at school.
As schools returned this week, London-based photographer and mother-of-four Jude Wacks said she was hoping to exhibit her project exploring teens and young adults who self-harm, who some have dubbed “the scarred generation”.
Explaining how her own daughter experienced similar problems, she said the topic was “still very much taboo” but hoped her photos “give the silent pain a personal voice”.
It comes as five Wellbeing Practitioners begin working at five Jewish schools as part of a three-year pilot project supported by the Jewish Leadership Council, which could be rolled out across the community if successful.