Progressively Speaking: Let’s support one another through the darkness
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Progressively Speaking: Let’s support one another through the darkness

Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers takes a topical issue and looks into Jewish texts for a Reform response

Thank goodness as a society we had already begun to talk much more openly about mental health before 2020 arrived.

The mental health of the nation has been deeply impacted by the pandemic. It is important we acknowledge the danger in ignoring the changes to our mental health, just as we need to for physical health. 

The word “plague” has greater resonances for us today than the last time we gathered for Jami’s Mental Health Awareness Shabbat, which occurs this week. The plague of darkness we read about in this week’s parashah could have meant not only dark skies, but emotional gloom.

Almost everyone I know has experienced this gloom over the past year. Whether parents trying to cope with home school and juggling full-time jobs, individuals experiencing wrenching loneliness and isolation, folk who have lost their jobs and security, the many who lost loved ones they were unable to support in death, or those who were unable to grieve fully due to social distancing. 

Our children have certainly not escaped this either. Being torn away from their education, their friends, their safety nets and structures, as well as witnessing fear and confusion. 

We will be dealing with this for years to come and being able to have open and supportive conversations
is an important step.

In Exodus, we hear that one of the biggest problems with the plague of darkness was that people could not see one another. The all-encompassing darkness meant people couldn’t meet one another (something we now know even more about), but also couldn’t see one another, or their suffering. No one could help their family, friends or neighbours out of the gloom, because they sat alone in their darkness. Thus, they were crushed under the experience.

In the face of the darkness that so many of us have had a glimpse of this past year, let’s try to find ways in which each of us can help to bring light, so we can truly see another person before us and help them, or perhaps ourselves to get up from under the oppressive weight. 

There are no simple fixes to any health challenge. But I pray in the months to come we are able to support one another through any darkness, just as we have cared for our communities’ physical health through the pandemic.

  •  Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers serves Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue

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