A new training programme for UK rabbis dealing with family breakdowns has been heralded as “new territory” by the United Synagogue.
The first training session, delivered by Jewish charity Norwood in partnership with the United Synagogue’s training arm P’eir, was held last week at Finchley United Synagogue for 30 rabbis and rebbetzens from across north-west London.
They learned about the impact of family breakdown, mental health and special educational needs on a child, the parents and siblings, and on the wider community.
The UK has the highest rate of family instability in the developed world, in particular among cohabiting couples with children under 12. Nearly half of all children born today will experience family breakdown by the age of 16.
Rabbi Dr Julian Shindler, P’eir’s programmes director, said the rising rates of family breakdown made trained support “more important than ever”.
In many circumstances, having a member of the family with a learning disability or special educational needs can place an enormous additional strain on families.
But other issues impacting families can include physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse, domestic violence, depression, mental health issues, family breakdown, bereavement, social isolation, suicidal thoughts, addiction and poverty.
Families in crisis are often unable or reluctant to access local authority services, meaning support from rabbis and rebbetzens was paramount for individuals and families who can feel isolated in the community.
“This training took our rabbinate into new and important territory,” said Rabbi Shindler. “It alerted our rabbinic professionals to the sad reality of fractured families in the community. We gained understanding of the underlying issues, explored ways to help those affected and are committed to making our communities even more welcoming to those who find themselves in such circumstances.”
Norwood Social Worker Leat Preston said: “It was a great opportunity to share our expertise and knowledge with the rabbis and rebbetzens on the ‘frontline’ who want to enhance their skills in supporting families struggling with a range of difficulties in the Jewish community.”