Tuesday, March 28, 2023

As I leisurely read The Jewish Link this past Shabbat, I was struck by how far this paper has come towards acknowledging the needs of people with mental health and substance abuse challenges.

Six years ago The Jewish Link gave me a voice to talk about both. All too often, our Jewish community closes our eyes and pretends this doesn’t happen to “people like us.”

This past edition, there were multiple articles about these issues – on page 36, a community newsbrief about a JFSCNJ virtual Program on Mindful eating, and then on page 42, Rabbi Moshe Taragin talked about Judaism and body image, and the body image crisis in our modern days, as well as ads for Wellness Motivations.

Then on page 60, a heart-wrenching article by Daniel Ginsburg and his son, “Different,” while on page 63, a tragic story by Gary Magder, about losing his beautiful son to a drug overdose.

All this in addition to articles about parenting, and other very relevant topics important for us to read about—and more important, to talk about.

Next week, I head to Israel for my mother’s third yahrzeit. It’s the first time I’ve been able to visit her grave since the COVID pandemic, and I am somewhat anxious about how I will handle it. You see, in addition to being her yahrzeit, Wednesday, September 7, is National Suicide Awareness Day in Israel. I believe in karma, and so I believe it’s not a coincidence that the two fall on the same day.

My late mother (and father) had a special relationship with our son, Eric. When he cut us off for three years while he was struggling with mental health challenges, my parents—people in their 80s—made it their business to travel four hours every month, back and forth between Queens and Allentown, Pennsylvania, where he lived, to have coffee with him—just coffee, just an hour to say, “We love you,” “You are in our hearts and our minds,” and “By the way, your mother loves you, too.”

Visiting Mom’s grave on that day also means I’m visiting the grave of my cousin’s daughter, Gavriella (z”l), who is buried four plots away from my mother. Gavi also died by suicide, two years after Eric, after a long battle with eating disorders and comorbid mental health challenges. And Gavi is buried there because Eric is not. She is in one of the plots originally purchased by us for ourselves and our children, before Eric’s untimely death changed our plans and we buried him close by, in Clifton, New Jersey.

On that day, September 7, there is a conference on suicide prevention in Tel Aviv, sponsored by an organization called Moshe—Hebrew letters that spell out Milim (words) sheosim (that make) hevdel (a difference). Because if we are to help people, to prevent future young people from taking their lives, we need to talk about it.

And that’s what you are doing at The Jewish Link! So thank you. Thank you Moshe Kinderlehrer, for taking a chance with me. Thank you Jill Kirsch, for hearing my story and realizing that I needed to be heard. And thank you readers, for reading my words over these past years, for giving me support to speak out, to find other families struggling the way we did, to help these individuals and these families through their struggles, to let them know that they are not alone, that they are heard, that we want to help. And thank you Daniel, and Gary, and Moishe, and Lianne and Etiel, for sharing your stories with us, so that we realize that we are not alone, and we can be heard. Yasher koach to all of you.

Eta Levenson
West Orange
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