Shabbaton kicks off Birmingham Jewish community focus on mental health

Birmingham’s Jewish congregations will kick off the Jewish Mental Health Initiative 2020 with a Mental Health Awareness Shabbaton, starting Jan. 31.

The initiative is a collaboration of every Birmingham Jewish organization and congregation, funded by the Birmingham Jewish Foundation and Collat Jewish Family Services.

Lauren Schwartz, executive director of CJFS, said the initiative is to “raise awareness of mental health issues and their impact on our community, to reduce the stigma that is associated with mental illness and addiction, and to connect people to the resources they need for help.”

The agency hears stories from those struggling with mental health “every day,” stating that one in five people will have a serious mental disorder at one point in his or her life. “As a Jewish community, it is our responsibility to recognize and respond,” Schwartz said.

During this year, the agency will provide information and offer programs about mental health.

Already, 15 clergy and community professionals participated in a full-day training in Mental Health First Aid for Youth, a program that prepares them to recognize signs and symptoms and to provide referrals to appropriate resources. Leigh Cohen Long and Katie Smith of Homewood City Schools Guidance Department provided the training.

During the Shabbaton, Joy Madden will speak at the 5:45 p.m. service at Birmingham’s Temple Emanu-El on Jan. 31. On Feb. 1, there will be presentations during the 9 a.m. service at Knesseth Israel and the 9:30 a.m. service at Temple Beth-El.

Beit Ariel Chabad in Birmingham will present “The Thing About Normal.” The 9:30 a.m. discussion on Feb. 2 will focus on how people often struggle with questions of identity, and how the principle of inclusion is a central principle of Judaism. Through Torah-based learning and activities, the workshop will explore how to implement the ideals of inclusion in one’s life. A light breakfast will be served.

Additional plans for the year include community healing services, a parent-teen program and community educational trainings. Volunteers are welcome to help in planning events.