A capacity audience filled the Harvey Morse Auditorium at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, on Monday 13 May 2019. The event, “Addressing Mental Health Issues in the Community,” was sponsored by the American Friends of Mayanei Hayeshua’s Mental Health Center, Israel’s only culturally-sensitive Community Hospital.
The evening opened with Mr Zvi Ryzman speaking about the hospital’s dynamic founder, the late Dr Moshe Rothschild z”l, whose vision of ensuring quality of life, dignity of life, and sanctity of life for all patients, continues to drive the hospital’s ethos. Dr Rothschild’s determination to decrease the shame element of mental health issues in the Torah-observant community had brought about a revolution in the way that community tackles mental health, said Mr Ryzman, and he urged everyone present to help perpetuate Dr Rothschild’s legacy.
The guest speaker was Professor Rael Strous, the South African-born medical director and chief psychiatrist of Mayanei Hayeshua’s Mental Health Center. The professor spoke about the need to change attitudes towards mental health treatment, with particular reference to fighting the stigma that still persists among some families. “We must all face the sad truth that our community is no longer immune to the scourges of modern secular society, such as eating disorders and suicide. Although our Mental Health Center is already at full capacity treating patients of all ages in our in-patient wards, Day Care Centers, and various outpatient psychiatric clinic, we must continue to remind all families of the need to ditch traditional negative attitudes towards mental health. We are proud and motivated by the support and encouragement of all the Gedolim Shlita.”
The second part of the evening was a Panel Event moderated by Rabbi Jason Weiner, the senior rabbi and director of spiritual care at Cedars Sinai. The panel of professionals included Rabbi Avraham Union, Dayan and Rabbinic Administrator, Rabbinical Council of California, who spoke on the critical role of Rabbonim in dealing with mental health issues. Debbie Fox, founder and director of Magen Yeladim International, spoke on the urgent need to make the community more aware about mental health, while simultaneously reducing the element of shame associated with it. Shirley Lebovics, an author and psychotherapist, spoke about the sensitive issue of tackling shidduch queries when there were mental health issues in the family. The final panellist was Rabbi Dr Zev Wiener, attending psychiatrist at UCLA Medical Center, who spoke about the latest trends in treating schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, suicide and OCD. The panellists also eloquently addressed a number of questions presented by the audience.
The Los Angeles Panel Event was initiated by the director of Mayanei Hayeshua’s International Department of Resource Development, Chaim Fachler: “From the feedback we have received, there can be no doubt that this high-profile awareness evening achieved its goal. We were especially encouraged by the phenomenal turnout. Thanks to similar events addressed by Professor Strous in New York, Toronto, Melbourne, Johannesburg, London and Manchester, Mayanei Hayeshua has established itself internationally at the forefront of the mental health scene, particularly as regards the special challenges faced by the Torah Observant community. We encourage more such local events, and are committed to sharing our experience, knowledge and expertise with all communities.”