BY DEBORAH MOON
The maxim “It’s always darkest before the dawn” has never been more apt than right now. The world continues to reel from the physical and economic costs of COVID-19 with nearly 75 million cases worldwide. The impact on our mental health has likewise soared.
Hope is on the horizon. The FDA has approved two highly effective vaccines. But many of us may not be vaccinated until summer, which means social isolation will exacerbate the usual winter blahs many Oregonians cope with each year.
This issue of the Jewish Review is chock-full of programs, events, resources and ideas to get you through the next few gray months.
Over the past nine months, local and national Jewish and secular organizations have created a comprehensive selection of online programs and resources. Perhaps over the summer, you didn’t need online fitness classes or online religious, social or educational programs, but now they may help you get through our long, wet winter (visit the Community Calendar or check out online event resources).
Portland Community Chaplain Rabbi Barry Cohen recently participated in a Zoom program on Loneliness and Isolation during COVID, which was presented by the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center. The program noted that among seniors, loneliness and isolation are associated with poor sleep and depression, worsened heart disease, frailty, cognitive decline/dementia and higher health-care costs. Increased loneliness based on social isolation during this year has also been observed to impact high schoolers.
“Depression, suicide, opioid addiction … across the board all have soared during the pandemic,” says Gabby Leon Spatt, executive director of The Blue Dove Foundation, which was founded to help address mental illness and addiction in the Jewish community. “For people with a little bit of something, it’s been exacerbated; for people with no issues, things have cropped up.”
On the positive side, Gabby says that this year, “As a nation and a Jewish community, we are a lot more aware of mental health issues.” She says that the virtual world has made it easier for some people to speak up about their struggles. “We encourage creating BRAVE spaces where people can be vulnerable.”
Last year, even before COVID swept the world, Blue Dove had begun to reach out to partner with Jewish organizations across the country to share the programs and resources they developed at the organization’s base in Atlanta.
“We will have a more engaged Jewish community … (when) we welcome ALL individuals,” she says. While only mental health professionals can diagnosis an issue, Gabby says, “We should know enough to reach out and say, ‘Are you OK? Can I do something for you?’ ”
Portland’s Jewish community is presenting several online events, including one from Blue Dove, focused on wellness in January (see below).
The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland has curated resources available locally and nationally. Check out the links at jewishportland.org/wellness
JANUARY WELLNESS EVENTS
Br’iut & B’rachot: A Community Wellness Havdalah
Jan. 9, 6 pm, on Zoom
The winter is always a dark time in Portland, and this year especially so with the ongoing challenges of the COVID pandemic. Come together in community to nurture our mental health and wellness and celebrate the start of a new week and a new year with the Havdalah service.
Join Community Chaplain Rabbi Barry Cohen and Cantorial Soloist Ilene Safyan to close Shabbat together as a community as we celebrate Havdalah and take a brief pause before the new week gets started.
Rabbi Cohen says the gathering will be an opportunity to use three Havdalah rituals to reflect on wellness: “The light of the Havdalah candle can reveal the ideas we want to incorporate in our routine to illuminate a healthy path. The wine/grape juice can teach us to sanctify time and recognize that our lives are inherently sweet. And the spices remind us to use all of our senses to nourish our souls. Without self-care, we cannot be our best for the sake of others and for those who depend upon us.”
The Havdalah is presented by the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, PJ Library and Wellness PDX. jewishportland.org/wellnesshavdalah
Making Mental Wellness Part of Your Community’s Culture
Jan. 13, noon, on Zoom
JPro Greater Portland and The Blue Dove Foundation present a workshop for the professionals working for Jewish organizations in our community.
“Our Jewish community is putting a focus on mental wellness in the month of January, and we wanted to extend this to our Jewish professionals, as well,” says Rachel Nelson, who is organizing the workshop with Michelle Caplan and Nava Sherwood. “Ensuring that we as Jewish professionals take the time to look at our mental wellness will help us as we continue to provide resources for our community.”
Making Mental Wellness Part of Your Community’s Culture will engage participants in a variety of activities that focus on encouraging mental wellness in their community. They will use middot (Jewish values) and the Mi Sheberach prayer to connect Judaism to mental health. The workshop will help participants think critically about ways to bring their newfound skills and knowledge to their community to create welcoming and inclusive programming.
Sign up: us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZMrcO-orjIoHdaJh7K_I3p8MwS4uzyx7FSZ.
For more information on JPro or the workshop, email Saul Korin at email@example.com.
Give it a Rest! Jewish Perspectives on Rest and Mental Health
Jan. 13, 7 pm, on Zoom
Join the Oregon Board of Rabbis for a panel featuring Jason Renaud of the Mental Health Association of Portland with responses and insights from Rabbi Ariel Stone, Rabbi Tzvi Fischer, Rabbi Gadi Levy and Rabbi Eve Posen.
Renaud is a nonprofit consultant with more than 35 years of open recovery from alcoholism. He’s a well-known public speaker and writer on recovery from alcoholism and the experience of people with mental illness.
He has been the board secretary of the Mental Health Association of Portland since 2003 and is the organization’s voluntary executive director. He leads a Mental Health Coalition that includes the Portland Interfaith Clergy Resistance group led by Rabbi Stone.
The event is free but advance registration is required. For more information, contact JoAnn Bezodis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More wellness events
The Mittleman Jewish Community Center is planning a mindfulness workshop led by Yoga therapist Tara Atkinson in mid-January. For more info contact MJCC Arts and Culture Manager Lenny Steinberg at email@example.com.
Recognizing the important role camp plays in youth mental health, B’nai B’rith Camp is creating a monthly newsletter designed to help parents engage their children in this stressful year. The goals are to help parents have conversations that lead to children feeling comfortable sharing how they are feeling and giving parents tools for responding and understanding. For more information, contact BB Camp Overnight Camp Director Bette Amir-Brownstein at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jewish Family & Child Service will host QJY Portland (Queer Jewish Youth) Jan. 13 & 27 at 4:15-5:15 pm on Zoom. Requested by teens (ages 14-17), QJYPortland is a Zoom group for Jewish LGBTQQI+ youth and their allies in the greater Portland area. Moderated by Becca Dorn-Medeiros, Ed.S., LPC-Intern, NCSP, this group meets twice monthly over Zoom to hold safe space, to converse and to provide resources for group members. For more information, contact Becca at QJYPortland@jfcs-portland.org.
To see more local and national wellness programs visit:
Book aims to eliminate stigma
Nearly one in five Americans 18 years and older experienced a mental illness in 2018. One in five Americans older than 12 used an illicit drug or misused a prescription opioid. Many, if not most, Jews even today believe these statistics don’t apply to them. And even some who admit there is a problem or who have experienced it personally find it very difficult even to talk about these issues.
“For the longest time, we as a group avoided any discussion about mental health issues,” said Gabby Spatt, executive director of the Blue Dove Foundation.
#QuietingTheSilence, an anthology of personal stories published by Blue Dove in early 2020, is helping to get people talking. It gives voice to individuals who have gone through life-changing experiences involving mental health and substance use.
“Who we are is rooted in the idea of storytelling,” said Spatt. "We want to create a space where people can share their stories and show others they are not alone.”
The paperback is $20; visit www.QuietingTheSilence.org.