Caring for our Spirits: Marking One Year of Pandemic, Honoring our Strength and our Sadness

Rabbi Audrey Marcus Berkman

Dear TOS Community,

It is hard to believe that it has been one year since life as we knew it was turned upside down. Today is Purim, and one of the themes of the story we creatively retold at our observance last night was “na’hafoch hu” – things were turned upside down; instead of the evil decree being carried out, the one who sought to destroy our people was himself destroyed. During this Hebrew month of Adar, we are commanded to be joyful, but there is a powerful mixture of joy and grief during this particular Adar. 

Jewish tradition recognizes that mourning is an ongoing process that needs dedicated time and space; when we remember those we have loved on their yahrzeit (the yiddish word meaning “year time” that we use for marking the anniversary of a death), we give ourselves permission to mourn. We are approaching the yarzheit of the life we knew before COVID forced us to transform our lives in ways that we could never have imagined. As we reach this one-year mark, and having just passed the devastating milestone of 500,000 deaths in the US due to COVID, many people are feeling particularly weary, sad, anxious, or overwhelmed. I have heard many refer to it as “hitting the pandemic wall,” and have noticed people tending to question their feelings: “Why am I feeling so deeply sad now, when we now have very real hope in the form of vaccines, and our days are becoming longer, brighter, and warmer with spring on the horizon?” 

At the time of a yahrzeit – in this case a commemoration of the beginning of so many losses, large and small – it is natural to feel powerful emotions arising and perhaps to feel disequilibrium from the weight and drain of it all. It is important to be present to these feelings, and yet the day-to-day of our lives can make it hard to make space for them. No wonder we are weary.

In order to help support you during this “yarzheit” season and beyond, I want to share several new resources that are available to our community, in the service of tending to our mental health and wellness. Please see below for details and other resources. 

  • There will be a community-wide commemoration of the one-year anniversary of Covid on Saturday evening, March 13th, at 7 pm. I will be leading this virtual event in partnership with other Jewish communal leaders from Boston-area Jewish institutions. Please save the date – more details to come!
  • I am so grateful that we are the recipients of a grant from the Ruderman Foundation to provide mental health resources to our community. As part of that grant, we will be offering Spirituality and Mental Health: A Discussion Series for five Monday evenings, 7:30-8:30pm, March 15-April 12, 2021. Advance registration is required. Please REGISTER HERE by Wednesday, March 10th. Commitment to attend all 5 sessions is preferred and space is limited. We ask for a contribution of a total of $18 to register for this series.
    • Description: How are spirituality and religion connected to mental health? Share how spirituality is (or is not) a part of your life, and learn side-by-side with others how spirituality and mental health impact each other. Join Hadassah Margolis, MSW, LICSW, for this 5-week educational and community-building discussion. Open to 12 participants.
  • New resource from JF&CS! JF&CS Mental Health Connect— a free, confidential information and referral service. Staffed by mental health professionals, JF&CS Mental Health Connect can help you find the mental health resources and support you need, how and when you need them. A JF&CS mental health professional will take the time to understand your situation and connect you with expert advice and appropriate resources—either through JF&CS, community partners, or other social service or healthcare providers. This support and resource navigation is available free of charge. The service is available via email or phone: Mentalhealth@jfcsboston.org or 781-693-5562. 

Please do look at the resource list below, share it with anyone who may find it useful, and please know that you are not alone and we are here to support you. May this time of looking back on this incredibly difficult year also bring with it the blessing of gratitude for our community, traditions, and loved ones that have helped us along this journey; may we know joy and blessings in this month of Adar and in the celebration of Passover and the springtime that is fast approaching. 

Sending blessings of health, well-being, strength, and joy to every one of you.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Berkman

More information on Mental Health Resources:

Path to Well Being: A Join Initiative of McLean Hospital, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, and Jewish Family & Children’s Service

Access an online, no-cost mental health care program

Do you think you might be experiencing mild to moderate anxiety or depression? Interested in learning proven techniques to feel better? Are you 18 years or older? Adult members of Greater Boston’s Jewish community are invited to explore Path to Well-being, a new joint initiative of McLean Hospital, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, and Jewish Family & Children’s Service.

There is no cost for eligible participants, and you can complete this virtual program at your own pace, over the course of six to eight weeks. You’ll also receive virtual, weekly check-ins with a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) coach from McLean. Path to Well-being is part of a research study that will collect data on the effectiveness of online CBT treatment to help advance advocacy for insurance coverage. All personal, identifying information will not be shared and will remain 100% confidential.

To learn more, visitcjp.org/pathtowellbeing, call our intake line at 781-693-5562, or send an email to mentalhealth@jfcsboston.org.

From Jewish Family & Children’s Service:

Many of you know JF&CS through our synagogue’s support for Family Table, Greater Boston’s kosher food pantry. However, JF&CS offers dozens of other programs that help members of our community successfully navigate transitions and overcome challenges. Here are just a few of the ways JF&CS can support you or someone you love:

  • Are you trying to find your way through the complexity of housing and medical care on behalf of an aging parent? Tap into JF&CS eldercare experts via CJP SeniorDirect, a free information and resource service; or get more comprehensive geriatric care management from Your Elder Experts.
  • Frustrated in your efforts to access critical school supports for a child with special needs or navigate your child’s transition from the school system into adult services? The Family Advocates at JF&CS Disability Lifespan Solutions offer reliable information, professional guidance, and hands-on assistance.
  • Is someone you love interested in living independently but needing some help to do so successfully? JF&CS provides individualized assistance that promotes safety, empowerment, and lifelong learning.
  • Feeling isolated and exhausted with a new baby at home? Attend an online support group, contact The Lauren & Mark Rubin Visiting Moms® program to be matched with an experienced mom for support and connection, or learn how JF&CS Sleep Consultations can help both you and your baby get some much-needed rest.
  • Looking for ways your child with autism can connect with peers? Kids Connection Corner provides social programming — virtually and outdoors— while offering respite for families and caregivers.
  • Are you coping with a loss? JF&CS offers support groups and spiritual support.
  • Are you an older adult who’d appreciate an opportunity for connection during these isolating times? JF&CS’s Friendly Visitor program offers one on one matches.
  • Worried about someone who may be in an unhealthy relationship? JF&CS Journey to Safety supports domestic abuse survivors and the people who care about them via phone, email, text, and video chat.
  • Are you or someone you know struggling to make ends meet? The JF&CS Center for Basic Needs Assistance is Jewish community’s go to resource for those struggling with economic instability—providing help with food needs, financial assistance for rent and utilities, interest free loans, assistance navigating public benefits, and much more.

In these ways, and so many more, JF&CS is here for us and for our community. I encourage you to reach out and/or refer others who may benefit from their services. If they cannot directly meet the need, they can connect you with an organization that does. To find out more for yourself or for someone you care about, call JF&CS directly at 781-693-5640 or email info@jfcsboston.org.

JF&CS Mental Health Connect:

  • Throughout this pandemic, we’re seeing unprecedented mental health challenges across our community—including loneliness, depression, substance misuse, and so much more. There is no road map for navigating these very different situations, and due to the stigma that still exists around mental health, those in need are challenged to ask for help.

In response to this growing need, and in partnership with Combined Jewish Philanthropies, we have launched JF&CS Mental Health Connect— a free, confidential information and referral service. Staffed by mental health professionals, JF&CS Mental Health Connect can help members of your congregation find the mental health resources and support they need, how and when they need them. The service is available via email or phone: Mentalhealth@jfcsboston.org or 781-693-5562.

Through JF&CS Mental Health Connect, callers will be able to reach a JF&CS mental health professional who will take the time to understand their situation and connect them with expert advice and appropriate resources—either through JF&CS, community partners, or other social service or healthcare providers. This support and resource navigation is available free of charge. To learn more about JF&CS Mental Health Connect, or any of our other mental health support programs, visit https://www.jfcsboston.org/Our-Services/Mental-Health-Support.

Please note: JF&CS Mental Health Connect is not a crisis line, and is only staffed during JF&CS business hours. If you are experiencing a crisis please contact the Massachusetts Emergency Services Program at 1-877-382-1609, call 911 or visit your nearest hospital emergency room.