Shanda: What we don’t talk about

By Rabbi James Stone Goodman

In November, several Jewish organizations will hold a program on “Shanda — What We Don’t Talk About: Incarceration, Mental Illness, Addiction.” 

We should begin all such programs with stories. I am sorry to say in decades of stories this is a common one: that revolving door in and out of mental illness-mental health, often occasioned by or at least complicated by drugs and alcohol; sometimes there is help and people get better, sometimes not. 

What’s different these days from the days of old when I started working with Jews grappling with mental illness and addiction is this: We are in the thick of an epidemic. My research is anecdotal, but the problems are much worse than they used to be, and it’s not only because we are better at diagnosing mental illness, or because today’s heroin is stronger than it was in the past.

We may be better at diagnosis, but we are still lightweight when it comes to talking about mental illness and addiction and consequences, and being real with responses and activists on prevention. We are in the midst of serious social and personal distress around the subjects of suicide, mental illness, drug addiction — some or all that intersect in the souls of vulnerable people living next door or down the block — certainly in our families and our synagogues.

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What to do? That’s always the question. 

Start with talk and more talk — real talk — about real problems. We did that with drug addiction starting more than 30 years ago and we need to do that with depression and suicide and the other challenges to life that dwell within — the inner world when it goes dark

First things first, let’s not waste a nickel on surveys. The problem is real. Let’s get to work on it. Talk and write and spread the message, and get pro-active about the emptiness. Take up a candle, light it, give that light to someone else. Don’t let anyone go dark on our watch.

Do this — come to the session and bring someone who needs to be there.

Shanda — What We Don’t Talk About: Incarceration, Mental Illness, Addiction

When: 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday Nov. 9

Where: Jewish Federation Kopolow Building, 12 Millstone Campus Drive

HOW MUCH:  Free and open to the community.

MORE INFO:  Rabbi James Stone Goodman, Rabbi Susan Talve and others will take part in the event, presented by The One World Project, Jewish Prison Outreach, Shalvah Outreach on Addictions and Jewish Attention to Mental Illness/Mental Health.  For more information, visit