Shining a Light on Suicide in the Jewish Community

Shining a Light on Suicide in the Jewish Community

By Diane Halivni, Suicide Prevention and Support Coordinator

“There’s no issue that the Jewish people are not immune to, and that includes mental illness.” With these words, I introduce you to Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner, a congregational Rabbi in New Jersey. In 1996, Rabbi Kirshner lost his oldest brother Gabriel to suicide. When Rabbi Kirshner stood on the Bimah on his first Yom Kippur in his new congregation 13 years ago, he talked about his brother and did not hide the reason for his brother’s death.

His words helped his congregants open up about their own struggles; the impact of hearing their rabbi speak out publicly opened the floodgates and brought light to a dark subject.  The Chicagoland Jewish community will be welcoming Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner to help us continue the conversation on Tuesday evening, March 24th, 2020 at Beth Hillel Congregation B’nai Emunah (BHCBE) at 7pm. Small group discussions to follow.

Miriam Ament, founder of No Shame On U, began speaking out publicly about her journey and has re-iterated the importance of de-stigmatization. There is no shame in needing help. NSOU’s fall event drew over 500 people to hear Sean Astin speak about his life being raised by a parent who was not only super talented, but also mentally ill.

Wendy Dolin has brought to light an underserved area of concern, that of medication-induced suicide risk from taking or withdrawing from certain medications too quickly. Her beloved husband Stewart died by suicide nine years ago from Akathisia, and she founded MISSD in his memory. Akathisia is a disorder induced as a side effect of medications (including SSRI’s and antipsychotics), which can cause a person such intense inner restlessness that the sufferer is driven to violence and/or suicide. A recent highlight of MISSD includes new Akathisia awareness ads in subway stations across New York City. MISSD hopes this train campaign will build awareness that people exhibiting symptoms of adverse drug reactions should seek immediate medical attention.

JCFS Chicago is honored to partner with these organizations to expand the suicide prevention work of the Chicago Jewish community and offer support and comfort to those who have lost someone to suicide, with support from JUF’s Breakthrough Fund.

Mental Health First Aid teaches the larger Jewish community about basic mental health education. Knowing what signs and symptoms to look for may help a teacher, parent, youth director, and community leader respond appropriately and seek help.  To participate in an upcoming Mental Health First Aid training, or to schedule one for your organization, please contact Diane Halivni, Coordinator, Suicide Prevention and Support, at 847.745.5459.

JCFS Chicago, MISSD and No Shame On U are also collaborating to provide support to all those grieving a loved one who died by suicide. Individual, couples and family counseling is available through JCFS by calling 855.275.5237, and a monthly grief group specifically for survivors meets on the fourth Thursday of every month. Let’s make 2020 the year of shining a brighter light on each other by sharing resources and words of resilience, love and hope.