JAMI – STL Update

Jewish Attention to
Mental Illness – St. Louis

No Shanda we call it. Shanda means shame. There is none. We host a series of community forums, where we discuss mental illness and mental health. We bring down teachings, do some sharing, some listening, sometimes some singing, we teach spiritual practices that help reduce the triggers: anxiety, despair, hope-less-ness.
The session was directed by Rabbis James Goodman and Susan Talve.
For more information, you may call 314-222-9864.


To Dull the Pain


To dull the pain

What’s not spoken

May return as Danger.


We begin with talk

Then talk

Then more talk.


At the intersection

Of hurt and drugs

And aloneness

Human beings of flesh and bone.


Teach literacy

The language of health and illness

And the pouring souls

Who recover not-recover.


Talk. Then

More talk.


Twelve went out

Ten came back with

Negative stories.


Only two

Not enough

Not a critical number.


Now we need more

We need you.


How we tell our Stories:





Practice writing and listening

Telling our Stories.



We gather



No shame in the hunger

To be whole.


From No Shanda; Jewish activism on Mental Health


At one of our meetings, we divided the group into small working teams and began with this as a prompt:

Oh Rabbi

Please read the piece below, then gather responses, stories, fears, whatever the
members of your group would like to share. Appoint a scribe to write down the responses.

Oh Rabbi, I wish I could come but it’s not the right time for me
You know -- to be with people
but you may use my words in any way
If I can be of some help –

I am a survivor I suppose
I have attempted suicide several times
In serious ways
And I believe I am alive to share a few things I’ve learned
Some sort of purpose
I am always looking for that but here goes
I hope this helps.

People could listen more with their eyes as well as their ears
When you are contemplating suicide
You don’t conceptualize it
You may not express it --
Be observant
Don’t ignore anything.
“Do you want to talk?”
Ask and ask.

Often people will not come to you.
Try to be as observant as possible.
Take everything seriously.
I wanted someone to hold my hand –
“I’m not going to leave you
G*d will not leave you
I’m with you
I will never leave you”
And most important –
“This feeling is going to pass.”

You don’t think it’s going to pass
You think it’s never going away
It feels permanent
It does pass --
I don’t want to die
I want to live
But I can’t take this pain
This darkness
Anymore –
That’s the best way I can describe it.

It will change
It will get better
You’re not alone
You will feel alone
Even when you’re surrounded by people
Tell it and tell it and tell it

I wish I could be there with you
Next time.
October 19, 2011


This is What the Participants Spoke

[Compiled From the Small Group Responses to Prompt Above]

Whose mother she killed herself
I stay in touch with family
Divorced now we stay in touch
Brother -- accidental death
Or suicide?

I attempted it
Suicide takes energy
Has to be planned or
You will botch it.
I was taken to hospital
I’ll never forget my Dad’s face
when he cane to see me –
I wanted them all to know how much pain
I was in.

Lost son
Suicide At age 18
High achiever
In middle took him to psychiatrist
Meds may or may not help --
Gifted athlete
Was on 17 different medications
Treatment resistant depression
Six suicide attempts.

Mom quit job suicide watch
After one attempt
I am so sorry, I can’t even do this

ECT – didn’t respond.
He said he started thinking about killing himself in the
Third grade
My senior year of high school
Will be my last year --
Why can’t you let me go?
Your life will be better without me.

He was such a gift to us.


Whoever wrote this   a Purpose to listen
And reassure someone
Give a little Hope.

Everything changes
When you are depressed
You forget that --
You could jump straight off a bridge
You may not come out of the house
You may be embarrassed.

The mind can block healing --
You do the best you can Understanding
It’s ultimately Beyond your control.

I understand --
I have felt what you are feeling
That is the most meaningful.


Be open with your feelings
It’s hard when some people panic.
People may ignore you
But you want someone to listen.

Some people are really good at listening
And sometimes Nobody knows
You may know
Something is wrong --
Some people with mental illness
Have more insight than others About mental illness.


It never dawned on me that my son
Might consider suicide.
The last time it was so horrible that it just didn‘t seem
It would get better.

I’m so glad I have a biological disease Because now
I don’t have to think of Killing myself.
Is it ever ok to kill yourself?


My brother attempted and succeeded.
Some guilt
Life becomes unmanageable.l

Meds hadn’t worked yet
She had support but it doesn’t matter.
She felt alone
Be aware
Take responsibility

People around her knew she was at risk
She was withholding
And holding


I was reminded of my mother
It doesn’t make sense
She needed attention.

She also made herself sick
The only way to get attention --
I remember I didn’t want to give in to her need
I’m ashamed of that. . .

I found her passed out
She had tried to kill herself with pills.
I had to decide to go on with the rest of my life
Or be there with my mother.

I was 20, 21 years old
Who else would check in on her if
She got into that place?

I have no place to tell this story
And my mother and I
Spoke about it.

I have no doubt I save my mother’s life
I also knew I would not be there one day.


I’ve been there
Darkness despair.
People couldn’t take away pain
They felt so inadequate
Looking back
Thankful they were there --

It will pass
I love you
I care

Looking closely within someone
Look into heart it’s not easy.

How are you?
They want to hear fine
Someone to ask what’s really going on?

Do you have a fear of suicide?
All the time.


I was the last person to talk with him
He was prepared had a plan      means.

Before I found my Mom It was inconceivable.

Send me a thread of hope
So destructive so hurtful to family.

I will do anything to help you in life.


Take the Pledge


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 over thirty years ago, 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. Take up a candle, light it, give that light to someone else. Don't let nobody go dark on our watch.
I wrote this pledge, and I took it:

The Pledge

1) I pledge to bring someone in. If I light a candle, I will share the light.
2) I will be a reminder in every way I can to my family, friends, and community: we have these problems, they are difficult, but there is no shame attached to them and we live in a Big Tent.
3) We can live with our problems.
4) I pledge to break the *shanda* barrier, which means:
5) Talk, talk, and more talk.
6) I pledge to remind my community that we are working our problems, that being secret may be part of the problem, therefore:
7) I will not practice aloneness. I will talk with somebody. I will pick up the telephone.

*shanda* means shame
there is none

Convened by Rabbi James Stone Goodman, Jewish Attention to Mental Illness began with a program called Falling Through the Cracks, a series of community forums at Congregation Neve Shalom with the expressed purpose to secure mental health and problems occasioned by mental illness in the center of the
Jewish community agenda, thinking, and communal creativity, through a series of “nexts” --- strategies created from the bottom up, so to speak, that can be readily accomplished with the human creativity and commitment already in place.

Jewish Attention to Mental Illness [JAMI StL] began with a commitment to teaching and embodying the Jewish commitment to community and to the place of the stranger, overcoming the shonda [shame] aspect of mental illness by bringing the stranger into the community with compassion.

We teach that there is no one outside the camp, that we are all in the Jewish community tent, it is a big tent and we owe it to those who may not advocate well for themselves to advocate for them. We are led by the attention to the cry that we hear when individuals are suffering from problems occasioned by mental illness, and we teach responses to help them live more integrated lives.

Our goal is to teach by embodying the compassionate values that Judaism extends to all individuals in the big tent approach to Jewish community, overcoming the stigma that attaches to mental illness.

Poem 23 Exercise

Here's an exercise we used to kick off one of our spiritual support group meetings. I handed out three documents; the first and third are the same, a basic translation of Psalm 23. I had three different people read the pieces out loud. It set the context for a wonderful meeting.

Exercise: Poem #23
Three voices, three texts
Designed to inspire good conversation on difficult challenges

Someone reads the Psalm in a basic translation.

Psalm 23
A Psalm of David
God is my shepherd
I lack nothing.
You lay me down in green pastures
You lead me beside still waters
You restore my soul
You lead me in the right paths
so that I may speak Your name.
Yea, though I walk through the valley
where the shadows lie,
I will fear no evil
for You are with me
Your rod and Your staff
they comfort me
You spread a table before me
even in the presence of my enemies
You anointed my head with oil
My cup overflows
Surely goodness and mercy
shall follow me all the days of my life
and I will dwell in the house of God

Someone then reads an expansion/a parsing of the Psalm.

Song #23
God is my shepherd, I need nothing.
God is my shepherd, when I wander You restore me to my path
You return me gently to my path, You bring me back,
when I have lost confidence,
when I have drifted from my center, my focus, my soul,
when I have misplaced my heart of wisdom, my deep heart knowledge,
when I am fearful,
You lead me and let me lie down in pastures of tender grass,
where there is comfort,

besides waters of restfulness -- the place of deep wisdom,
healing, and mindfulness.
Deep wisdom, healing, and mindfulness restore my soul.

I am guided in the right paths.

When I sleep: You.
When I rise: You.
When I lie down: You.
I have kept You before me always.

Even when I walk through the darkness,

darkness within and darkness without,
I am not afraid, for You are with me,
You comfort me,

even in the presence of my enemies: You
when my mind is my enemy: You.
My head is anointed with oil, the oil of holiness,

holiness everywhere,
my cup runs over

-- this is the sustenance I have always sought.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
I have been restored to hope and possibility
I will -- survive

and I will dwell in the house of God


Someone reads the Psalm again.


JAMI for consumers

Monday, Feb. 6 @7:15 PM

Neve Shalom

JAMI for family members and friends

Tuesday, Feb. 21 @7 PM

Jewish Federation Bldg.


Give ear O heavens
And I will speak
Listen earth
To the words of my mouth

I stood on a rock
With You
You were wrapped
In a tallit of light
And there I was given

Everything for all of us
When I came down the mountain
My face was fire
And on that fire
A mask

If we believe in justice
It is a double course justice
If we believe compassion
There is no stranger
Or we are all strangers
Not just then
But always

If we believe in good
Then there is good
And only good

If we choose life
Then we take each day
With the intention of joy

You are endlessly forgiving
When will You abandon us –