Confronting Challenges with Mind and Heart

Confronting Mental Illness

This program is part of Drisha’s initiative,
Dirshu: Confronting Challenges with Mind and Heart

Past Dirshu Series:
Holiness – October/November 2015
Hunger: What Can We Do?
 – February 2015
Prayer: What Are We Doing? – March/April 2014
Why Learn Talmud? – October/November 2014


Program dates have passed. If you would like to hear about similar programs in the future, please email us at [email protected] to be added to our mailing list.


Wednesday evenings April 30, May 7, and May 14, 2014.

Each evening will begin at 6:30 with a choice of workshops that will help participants deepen their understanding of the experience of mental illness in relation to Jewish tradition.

At 7:15 we will break for tefilat mincha and refreshments.

At 7:45 we will join together for a lecture that invites us to consider our attitudes toward mental illness and the challenges that we are called to meet as individuals and as a community.

We invite individuals with lived experience, family members, mental health professionals, clergy, and concerned members of the community to participate in this critical conversation.

Click here to read “From Where Does My Help Come?”, an article published in The Jewish Week on June 3, 2014 on this series.

Click here to read “Struggling with Mental Illness: Sanctuaries for the Mind,” by Rabbi Alfredo Borodowski for the Rabbinical Assembly.


CHOICE OF WORKSHOPS (please note that each workshop meets for three weeks):

Struggling Toward Mental Health: Chassidic Wisdom and Modern Insight – Dr. Yitzchak Schechter
We will explore the rich Jewish perspectives on mental health and illness. We will focus on a variety of Chassidic texts and teachings and juxtapose these with the modern context of science and treatment.

Veravach LeShaul Vetov Lo (“Saul Was Relieved and Felt Well”): Music and Healing – Dr. Harvey Kranzler
We will explore the profound relationship between music and mental wellbeing. We will sing Chassidic nigunim and reflect on the ways in which they touch upon the depths of our souls and our emotions.

Mima’amakim Keratikha: From the Depths I Have Called Out – Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot
We will explore the range of emotional, spiritual, and religious feelings of suffering, mental anguish, and angst together with healing and wholeness that emerge in the experience and poetry of the Psalmist in selected Tehillim (Psalms).

Vayelkhu Sheneihem Yachdav (“The Two Walked Together”): Accompanying People with Mental Illness – Dr. Michelle Friedman
We will use texts and personal stories to explore what it means to be the family member, friend, or member of the community who cares for and wants to support someone with mental illness. We will discuss the feelings of people who accompany an individual with mental illness, questions that arise, and challenges that are faced. We will consider issues such as compassion, anger, estrangement, and forgiveness, and we will share practical ideas that emerge from the experiences of participants in the workshop.

Illness and Redemption: Exploring Mental Illness Through Personal Stories Rabbi Alfredo Borodowski
We will read diaries by individuals experiencing mental disorders. What did they experience? What were their fears? How did they overcome their challenges? What was their road to recovery? Rabbi Borodowski will also share his personal struggle with bipolar disorder and his story of how Judaism helped him travel this very treacherous road.

“All of Us Are More Human Than Otherwise”: A Workshop for Mental Health Professionals Dr. Seth Aronson
We will explore the challenges of therapeutic work with individuals with mental illness through discussing memoirs written by persons with illness as well as Jewish texts that can serve as a foundation for creating a framework for our work. The workshop will also provide a safe space in which we can explore issues such as authentic engagement in the work while maintaining boundaries, the intersection of the personal and professional, and compassion fatigue.


April 30: Ordering Disorder: A Structural Framework forThinking About Mental Illness – Dr. Hillel Grossman
Psychiatric diagnoses are a confusion of disorders, diseases, reactions, responses, personality and behavior. This talk will outline a structure for understanding where symptoms, stories, behaviors and traits fit in how we think about mental illness and how these elements interact within the person’s experience.

May 7: The Human Experience of Recovery: Living with Meaning and Hope– Dr. Marianne Farkas
Recovery is a concept that has special implications in relation to mental illnesses. This talk will introduce what recovery means for individuals with mental illness, what studying recovery has shown us, what the critical components of recovery are, and what can help foster a journey of recovery.

May 14: Living with Mental Illness: From Where Does My Help Come? – A conversation between Rabbi Roly Matalon, Rabbi Mychal Springer, and Benyamin Cirlin, followed by an open discussion about the role and responsibility of community, led by Rabbi Felicia Sol and Rabbi David Silber.
An exploration of Jewish resources, textual, ritual, and communal, that are available to those living with mental illness, their family members, and their friends, followed by an open discussion about the role and responsibility of community.


Seth Aronson, PsyD is Fellow, Training and Supervising Analyst, and Director of Curriculum at the William Alanson White Institute in New York. He is adjunct Professor at Long Island University’s doctoral program in clinical psychology, and he serves on the faculty of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, where he facilitates process groups for rabbinical students.

Rabbi Alfredo Borodowski is the founding rabbi of Congregation Sulam Yaakov in Larchmont, NY. Born in Argentina, he obtained his law degree from the University of Buenos Aires and was ordained by the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano. He completed an M.A in rabbinic literature and a doctorate in Jewish philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He served as Rabbi of the JCC of Harrison, NY, as Executive Director of the Hartman Institute in North America, and as Executive Director of the Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning.

R. Benyamin Cirlin, C.S.W. is the Executive Director of the Center for Loss and Renewal, a group private practice specializing in life transition therapy. He also serves as the part-time Social Work Supervisor at the Visiting Nurse Service of New York Hospice.  A graduate of the Wurzweiler School of Social Work at Yeshiva University, he completed the postgraduate program in psychoanalytic and family therapy at the Long Island Institute for Mental Health.

Marianne Farkas, ScD has served as Co-Principal Investigator of the Research and Training Center and Professor in Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at Boston University for over 25 years. Dr. Farkas was in charge of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center in Psychiatric Rehabilitation and has served as Vice President of the World Association for Psychosocial Rehabilitation and as President of the National Association of Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers. She has authored and co-authored many articles in professional journals, as well as several textbooks, book chapters, and multi-media training packages.

Michelle Friedman, MD, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, is Chair of Pastoral Counseling at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School and Associate Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital. She has a private practice in Manhattan.

Hillel Grossman, MD is Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where he designed and leads a course on Method and Methodology in Clinical Psychiatry.  He is a neuropsychiatrist in clinical practice who researches memory and aging.

Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot is on the faculties of the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, SAR High School, and Drisha and serves as the spiritual leader of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Teaneck, NJ. He has authored and edited a number of volumes in Hebrew and English. He has lectured widely throughout the Unites States and Canada, including on his own experiences with depression and mental illness.

Harvey N. Kranzler, MD, is Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist. Dr. Kranzler has led High Holiday tefilot at Drisha for thirty-five years.

Rabbi José Rolando Matalon studied at the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano in Buenos Aires and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1986.  Since then he has served as a rabbi at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun.

Yitzchak Schechter, PsyD is a clinical psychologist and Director of the Center for Applied Psychology at Bikur Cholim in Monsey, NY, which offers a behavioral health clinic, counseling in yeshivas, educational programming for rabbonim, clinicians, educators, and the general community, and child safety services. Dr. Schechter recently launched the Institute for Applied Research and Community Collaboration, whose mission is to conduct, analyze and disseminate rigorous research on psychiatric, psychological, and social issues of the observant community in an effort to empirically base and guide decision making, resource allocation, and program development.

Rabbi David Silber is founder and Dean of Drisha Institute and a teacher of Jewish texts, primarily biblical narrative. He is the author of A Passover Haggadah: Go Forth and Learn (JPS), recently translated into Hebrew and published by Koren Press.

Rabbi Felicia Sol was ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and holds a Masters in Jewish Education from the Rhea Hirsch School of HUC. She has served as a rabbi at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun since 2001. Rabbi Sol is a board member of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice.

Rabbi Mychal B. Springer is Director of the Center for Pastoral Education at The Jewish Theological Seminary, where she holds the Helen Fried Kirshblum Goldstein Chair in Professional and Pastoral Skills.  She is a certified supervisor in the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education and a certified Jewish chaplain.

There is no fee for this program. We welcome contributions to support our work.

This series is cosponsored by B’nai Jeshurun and Drisha Institute.