Tag Archives: advocacy

Two Mississippi Rabbis Will Shave for the Brave

My Mississippi rabbinical colleague Rabbi Debra Kassoff and myself will both be making a bold statement this spring; more accurately, we’ll be making a bald statement.36r

As you may be aware, during this past year a young boy year fought a brave battle with cancer, and lost. His name was Samuel Sommer, affectionately known as “Superman Sam,” and his Mom, Rabbi Phillis Sommer, decided to document the family’s experience through a blog as they fought their way through life. He became an internet sensation, being sent on trips, dealing with hospital visits, and facing the potential end of his life. First the blog was created, but it caught fire and not only were social media sites, but actual news sites were covering his story.

I first became aware of this when people began to change their profile picture to the icon of Superman. A comic book aficianado, I immediately took notice. Then, my staff brought something to my attention that I hadn’t yet seen. St. Baldrick’s, an organization that raises money for children’s cancer research, was having an event… for Rabbis. It is called 36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave, and I signed up. At an annual convention for Rabbis, at least 36 rabbis will be shaving their head to raise money for these kids as well as to show support for their brave fight.

The shave will take place at the CCAR Convention in Chicago on April 1. Following the shave, I’ll share some more of my thoughts on the experience, here on the Southern & Jewish blog. For now, you can visit http://bit.ly/36rabbis to make a donation to St. Baldrick’s in memory of Samuel Sommer, and support Rabbi Kassoff, my other rabbinic colleagues, and me, as we prepare to go bald for children and a brighter, healthier future.

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Posted on March 21, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Answering the Call: Responding to Suicide and Depression in Our Communities

phone“Crisis Line. May I help you?”

This is how I answer the phone at a local crisis center here in Mississippi, during every four hour shift I spend volunteering there.   Each time I pick up the line, I take a deep breath and hope that the person on the other side of the phone is okay. However, having been trained as a crisis line volunteer, I know that I am ready to respond if the person who was brave enough to call is not okay. I am ready to talk to them if they want to talk to me about feeling suicidal.

“Suicide rates among middle-aged Americans have risen sharply in the past decade.”

That is the opening line of this May 2013 New York Times article. When I read those words, I immediately thought about people I know who have been affected by suicide. Too many. As the ISJL’s Director of the Department of Community Engagement, I wondered if and how congregations, as community based organizations, might respond to this rather serious piece of information.

Consider some more noteworthy news points about people taking their own life:
From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among Americans ages 35 to 64 rose by nearly 30 percent.
In 2010 there were 33,687 deaths from motor vehicle crashes, and 38,364 suicides; while car safety has improved, it’s still shocking that suicides outnumbered vehicular death.
The increase coincides with a decrease in financial standing and the widespread availability of opioid drugs, which can be particularly deadly in large doses
Most suicides are committed using firearms (not most suicide attempts, but most suicides)
People who are left behind face social stigma.

mental-illnessWhile I am not suggesting that we panic, I am suggesting that we pay attention to what this means for our congregations and communities. Suicide has become more prevalent. In the same way that we are trained to prevent drunk drivers from operating a vehicle, we can be trained to intervene when someone is at risk of committing suicide.

September 10th of each year is World Suicide Prevention Day. In honor of that day, congregations can host speakers who can talk about issues related to mental health or say a prayer for the healing of all who are feeling hopeless and depressed. Here are some other ways to take action:

  • Invite people from service agencies to speak at services about the resources that are available through their non-profit
  • Learn about what Judaism has to say about suicide and mental illness; have a study session or education program dedicated to the topic
  • Get involved in local crisis hotlines. Congregations can host trainings for crisis hotline volunteers or give an annual financial gift to the local hotline
  • Host support groups for people who are dealing with depression
  • Host support groups for people who have been affected by suicide (family and friends of someone who committed suicide)
  • Foster community and relationship building: with the understanding that suicide is now more prevalent among men between the ages of 35-64, there may be some benefit to having a Brotherhood Committee that mirrors the Sisterhood Committee’s level of activity
  • Educate congregants about firearm safety and the dangers of opioid drugs
  • Offer programs and initiatives that can help ease the financial strain on families

For information about suicide prevention, contact one of the many wonderful advocacy organizations out there, such as SAVE.

Do you have other ideas of how congregations can play a role in curbing the rise of suicide rates? Please share them in the comments below! 

Posted on May 17, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy