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While issues of mental health have lurked in the shadows for years with many afraid of seeking help for fear of being stigmatized, our community has come a long way in the recent past when it comes to facing those particular problems head on. Since 2016, the annual convention of Agudath Israel of America has featured a dedicated track for mental health professionals, providing them with an opportunity to be guided by daas Torah on the halachic and hashkafic aspects of the many thorny issues that arise in the course of their work.
The virtual platform of this year’s convention eliminated all geographic limitations, opening up the dedicated mental health track to a larger number of participants and presenters than ever before. More than 250 mental health professionals from across the United States, Canada, Europe and Israel took part in the program which had sessions running from 2 to 11 PM on Thursday, with a break for the participants to take part in the convention’s keynote address.
The program opened with back-to-back question and answer sessions, that had Rav Yitzchok Berkovits, Rosh Kollel of the Jerusalem Kollel and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Aish HaTorah, addressing inquiries regarding dating, marriage and shalom bayis, followed by Rav Sholom Kametesky, Rosh Yeshiva of Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia, fielding queries on yiddishkeit and mental health with a focus on chinuch and parenting. Rabbi Dovid Schustal, Rosh HaYeshiva, Beth Medrash Govoha, and the Kossover Rebbe, Rabbi Shraga Feivish Hager, offered divrei chizuk to participants whose work touches on very delicate issues and can often be emotionally draining. A post-keynote panel discussion specifically gave students and newer clinicians an opportunity to hear from experienced therapists who are shomrei Torah u’mitzvos. The session was addressed by licensed clinical social workers Rabbi Moshe Rotberg and Mrs. Shaindy Bondi who spoke about the challenges and rewards of being a therapist.
Dr. Chaim Neuhoff worked closely with a committee of mental health professionals to organize the convention’s dedicated track. He noted that the sensitive issues that arise within the Torah community are extremely nuanced, with clinicians needing to find resolutions that balance multiple sensitivities.
“Many of those in the mental health field find themselves in an extremely lonely profession and bringing so many of them who struggle with the same cultural and religious issues together, even remotely, is both validating and encouraging,” said Dr. Neuhoff. “Being able to speak with Rabbanim who are so knowledgeable about the intricacies of our field and can address them comfortably is helpful and rewarding.”
Having a mental health professionals’ track at the annual Agudah convention is just one of many initiatives of the Agudah’s Torah Projects Commission, which is also involved in online programming for those in the field. Future sessions are being planned for those employed in other professions, said Rabbi Eliyahu Simcha Bamberger, a coordinator with Agudah’s Torah Projects Commission.
“Baruch Hashem, we have so many talented professionals in our community and while they may be fully trained in their field of choice, many occasions arise where they need guidance from our gedolim on particular issues that crop up,” noted Rabbi Bamberger. “We have seen and heard how the convention’s mental health professionals’ track has been extremely helpful to those in that field and look forward to continuing to work with them to help them in their efforts serving Klal Yisroel.”