On Yom Kippur, Teen Dani, an eleventh grader, shared her journey through mental illness to an overflowing synagogue (read Dani’s words, watch the video). Her honesty – raw and real – blew open a conversation about mental illness, suicide and depression. Then, Rabbi Paul Kipnes challenged Congregation Or Ami to lift the veil of silence to speak openly and honestly about mental illness (read his sermon). Then Dani’s mother, Debby, also spoke about her appreciation that the synagogue and its rabbis offered deep support for their daughter on her battle with depression (read her words below).
As you read this, know that Dani is in a great place! In addition to her passionate outreach work to remove the stigma and spark serious conversations about teen mental health, Dani derives joy and satisfaction in life from her involvement in all things Camp Newman and NFTY, being an athlete and leader on her high school track team, doodling, and eating popcorn in bed while watching “The Office.” Dani is grateful to her parents Debby and Davidson, her big brother Josh, her dog Frodo, her incredibly supportive friends, her rabbis and cantor, and the mental health professionals who all helped Dani find her own path to back to hope and healing.
If you know Dani’s family and want to share words of support with them, please do. Otherwise, Dani and her family request that you post questions and stories about your journey with mental health and wellness here, or be in touch with Rabbi Paul Kipnes directly. Thank you for respecting their privacy and journey.
How My Synagogue Helped My Child Save Herself (in her Battle with Depression)
by Debby, mom to teen Dani
As we heard in Rabbi Paul Kipnes’ sermon about Lifting the Veil of Silence about Mental Illness as We Support the Journey toward Mental Health, Congregation Or Ami is actively engaged in the holy work of henaynu (being there for each other) and of tikkun olam (healing the world).
Whether feeding the hungry, providing comfort bags for foster children, partnering with LA County to establish permanent solutions to homelessness, swabbing our cheeks for bone marrow matches, buying a food truck with Food Forward to collect and share surplus fruits and vegetables, or forging new paths to address the teen mental health crisis, Or Ami unselfishly commits its resources and passion to causes that bring connection, justice, and healing.
Or Ami – meaning the “light of my people” – shines brightly in the world.
As you heard from my daughter, Dani, Congregation Or Ami provides a beacon of hope and connection that helps lead our children and teens back from dark places, where they may wander or become lost.
I will always remember that when my daughter was lost, even before she had the courage to reach out to my husband Davidson or me, she reached out to Or Ami, to her Rabbi Paul. And Rabbi Paul listened. Then he and Rabbi Julia Weisz helped Dani find a path that had been hidden from her, that she had been unable to find on her own. A path that brought our daughter back to us. A path that brought our Dani back to herself.
Our rabbis and our Cantor Doug Cotler, our Henaynu Caring Community, our lay leadership and volunteers, all unite around a single message: Henaynu – We are here. Or Ami is here. Here for me. Here for Dani. And here for you.
So, as Cantor Doug’s prayer Listen reminds us: Don’t be lost. Don’t be afraid. It’s okay if you don’t know what to say. Because Congregation Or Ami will listen, and help us discover ways to heal ourselves and the world we share.
Or Ami – the “light of my people” – is able to shine brightly because we believe in it and help it to shine. May your New Year be filled with love, health, joy and many blessings. And may it be filled with light. Shana Tova.
Congregation Or Ami (Calabasas, CA) is the proud recipient of a major grant from the LA Jewish Teen Initiative’s Focus on Teen Wellness, co-funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Jim Joseph Foundation with seed funding provided by the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. We are inspired in this work by the Ruderman Foundation and the Union for Reform Judaism. We are transforming our synagogue into a safe space for all, training our staff, clergy, and faculty to see more clearly the pain within our families, and teaching the teens and pre-teens useful techniques for shmirat haguf v’hanefesh, caring for their precious bodies, minds and souls.
To learn more about Congregation Or Ami’s project, Shmirat Haguf v’Hanefesh: Caring for the Teenage Body, Mind and Soul, contact Rabbinic Intern Julie Bressler.
A final reminder: If you know Dani’s family and want to share words of support with them, please do. Otherwise, Dani and her family request that you post questions and stories about your journey with mental health and wellness here, or be in touch with Rabbi Paul Kipnes directly. Thank you for respecting their privacy and journey.