‘No Shanda’ group removes shame, stigma from mental health discussion

Sitting around the table in the Central Reform Congregation library earlier this month, the meeting of No Shanda, a mental health group led by Rabbis Susan Talve and James Goodman, was about to start. Several of the participants chatted with one another. Some sat quietly. I introduced myself to the two women sitting nearest to me. I knew one of their relatives; it began to feel comfortable. The other I had just met on the Oklahoma vigil trip and we smiled at each other.

I had been meaning to attend No Shanda for years, but some competing activity seemed to take precedence. Now here I was, a first for me. And I am so glad.

“Jimmy” as Rabbi Susan affectionately calls her husband, Rabbi Goodman, was running a little late, so she began. “Maimoniides has taught us that the way to feel closest to G-d, was to accept our limitations.”

I knew then that I was in the right place.

Each person present gave a brief “check-in,” telling something good, or something troubling going on with them. There was a sense of support from the group. One woman in her seventies shared that no matter where she went, she felt like “the other;” she belonged nowhere. 

Rabbi Jim started SLICHA (St. Louis Information Committee and Hotline on Addiction) in 1981. I did attend one of its meetings. Now SLICHA is Shalvah, which means serenity in Hebrew. The outreach program is devoted to teaching resources for recovery from alcoholism and other addictions. 

All three of these groups have focused on tearing down barriers to the stigma of substance abuse and mental illness that are deeply rooted in the Jewish community. Shanda means shame. The goal is to erase that and give light to these critical issues that affect all of us.

More recently Rabbi Susan joined Rabbi Jim to lead a larger discussion about mental health in our community. Together they have urged and pledged not to let anyone go dark on their watch. And the group has pledged likewise.

I am now part of this welcoming together. I first came because I have two adult friends who need a Jewish presence in their struggles to stay mentally healthy. Then I opened up and told my own history.

My parents and sister and I all have had anxiety issues. My parents are gone, but my sister and I have been fortunate to receive good medical and therapeutic attention and to be able to live productive lives. I know I will have to be vigilant about this forever. It is just who I am.

So, I am pleased to say that I am now a part of  No Shanda. It is a wonderful experience to be sharing our feelings together and to provide support for each other. Confidentiality is a key part of the discussion, but not secrecy. What we talk about is not shameful. We will not isolate and we will show people how we live daily.

We will show, not tell.

In many respects, we are all the “other” in some part of our lives. We seek to bring others into our circle

Rabbi Jim talked about the three weeks of mourning that precede Tisha B’Av and then the seven weeks of consolation. It takes that long to recover from the intensity, to gently reclaim our ascent from hard periods. He spoke of Isaiah, the prophet and read some of his writings; we all felt a sense of sensitivity from the prominent images that helped us subtly heal. Jim brings a tenderness; he does not bring drama.

There is so much anger and alienation, but in No Shanda, it is replaced by safety, not fear. We all have hidden vulnerabilities.

Please join us at the Jewish Community Center in Creve Coeur on Sunday Aug. 18 at 11 a.m. for a community meeting. We welcome your involvement and hope you will find shalom with us.

Susan E. Block, an attorney with Paule Camazine & Blumenthal, P.C., previously served as a St. Louis County County Circuit Judge for 25 years. Her practice focuses on family law, probate and school law. Block is a member of Central Reform Congregation and National Council of Jewish Women. A board member of Caring for Kids and HomeWorks, she is married and the mother of four.