Conference looks to build caring community for mentally ill

Congregation Beth Sholom and the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center are holding a conference Aug. 30 titled “Nachamu, Nachamu (Comfort, Comfort): Building a Caring Community for Mental Illness.”

The day aims to be a resource for people who have mental illness or who have a relative, friend or co-worker with a mental illness.

“Now, particularly, is a great time for the Jewish community to address how to do more for mental health, because social services are being cut,” said Pam Reitman, a Beth Sholom congregant who helped coordinate the San Francisco conference.

Reitman’s son was 21 when diagnosed with a mental illness in 2000. This summer, she said, his dental care was eliminated and his disability benefits reduced by 10 percent.

“As a synagogue, we can’t provide those things,” said Reitman, “but we can call upon our tradition to provide spiritual support that sustains [people who suffer from a mental illness] and makes them feel included and hopeful and motivated toward their own recovery.”

The conference will begin with a panel. Someone with a mental illness who can speak about their experiences will be part of the panel, as will a relative who will talk about the impact mental illness has on a family. A psychiatrist, social worker and rabbi will also participate.

Small group discussions will follow. Reitman hopes the groups provide a safe space for people to talk about what they hope to gain from the conference and what they’d like to see as a result (for instance, a support group).

The day will conclude with a prayer service led by Rabbi Micah Hyman and Rabbi Elliott Kukla.

The event is slated for 12:30 to 5:15 p.m. Aug. 30 at Congregation Beth Sholom, 301 14th Ave., S.F. To register or for more information, call (415) 221- 8736 ext. 101.