Posted in AJT, Published Work

“Mental Illness is the Cancer of the Soul.”

The last thing one might expect when going to synagogue on a Sunday morning at ten is a rabbi carrying an embroidered New Orleans, Mardi Gras mask. And it’s not even Purim. Rabbi Analia Bortz of Or Hadash, where Baken ‘In the Nest’ began last Sunday held no punches when she took the Bimah before the first sessions of In the Nest. As Co-Founder with Devi Knapp (who told her touching story earlier in the morning), the doctor and Rabbi kept a steady hold over the room, proving what worth the mental health collective would have for the community.


“Mental illness is the cancer of the soul.” The Doctor and Rabbi said, each word crisp and clear. She took her time, recalling people, everyday people getting ready for job interviews who might put on a mask like the one she had in her hands. People with depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses never take off these masks. They are stiff as a Mardi Gras mask, wooden and painful.

“Mental illness an illness,” she said. “We must treat it like diabetes. Be honest. Embrace. And we can fight the stigma together and we can get to mental wellness.”


This idea she pressed. The stigma around mental illness is well known, and a person doesn’t have to have a diagnosis to be ingrained in it. The recent release of the movie Split, by M. Night Shyamalan, had backlash from American audiences as many in the mentally ill community had a firm belief that it could further ingrain the idea that ‘crazy’ meant violent. The main character, played by James McAvoy was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, made clear in the trailer, and those with a similar were scared that because its something Hollywood uses that audiences might make the link that D.I.D. is linked to murder, and no twist ending can change that link.


If someone speaks about diabetes, like Bortz suggested, people suggest that if someone isn’t feeling well that they need to see a doctor, check their medicine, change their medicine, etcetera. With mental illness, the American attitude is entirely different. People suggest going outside more or exercising, drinking more water. They might say, ‘I’ve had days like that’ or ‘Have you tried not thinking about it?’


Irritating comments like these, comments that only invalidate the pain that people amidst the lowest points of their lives can come every day. It makes people think they are over exaggerating their problem and it leads to making problems grow and grow.


Open discussion, positive reinforcement, and education can, and Devi Knapp was open from the start to the audience at the temple. She commented on how it brought many people to move, bringing up their own stories, and asking to talk to her in private. People want and need to talk about mental health, and even her speech, filling the hall of Or Hadash, had more people asking for their time with her, either to donate to the cause or to share what they can before moving to the planned two-part sessions of In the Nest.


“When I talk about it, it makes people think about their own stories,” Knapp said. Because of her experience, she knows that people need a place to talk. An open space with support. Baken ‘In the Nest’ has been in the works for a long time; the end result was strong, with more certified doctors ready to help and more people showing up than either co-founder expected.


The goal of Baken ‘In the Nest’ has been made clear from its opening: to educate the community on mental health, create an open environment for support for friends and family, and help those who need that ‘nest. From there, they drove right on and hit every mark.

The event was filled with respect and open-hearted conversation. With a touch too punny names on occasion, sessions in eating disorders, sleep management, suicide, and over-looked topics like taking care of yourself when you’re the token care-taker made In the Nest speed by and in a snap it was over.


The vast success led to an email just days after, as people prompted for links for where they could donate, or when they could next have a meeting.


The Art of Mindfulness Therapy is scheduled for September 10th at Or Hadash.  RSVP to

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