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September 4, 2015 / 20 Elul, 5775
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Seminar Sheds Light On Bottled Up Jewish Problem

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   An all-day conference on body image and eating disorders in the Jewish community took place on Sunday, June 7, in Manhattan. Co-sponsored by the Renfrew Center Foundation and the Orthodox Union’s Department of Community Services, the conference boasted a stellar cast of speakers and experts, who spoke urgently of the need to address the growing epidemic of Orthodox Jewish men and women with eating disorders.

 

   Sam Menaged, a former healthcare attorney and the founder, president, and chief executive officer of the Renfrew Center, said, “Since 1985, when the center first opened, we’ve had Orthodox Jews as patients, but typically only one or two at a time,” said Menaged. “Recently, however, that rate has skyrocketed.” Menaged, who comes from an Orthodox background, recognized that Orthodox Jews with eating disorders have different issues than the general population suffering with anorexia or bulimia.

 

   This realization propelled him to create a track specifically for the Orthodox Jewish patients who entered the center; the track addresses issues such as the place of food in Jewish life and shidduchim.

 

   Menaged, who along with his staff at Renfrew conceptualized Sunday’s conference, stated, “It’s high time that the Orthodox Jewish community seriously addressed the issue of eating disorders within the community. Hopefully, this conference will go a long way towards educating more people about this very important subject.”

 

   Dr. Esther Altmann, a consultant to the Orthodox Jewish eating disorders track at The Renfrew Center, delivered the morning’s keynote address. She emphasized that while the Orthodox community has come a long way towards recognizing early signs of an eating disorder, there is still more that can be done to spread awareness of the very real dangers such a disorder poses. “Eating disorders have the potential to be life-threatening. One of the goals of this conference is to highlight the importance of immediate professional intervention for individuals suffering from eating disorders,” she said.

 

   Dr. Altmann showed clips from a recent film, “Hungry to be Heard,” a project of the OU’s Young Leadership Cabinet, that was produced by Elisheva Diamond, Dr. Sarah Weinberger-Litman, and directed by Leta Lenik. The film’s subjects spoke honestly about how their disorders have negatively impacted their lives.

 

 

 

Elisheva Diamond and Dr. Sarah Weinberger-Litman

discuss their film, “Hungry to be Heard.”

 

 

   One young man spoke of his discomfort with celebrating Shabbos, as the day lends itself to liberal eating and long, drawn-out meals.

 

   “This is not the way to go. This is miserable,” said a young woman identified only as “Rachel.” As she sobbed, clearly lost and bewildered at how low she had sunk, the urgency of just how important it is to address eating disorders was driven home to all those assembled.

 

   Diamond said, “Both Sarah and I were really gratified by the positive response that the film received. The audience seemed to really respond to it, and many people spontaneously offered to help us distribute the film. The more we talk about eating disorders, the more we learn how to help and protect our community.”

 

   Sonya Schreiber, a graduate of Hunter College School of Social Work, came to learn more about eating disorders. “I’ve always had an interest in this topic, and I recognize that it’s truly become an epidemic within the Jewish community,” she explained. “Seeing the OU and Renfrew take the initiative to address this issue is inspiring, and I hope that this event will encourage the community to continue these important discussions.”

 

   Lee Glaser, also a Hunter graduate who now works at the Fifth Avenue Center for Psychotherapy and Counseling, said, “I think attending this conference is, for me, a professional continuation of the education I’ve been receiving for the past two years. Additionally, as someone who’s been involved in the intervention of a friend who was struggling with an eating disorder, and as a member of the Jewish community, I think it’s personally important for me to be here today.”

 

   The day was filled with interesting workshops, all addressing various aspects of eating disorders within the framework of Judaism. Lenny Kramer, the father of a young woman who struggled with, and recovered from, an eating disorder, spoke to a room of social workers, schoolteachers, and rabbis on approaching a parent whose child may potentially be at risk for a disorder. Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, of Brooklyn, led a workshop that explored the unique factors within Orthodox Judaism that can trigger disordered eating.

 

   The afternoon’s keynote address was given by Rabbi Abraham Twerski, noted author and expert on eating disorders. He stated, “There is widespread awareness of the dangers of obesity, but everyone is still searching for a “quick fix” to a chronic lifestyle problem. There is less awareness to the devastation of bulimia-anorexia because it is so often concealed and denied. The Jewish community, in particular, needs to be educated about eating disorders.”

 

   Frank Buchweitz, who introduced Rabbi Twerski and who directs the Community Services Department of the OU, commented, “Beyond this initial conference for professionals, the OU plans on conducting programs for parents in the tri-state area during the fall. Qualified health professionals who have spoken on this topic are encouraged to contact me regarding possible opportunities for speaking at conferences, schools and synagogues.”

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