Photo Credit: courtesy Dr. Yaakov Freedman
Me and Uncle Baruch: A Story for Families Coping with Mental Health Issues, from the pen of Dr. Yaakov Freedman

(Book review written by Ari Kafka, LICSW)

“You can’t have a solution unless you have a problem and you don’t have a problem unless you’re willing to talk about it,” Dr. Yaakov Freedman loves to say to his audiences when he’s lecturing about public health.

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Approximately one-in-three individuals will experience mental illness or substance abuse at some point in their life.  That means that these are issues nearly every family will have to deal with at one point or another.  It’s definitely a problem in need of solutions.

Luckily, there is some fantastic educational material out there for individuals dealing with mental health.  In my years of working with families to provide guidance and support, I’ve come across many solid resources: support groups, workbooks, and even movies.  That being said, there is relatively little out there to help children understand and cope with the challenges of mental health when it affects a member of their family.

This is what motivated Dr. Freedman to take on this project, “The lack of culturally-competent resources for the Jewish Community is a big problem in general.  More specifically, there is essentially nothing to help kids deal with the stress of having a family member with mental health challenges.  There is even less to guide parents on how to approach the topic.”

A veteran psychiatrist and fearless public health advocate within the Jewish Community, Dr. Freedman did his training at Harvard Medical School where he studied under the world’s experts in both medicine and epidemiology.  These are the tools he brought with him to Jerusalem—after making Aliyah with his family—where he is now a sought-after lecturer on mental health, personal growth, and well-being.  I have personally known Dr. Freedman for close to a decade and have collaborated with him as both a fellow clinician and on many of his lectures with Amudim Israel.  Here, as with his writing, Dr. Freedman has pushed the Jewish Community to rethink its approach to psychiatric treatment.

Dr. Freedman is always bringing in new ideas to help his patients and their loved ones to cope with the trials of navigating mental illness, “I’ve seen literally thousands of parents struggle to help their children to understand what’s happening to a sibling, an aunt, or a grandfather.  With this in mind, I wrote a book for families that are experiencing challenges with mental health.  My hope is that it will be able to help kids and parents alike to have healthy discussions and to support one another.”

While it sounds like a good concept, in theory, it’s important to note that the final product is stunning.  The book’s pictures are warm and the story is both friendly and accessible.  In short, it hits the nail on the head.

Perhaps this is why our legendary teacher, Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski ZT”L, wrote what may have been his final approbation regarding this specific project, “Understanding and living with aberrant behavior is a major challenge even for adults.  Children can be totally confused by what’s going on.  Sometimes they may come to grossly incorrect conclusions, which may impact their thoughts and emotions.  Dr. Freedman has made a major contribution to helping youngsters cope with this problem.”

As a clinician, it is clear to me that this is a valuable tool for my patients and their families.  As a father, I know that this is a book my kids will enjoy and will allow us to have a meaningful discussion about this important topic.

Me and Uncle Baruch: A Story for Families Coping with Mental Health Issues is available from Menucha Publishers: https://menuchapublishers.com/collections/dr-jacob-l-freedman/products/me-and-uncle-baruch.  Dr. Freedman can be contacted via his website: drjacoblfreedman.com

Ari Kafka LICSW is the Clinical Director of Amudim Israel and has a private practice as a therapist in Jerusalem.  He can be most easily reached via email: amkafka018@gmail.com

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