Shabbos was welcomed with a beautiful Carlebach kabbolas Shabbos led by Yisroel Williger.
During the meal we heard from Rabbi Ronnie Greenwald, a favorite at Nefesh conferences. I was very happy to be seated with Rabbi Simcha (LCSW-R) and Chaya (LCSW-R) Feuerman, longtime columnists for the Family Issues section of The Jewish Press. After dinner, Rabbi David Fox, MD; Rabbi Avraham Union, dayan and menahel of the Beth Din of the Rabbinical Council of California; and Yitzie Horowitz, LCSW, spoke about the “Psychological Challenges and Realities in the Search for Contentment in Orthodox Jewish Religious Life.”
On Shabbos we were treated to divrei Torah by Rav Dovid Cohen and during the seudah by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski. No matter their allotted time, we always want to hear more from them. In the afternoon Rav Cohen had an “Ask the Rabbi” session during which therapists asked questions about sensitive topics such as homosexuality and dating issues that may arise when one party is on medication. Rabbi Cohen does not shy away from these questions and gives halachic answers that are straight to the point.
Some other sessions on Shabbos included “Informing on Others for Violation of Secular Law” by Dr. Nachum Klafter, M.D.; “Ethical Dilemmas and Religious Questions for General Physicians” by Dr. Edward Reichman, M.D.; and “Emulating Our Creator,” a “women only” session by Aviva Biberfeld, Psy.D.
After Havdalah we saw the excellent documentary “Rising from Divorce.” Individuals who had gone through divorce speak about their feelings and how they deal with their situations. Older children of divorce are also interviewed and rabbis and therapists offer suggestions. The film gave all of us in the audience much to think about.
After the movie we heard from Dr. Mark Banschick, M.D.; Hindie Klein, Psy.D.; and Norman Blumenthal, Ph.D., who stressed how important it is to help children of divorce and to give support to the divorced parent. The same support we provide mourners after the death of a spouse should be given to the divorced person.
On Sunday I attended “Religion Vs. Psychotherapy” by Dr. Nachum Klafter; Ilana Rosen, MFA, LCSW; and Yehuda Krohn, Psy.D. How does the religious therapist handle conflicts between religious communities and secular culture? How does one counsel a chassidic girl who wants to stay in her community but wishes to go to school to become a social worker, and her community says it’s forbidden? Many other examples were given and a lively discussion followed, along with helpful suggestions.
Between sessions I spoke to some of the people who had tables in the hall advertising their services.
Laura Smith of Westbridge told me about their residential facility that treats acute mental illness and substance abuse for men over the age of 18. Westbridge is nonsectarian and has residences in Manchester, New Hampshire and Brooksville, Florida.
I also spoke with Mendi Baron, president and CEO of Evolve Treatment Centers and Natalie Cohen, Evolve’s clinical director. Evolve’s Jewish treatment centers offer residential treatment for teens struggling with mental health, addiction, and behavioral issues. In addition to its residential program, Evolve offers outpatient after-school programs to support teens who live at home and attend school but suffer from mental health and addiction issues. The highly successful programs are available to teen boys and teen girls.
During Sunday lunch, the Esther Solomon Award was presented to Debbie Fox, LCSW. Her acceptance speech will long be remembered.
Credit for this exceptional and educational weekend goes to the many individuals who worked hard to bring it about, among them Lisa Twerski and Chaim Sender, conference co-chairs; Simcha Feuerman, Nefesh president; Miriam Turk, Nefesh executive director; Alice Tusk, Nefesh director of operations; and Ruchama Clapman of MASK (Mothers and Fathers Saving Kids). One always runs the risk of leaving one or more names off a list like this; I ask forgiveness of anyone I may have inadvertently missed.