Sermon given on Mental Health Shabbat 20 January 2024

Written by Writings & Sermons by others — 25 January 2024

I am lucky enough not to be a naturally anxious person.  However the events of 7 October and the subsequent outpouring of antisemitic hatred here on the streets of London challenged, like many others,  my own mental health wellbeing.

I suddenly found myself wondering whether to wear my Star of David outwardly when travelling;   I found that I had to stop the conversation with my non-jewish friend, who asked me about the situation in Israel, whilst sitting in a restaurant close to a couple of women wearing their hijab;  When asked by the Uber driver what kind of building this was, I found myself making assumptions about his beliefs and decided to not reveal that this was a synagogue but rather a school – his assumption with which i found it easier to agree rather then enter into a possible debate/argument about Jews, Israel and Muslims, whilst riding in his car.

For the first time, small moments of paranoia for my own safety and that of Jews around the world played with my mind.  And my normal trust in those I like to believe are my good and ultimately kind fellow human beings was severely challenged.  Not a feeling I felt happy about at all.

I was experiencing what some may say are irrational thoughts but when our mental well being is challenged, irrational thoughts are often what causes our anxiety.

I am yet to meet the person of any age who has no mental health concerns – whether they be fleeting, short term or continuous – we all have something in our lives that challenges our mental well being.

Parashat Bo talks about the plague of darkness.  This is the reason why this Shabbat has been chosen to highlight mental health awareness.   Whilst I appreciate that there are times when we find ourselves in dark places I would not like us to think of these conditions as a plague.   Poor mental well being is not a contagious disease, where a person needs to be isolated and moved away from.   On the contrary it is often isolation and loneliness that hinders the improvement of our well being and as a community we need to continue to create safe places where people can come, talk, be with others and for a few hours try to forget the darkness.  It is about trying to provide the light within our own lives or within the lives of others, recognising the individuality within each of us that hopefully helps us survive each day.

Trying to find the balance between darkness and light is key to managing and coping with what everyday life day throws at us.    It is still ok not to be ok but finding the help and the way through is important.   And we can all help each other.

From experience we know that by involving ourselves in community life, whether it be by coming to services, events or volunteering, our mental health can improve.   And we look forward to the new building which will enable us to have more activities to enable each one of us to come and be a part of community life, enabling us to interact with each other in a like minded, helpful way, creating a beam of light in our every day lives whatever our age .  I am often moved when a member says to me that coming to Alyth is a joyful moment in their lives.


Today is marked as a mental health awareness shabbat.  To a large extent,  I feel that society is now aware of the issues that we face regarding our mental well being.  No longer do we have very little understanding of the various mental health conditions that people experience.   And I believe that there is no longer the stigma that was once associated with such conditions.   By continuing to be open and aware we can help each other alongside the medical treatments that may be needed.


The majority of schools are tuned in to addressing mental health needs of their students.  And the majority of work places now have someone acting as a well being officer with clauses written in staff handbooks or the equivalent acknowledging staff mental health well being and offering support when and where needed.   And many charities and other support organizations seek Mental Health First Aid Training.

From earliest times,  we read about those who showed moments of poor mental health.   King David, himself understood to have several bouts of depression wrote about his feelings and poured out his soul in the Psalms, the words of which are personal, revealing and subsequently provide some sort of healing.   Many who suffer with mental health well being or are experiencing times of sadness turn to the Psalms for inspiration.

Midrash tells us that psalm 34 was written as a response to David showing madness in the sight of Abimelech who was looking to fight him.  By appearing before Abimelech with madness, Abimelech opened his arms and welcomed him, rather than fighting him telling David that all people are relevant and needed.  And the Midrash goes on to tell us that God said to David that even the madness in our lives can be for good.

No life can go without some sort of stress or worry in our every day lives.  It is, however, about finding the balance in our lives between the darkness and the light.


I am lucky enough to work at Alyth, where community comes together and where in a safe place – and it is a safe place – I could express those fears I was experiencing and know that those around me would understand and support me through my concerns.

Being able to share those concerns I know that I found the light in my day and to make what sometimes feels an insurmountable, unsolvable problem a little less dark.

So, I would encourage you to keep talking to each other.  Involve yourself fully with life.  Take time to address your mental well being by taking time for yourself.  I am often inspired and encouraged by many friends and congregants who tell me of the activities they do to take time for themselves –

From re-learning how to breathe – it’s actually a real thing and really does help! To yoga, Pilates, volunteering, walking, meditation, mindfulness, swimming, taking time out of our busy days to sit, reflect, sleep, clear our minds and to be present in the moment without thinking of the next thing we need to do or what is going on outside in a troubled world.




Taking time to immerse ourselves in something away from the struggles of everyday life is important to build into our lives whatever age.   All of us have genuine anxieties whether it be our self-image, our physical health or how the cost of living affects us.

In addition, come and talk openly to us here at Alyth about your challenges  – our wonderful rabbis, myself, or individuals on our experienced staff team will listen to your concerns and you should know that you will always get a listening ear, support and guidance in a non judgmental way.

By embracing everyone and understanding that most of us, if not all of us, have mental health challenges – whether they be overt or not so visible, momentary or continuous – we can hopefully help each other to find some light in the darkness.

Asher reminded us about the words of Hillel this morning – “do not separate yourself from the community; “ and Hillel goes on to say, do not judge your fellow until you have reached their place; do not say something inappropriate, for it will then be appropriated, and do not say, when i am free i will study – for perhaps we will not become free.

Let’s continue to be aware of the struggles that each of us deal with.


Whether it be ourselves, family, friends or the person on the street let us continue as a community to be aware and strive to help each other in living a life where there is a manageable balance of darkness and light.

Shabbat shalom.