Touro College Graduate School of Social Work students pursuing careers in mental health networked and learned from top Orthodox professionals in the field at the 22nd annual conference of NEFESH International, held at the Hyatt Regency in Hauppauge.
“Since Touro’s founding over 50 years ago, Touro has taken a leadership role in building Klal Yisrael,” said Dr. Steven Huberman, founding dean of Touro’s Graduate School of Social Work. He said that the school “addresses each and every day the mental health challenges facing all of us. Through our extensive support of the NEFESH mental health network, we give our graduate students the opportunity to learn practical skills from Orthodox mental health experts that will help them throughout their social work careers and serve their communities.”
NEFESH, a global network and training association of Orthodox mental health professionals, rabbis and educators, brought together a record number of participants this year, including 18 students enrolled in Touro’s Master of Social Work program.
The Touro students interacted with leaders of major organizations in the Orthodox community. They heard from renowned rabbis and therapists who shared knowledge, techniques, studies, statistics and advice at over 30 workshops and presentations. Among the many topics covered were trauma, marital and family relationships, the interplay between religion and psychotherapy.
“I enjoyed it from beginning to end. It was very informative and it was nice to get to know fellow students and therapists,” said Yisroel Meir Miller, a first-year MSW student from Lakewood. “I felt part of the Jewish mental health community.” Miller works with children on the autism spectrum at Brainbuilders, an agency in Lakewood, and hopes to work with children who suffer from anxiety.
Rabbi Akiva Adelman, another first-year MSW student, was similarly moved. “I was extremely impressed with the resources available to the students and professionals,” he said. Originally from Queens, Adelman lived in Israel for ten years. Since returning to the United States two years ago, he has been interning as a case manager at Shlomie’s Club in Boro Park, which helps young men who have lost a parent.
“I saw while teaching at the yeshiva in Israel that there is a need for social work expertise and skills to deal with today’s teens and young adults as we help prepare them for life,” he said. At Shlomie’s Club that has been reinforced. “I see needs [that] if I were skilled enough, I could take care of some of their situations without sending them out.”
Both students said the highlight of the conference for them was a packed session entitled “Judaism and Mental Health,” led by Rabbi Elya Brudny, rosh yeshiva of the Mir Yeshiva in Brooklyn. “He spoke about how to view mental health from an Orthodox religious perspective,” Miller said.
Rabbi Brudny said Orthodox mental health professionals should see their work as opportunities to help others rather than as a source of income, which, while important, should be peripheral to giving, a fundamental precept to Judaism.
“Rabbi Brudny said clinicians should take some time every day to pray for their clients. He said we know [clients’] pain and we wish we could help them more but we should at least take some time every day just to pray for them,” said Miller.
Included among the well-known speakers were Rabbi Moshe Weinberger of Aish Kodesh in Woodmere; Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president, emeritus, of the Orthodox Union, Rabbi Dovid Cohen; and Alan Singer, Ph.D., LMSW and Touro Graduate School of Social Work Director of Jewish Community Outreach, Men’s Division.