Mi Sheberach for Mental Health Issues

When We’re Embarrassed to Ask for a Misheberach

By Daniel M. Kimmel

What should we do when we want a prayer for healing for a family member but are ashamed to admit the reason why? 

The FJMC has a long record of putting subjects on the Jewish agenda where others might not yet be prepared to address them. The Keruv initiative took on the subject of intermarriage. The Yellow Candle program put remembrance of and education about the Shoah front and center. Now it is leading the way in wanting to take the subjects of mental illness and addiction in our community out of the shadows.

One aspect of this project is to ask rabbis to include persons grappling with one or the other (or both) on the misheberach list or, where this is the practice, encourage congregants wanting the prayer to say the names of loved ones dealing with something other than physical illness or injury. In theory this sounds fine, but there are those who are hesitant, noting that if someone mentions a name they might later feel awkward afterwards when the rabbi or a fellow congregant comes over and asks about what problem the person is facing. 

While the goal is to remove that element of shame for families dealing with such matters, we should not force people to expose things that they prefer to keep private. It may be because they think the problems of a loved one reflect on themselves, or because they would prefer not to broadcast that a child is in rehab or a sibling is battling schizophrenia. We can try to change the environment to remove such stigma, real or imagined, but we should not put the burden on the family members struggling to cope with these challenges.

Instead, let’s allow a model which encourages people to speak up without making them feel like failures if they are not ready to do so. A rabbi might approach it this way: 

“We’re now going to offer a prayer for healing for members of our community. We include those who are injured, those with physical illnesses, those with mental illnesses, and those battling addiction. We encourage you to say the name of loved ones for whom you are praying for recovery, but we will also take into our hearts those who are unnamed, but whose loved ones pray nonetheless.”

This relieves the issue of exposure for those for whom it might be traumatic, while telling them – indeed, telling the entire congregation – that our members and loved ones dealing with these challenges are not forgotten and remain in our prayers. It is our hope that such prayers will be answered and that, over time, people will accept that no one in need of healing should ever feel ashamed.


   Daniel M. Kimmel is movie critic and author who was editor of The Jewish Advocate in Boston and

   served ten years as Emcee for the New England Region of FJMC. 

   His latest book is the comic novel, “Father of the Bride of Frankenstein.”



If you would like to participate in a discussion on this topic, log in to fjmc.org and add your thoughts.



Touching Approach

This is a simple and beautiful way to begin the process of opening the discussion of mental health and addition issues in our synagogues. Thanks Dan.