Gabby Leon Spatt, Executive Director of Blue Dove Foundation

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Addressing Issues of Mental Health and Substance Abuse in the Jewish Community

This week’s Torah portion, Metzora, teaches how a person with skin diseases (referred to as a metzora) is sent away from the community for healing. A priest then goes to care for the individual and performs a special ritual to reintegrate the healed metzora back into the community. Inspired by the lesson of eradicating stigma around disease, this week we are featuring an organization focused on doing this for those who struggle with mental health and/or substance abuse issues.

Read our interview below with Executive Director Gabby Leon Spatt. 

What is the mission of your organization?
Our mission is to educate, equip and ignite our Jewish community with tools to work together to understand, support and overcome the challenges presented by mental health and substance abuse. As a community and through Tikkun Olam, we will improve and save lives while eradicating the shame and stigma surrounding mental health and substance abuse in our global Jewish Community.

What has inspired you in the work that you are doing?
For me, my story is personal. I lost my younger sister at age 30 to an opioid overdose. She is a perfect example of an individual who suffered silently and with herself. More about her story can be read in this article I wrote about my family’s experience during this horrific tragedy.

What’s a story about your organization that is meaningful to you?
I remember a rabbi writing us after Yom Kippur and sharing that he wore our Blue Dove Foundation Kippah and spoke about the Foundation, mental health, suicide and addiction prior to using our Misheberach for those in recovery. As people came up to him after services, it was the first time in 23 years that his congregants shared with him mental health and addiction issues as well as speaking about overdose deaths of children and family members.

How did The Blue Dove Foundation get started?
The Blue Dove Foundation was started because our family, our friends and our community are suffering silently. The Jewish community needed coordinated representation and education utilizing a Jewish lens to respond and offer support. The Jewish community is not immune to the same issues the rest of the country is struggling with. We also take time to remember those who we have loved and lost, while we pray for the healing of the spirit, the soul, and the body for those still with us.

How would you connect The Blue Dove Foundation to a Jewish text or value?
As Jews, we pray for healing of the spirit, the soul, and the body, yet few want to acknowledge the “secret” illness of mental health and substance abuse. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov teaches us that “The Exodus from Egypt occurs in every human being, in every era, in every year, and in every day.” Through Rabbi Nachman’s thoughts we learn that we are not alone, that enslavement can be part of the human condition and that redemption is possible. In Exodus 20:2 we read: “I the LORD am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage.” If mental health or substance abuse is our, a friend’s or a love one’s “bondage”, we learn that we can look to God and the spiritual dimensions of our Jewish beliefs for solace and support.

What has surprised you about working with your organization?
I continue to be surprised when I’m having a conversation with someone about one topic and how it manages to connect to mental health or substance abuse. The next thing I know, the original conversation has disappeared and I’m now having a very personal conversation with someone, I may or may not know, but we’re linked because of our connections with mental health and substance abuse.

What are some non-monetary ways for others to get involved in your organization or cause?
•  Writing – we’re always looking to share stories, insight and professional thoughts about a topic related to mental health or substance abuse.

•  Join a committee – share your expertise by joining one of our several committees: interest free loans/grants financial or medical evaluation, program development, Rabbinical Advisory or grant writing committees.

• Host an educational program with your community – use our program in a box guides to host a small parlor meeting in your home or a larger educational or training program for your local community using our successful #QuietingTheSilence platform.

• Be a program partner – amplify our work and mission by sharing our resources and programs with your members.

To learn more about the The Blue Dove Foundation visit thebluedovefoundation.org

Amy Benarroch