A year and a half ago I was introduced to Zahava List, the founder of Chazkeinu. Chazkeinu is a social service organization that offers connection and support to Jewish women who are coping with their own mental illness, or that of a loved one. Zahava formed the organization after experiencing her first episode of what would later be diagnosed as Bipolar 1, shortly after giving birth to her son. (Bipolar 1 is Bipolar with primarily manic/psychotic symptoms.)
Throughout the months that followed, as Zahava headed out on the road to recovery, she felt that what she was missing the most in this struggle was the ability to share her pain with someone else who had been down that road before her so as not to feel alone in her struggle with mental illness. During that treacherous time, Zahava sought support for her mental illness and she realized that, due to the stigma inherent in mental illness, there was no support to be found for people like her. Thus, Chazkeinu was born.
Today, Chazkeinu boasts over 700 Jewish women from all over the globe, weekly zoom calls, peer support and chat rooms. Each of their programs are carefully crafted to help the organization’s membership deal with their mental health struggles in a healthier setting and to lessen the isolation. One of their signature programs includes an annual weekend retreat for women featuring an inviting camp atmosphere with catered meals, guest speakers, workshops and activities for the participants.
Since I speak on the weekly Chazkeinu zoom call often, I was invited to run a workshop at this year’s retreat because it was one of the most popular topics on the weekly calls. The focus of the workshop was how to utilize our mindset, gratitude and other tools that we have with us regardless of where we go, to elevate our stability. Slowly, I am happy to say, this community of women is learning more about the power of mindfulness and gratitude
This year’s retreat had 120 participants from all walks of life in the Jewish community. It was truly a sight to behold. The spectrum ran from the Chasidic women with a double head covering to modern orthodox women, all coming together for one mission: to hold space for and support one another while growing in their mental health.
The gratitude workshop that I held started at 10:30pm and ended at 4am! Every woman there was so eager to start implementing what they had learned in the workshop. The thing that really struck a chord in me was when, the next morning, women came up to me and shared how they started their morning with gratitude and how that made them feel There was one ultra-orthodox, Chasidic woman who thanked me for giving her a new definition of Modeh Ani through my workshop. With tears in her eyes, she said, “I never said Modeh Ani like I said it this morning.”
Additionally, many people approached me at the retreat and expressed how the Hope to Recharge Podcast gave them permission to share their personal stories, because it helped them see that they were not alone. It was awe inspiring.
Zahava’s slogan is “The stigma stops here,” and you felt it as you walked into the retreat. You felt the acceptance that others treated you with, and the fact that everyone was okay with everyone else’s story, regardless of their age, background and marital status. Young singles mingled with mothers, grandmothers and divorcees-we were all in the same boat and we were all there for each other.
The inspiration kept pouring forth throughout the weekend and at some points I needed to go meditate just to process the amount of information I was receiving. It was so inspiring to listen to these courageous women and hear stories of the demons they battled daily so as to fight for the relationships in their lives, be it with their parents, children and spouses or the relationships in their work environment. Each battle, whether it was hospitalization, deep depression, eating disorders, borderline personality disorder-had the end goal of preserving the relationships that were dear to the individual.
I walked away from the retreat with a newly-found sense of awe for Chazkeinu’s founder, Zahava List. She took her pain and turned it into beauty and meaning. Today, she spends her time changing the world, one woman at a time. For every woman that Zahava inspires, that woman then goes home to change her surroundings. Thus, Zahava affects the children, spouses and friends of these women as well. She has helped these women accept their diagnoses without the stigma attached, while building healthy and meaningful relationships.
This event emphasized the power of breaking the stigma and the power of “Together is better”. It proved that giving to others is really getting, and affirmed my understanding that, deep down, we’re all just part of the human race, regardless of religious affiliation and level of observance or political views. Despite the fact that we are vastly different, we can still hold space for one another. But most of all, this weekend illustrated to me the power of a dream. Zahava had a vision and she brought it to fruition.
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