Rabbi Levi Haskelevich and Nechama Haskelevich hosted a Shabbat dinner on Friday at Penn's Lubavitch House to advocate for inclusion and mental health awareness in conjunction with the month of February being Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month.
The event, attended by about two dozen undergraduate and graduate students from Penn and neighboring universities, was held as part of ShabbaTTogether, a global effort to promote mental health awareness and disability inclusion. At the dinner, representatives from Reach-A-Peer Helpline, Project Let’s Erase the Stigma, and Penn Reflect gave brief introductions about their clubs’ efforts to combat mental health issues.
More than 200 Jewish communities across six continents hosted inclusion Shabbats on Friday night, Nechama Haskelevich said during the event.
“Students suffering from mental health conditions or physical disabilities often feel alone, isolated and like no one understands,” Nechama, who is also co-director of programing at Chabad at Penn, wrote in an email announcing the event. "This Shabbat is about reducing the stigma often associated with discussing mental health and discussing strategies for more inclusion.”
During the dinner, student leaders turns introducing the work that their individual clubs do to support the mental health of students on campus. Attendees also shared personal stories emphasizing the importance of mental health support.
College senior Mary Campion of Penn Reflect spoke about how the community and resources at Penn were supportive in her transition back to the University after she returned from a leave of absence.
Engineering junior Lauren Drake, chapter co-coordinator and the peer mental health advocate coordinator for PennLETS, saw the event as an opportunity to raise awareness of mental health in religious spaces.
“It is really helpful when your own community starts to espouse and advocate for taking advantage of resources and seeking inclusion,” Drake said. "At Penn, we’re not very connected to each other. We hear about things, but we don’t necessarily go out and seek them."
“But when you’re in a closer community of friends, I think that it’s a lot easier to listen to those messages. So bringing that into an intimate space and advocating for mental health inclusion in an intimate space is very beneficial,” Drake said.
College junior Charlotte Bausch, co-president of RAP-Line, said the atmosphere at Chabad was ideal for supporting students.
“Chabad is a comforting and warm community for a lot of students,” Bausch said. "Trying to provide that kind of space is something that RAP-Line and a lot of other mental health groups try to do."