Ben'oni L'Benyamin: From Sorrow to Strength

My Journey with Depression

Non-Fiction - Inspirational
94 Pages
Reviewed on 09/12/2017
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Author Biography

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Rabbi Sara Berman is an ordained rabbi and a board-certified chaplain. During college at UC Santa Cruz, she worked as a nursing assistant in a long-term psychiatric facility. While doing her chaplain residency at UCLA Medical Center, she focused on the Neuro-Psychiatric Institute. Years later, she became a patient in that same facility. Rabbi Sara Berman has shared her experience, both professional and personal, with rabbis and chaplains throughout the country. She hopes this book will help end the stigma of mental illness and help to raise awareness about the debilitating affects of depression.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite

Ben'oni L'Benyamin: From Sorrow to Strength: My Journey with Depression is a nonfiction motivational self-help book written by Rabbi Sara Berman. Berman, who is an ordained Rabbi and a board-certified chaplain, had worked in the Neuropsychiatric Institute as part of her participation in UCLA’s chaplaincy residency. She was later hospitalized in the same hospital for treatment for depression. Berman shares her experiences dealing with clinical depression and discusses her need to pay continued attention to differentiating between feeling sad and becoming clinically depressed. She wrote this book to help others who are depressed or have other forms of mental illness, and she describes the challenges she faces every day in terms of the Jewish calendar. Above all, she wanted this book to help eliminate the stigma facing people with mental illness.

Rabbi Sara Berman’s nonfiction inspirational memoir details the author’s ongoing struggle with depression and illustrates how she sees the stories in the Bible and the Torah through the lens of mental illness. I loved learning more about the Jewish holidays, their historical background and meaning, and found Berman’s analysis of those holidays as well as her section on Torah tidbits to be instructive and enlightening. As someone who is interested in learning more about Judaism, and who is concerned about the mentally ill and their treatment, I was excited to have the opportunity to read this book and was pleased with the depth, honesty and empathy displayed by the author. I found the third section of her book, A Personal Look at Depression: Musings, to be quite helpful. Her journal entries were honest and thought-provoking, and the Advice from People With Depression sub-section should be required reading for anyone who has a friend or relative with depression or another mental illness. Miriam Berman, the Rabbi’s daughter, also contributed her own story about her own experiences with anxiety and OCD. She shares her poetry and personal feelings about her illness as well as her mother’s. Her story is beautifully told and inspiring, and her poetry is a rare, and, at times, brutally honest, treat. Ben'oni L'Benyamin: From Sorrow to Strength: My Journey with Depression is most highly recommended.

Ann Neville

In Ben'oni L'Benyamin: From Sorrow to Strength, writer Rabbi Sara Berman relates her journey with clinical depression from two perspectives: her own history of clinical depression, and her work as a rabbi. Looking at mental illness through the lens of Jewish traditions, Berman draws parallels between the important elements of Judaism and the devastating effects depression has on its sufferers. The book explores the holidays and holy days of the Jewish calendar along with selected stories from the Torah so the reader can gain a deeper understanding of what it is like to live with this condition. Ben'oni L'Benyamin: From Sorrow to Strength also includes Berman's own journal entries, as well as advice and commentary from other people with depression. By sharing reflections on her own experience with clinical depression, together with a complete and sympathetic portrait of this illness. she hopes to help end the stigma of mental illness.

Using these parallels, Rabbi Sara Berman creates a new perspective on clinical depression. The book caused me to think about parallels in my own life as a Gentile, be they spiritual or secular, instead of considering depression as an entity on its own. I enjoyed this book, not just from the aspect of how one might feel or deal with depression oneself, but also for the insight it gives a person who is involved with someone suffering from this disease. An added factor that made this book interesting to me was learning about Jewish holidays and holy days - something of which I had little knowledge. So, for a variety of reasons, I recommend Ben'oni L'Benyamin: From Sorrow to Strength by Rabbi Sara Berman.

Caitlin Lyle Farley

Rabbi Sara Berman presents an insightful account of how her faith has helped her cope with depression in Ben'oni L'Benyamin: From Sorrow to Strength. This book is divided into three parts, the first discussing the Jewish holidays and how Rabbi Berman’s interpretation of the traditions surrounding these holy days helps her manage. The second part covers a number of parshiot from the Torah, with an emphasis on how Rabbi Berman incorporates the themes of these stories into her life in a way that deepens her understanding and management of depression. Part three features quotes from mental health patients on how family and friends can help during the worst periods of mental illness, as well as a selection of journal entries and a letter written by the author’s daughter.

Ben'oni L'Benyamin: From Sorrow to Strength is an insightful account of Rabbi Sara Berman’s struggle with depression. This book is both highly readable and informative, which squashed any concerns I had that it would be unrelatable to a non-religious person like myself. To the contrary, I could empathise with many of the feelings Rabbi Berman discusses and found that the religious context provided an interesting philosophical frame of reference. Rabbi Berman’s straightforward interpretations of the significance behind the Jewish holidays, as well as the deeper meanings in the parshiot, are insightful. These also provide a helpful framework for anyone trying to understand what it’s like to live with depression and anxiety. Ben'oni L'Benyamin: From Sorrow to Strength takes great strides in fighting the stigma and misunderstanding surrounding mental illness through Rabbi Berman’s honest account of her personal battle.

Grant Leishman

Depression is such a debilitating and yet such a misunderstood illness that it is fascinating to read a perspective on it from a personal sufferer’s standpoint. Ben'oni L'Benyamin: From Sorrow to Strength by Rabbi Sara Berman is just such a view – from that of a sufferer, but with a unique and interesting twist. What Rabbi Berman has given the reader is not only an insight into the horror and helplessness of chronic depression, but she has also attempted to relate the symptoms and the effects of depression to her own personal faith – that of the Jewish faith. The Rabbi takes us through the Jewish holidays, explaining their purpose and celebration for those of the faith and then ties this to her own personal battle with depression. Similarly, she looks at the relevance of certain important passages in the Torah to her illness.

As a Gentile, who only has a passing knowledge of the Jewish faith, I found Ben'oni L'Benyamin: From Sorrow to Strength to be eye-opening from a learning perspective about other faiths. That the author was able to so personally and intimately relate these passages and Jewish holidays to her depression was equally fascinating to me. It is often easy to dismiss those with chronic depression and blame the sufferer rather than address the problem. Rabbi Berman’s honest and frank appraisal of her illness allows us to look at the broader picture of mental health in general and how we, as a society, handle the mentally ill. Although much of her commentary related to the health care situation in the U.S., it seemed equally applicable to all of us, anywhere in the world. If you are of the Jewish faith, you will identify with this book very closely, but even if, like me, you are a Gentile, you can gain much from the experience of reading Ben'oni L'Benyamin: From Sorrow to Strength by Rabbi Sara Berman and I recommend you do. It will open your eyes to the plight of the mentally ill, as well as give you a fascinating insight into what it is to be Jewish.

Patricia Reding

In Ben'oni L'Benyamin: From Sorrow to Strength, Rabbi Sara Berman addresses an issue that most of us know at least a little something about. I don’t mean that most of us are likely to understand depression as does someone who suffers with it. Rather, I suggest that most of us have dealt at one time or another with someone struggling with the issue. Whether the episode is “situational,” or is part of a longer term mental illness, it takes its toll on everyone in the life of the sufferer. Rabbi Sara Berman shares what she has learned in the course of dealing with her own clinical depression. Hoping to lift some of the stigma associated with mental illness, she examines common thought patterns via a review of the Jewish calendar. Thus, she begins with Rosh Hashanah, the start of a new year that comes complete with the need to reflect on the past and to identify those times when one has fallen short. Here she emphasizes the need for the family and friends of those who suffer with depression to avoid taking offense, and to avoid trying to fix things. Rather, she suggests they simply listen. For the depression sufferer, she suggests a focus on forgiving oneself for those times they’ve fallen short. From there, Rabbi Sara Berman continues through the calendar, sharing such truths as the importance of accepting who you are, of recognizing grief, and of being a true friend. She then shares bits from the Torah and how they may help one who suffers with depression.

Rabbi Sara Berman’s narrative in Ben'oni L'Benyamin: From Sorrow to Strength hooked me from the start as I found the parallels to my own Christian faith to be so significant. For example, we often ask: if God is able to forgive us, who are we to hold things against ourselves? Does that not suggest we believe ourselves to be greater than He? Likewise, we recognize that while a sin may be forgiven, the scar it may leave on our life remains. Rabbi Sara Berman reminded me of the importance of listening not just to the words another shares, but to the voice they use—to be more in tune with nonverbal cues. She reminds me that I am to serve my God with my whole being, that there is always hope, and that a small person or group can conquer monstrous things. In my faith, we say, “I am all things through Christ who strengthens me.” In short, I found this work a challenge and a comfort, an education and a confirmation of the truths I’ve experienced with my own faith. If you have suffered from depression or know another who has, I highly recommend Ben'oni L'Benyamin: From Sorrow to Strength.