Parshat Pinchas: Inspiring Our Work in Suicide Prevention
07/09/2014 - 15:56
Efrem Epstein
Efrem Epstein
Efrem Epstein

Much ado was made last November, when the rare overlapping of Thanksgiving and Channukah captured the fascination of the Jewish (and much of the secular) world.    Some of us soaked up every ounce of the hype, while others found it overwhelming but when it was over a certain remorse was felt over the fact that it would be 57 years before the two holidays would overlap again (and thousands of years before the two days would overlap in their entirety).

Far less heralded or noticed than Thanksgivukkah has been the quirk in the Jewish calendar that will make this Sabbath (July 12) a "last time for a generation" occurrence.   In most years, Parshat Pinchas falls during the three weeks leading up to the 9th of Av which means that the assigned Haftarah is superseded for a special seasonal reading.

However this year, Parshat Pinchas will fall outside of the three weeks for the last time (Israeli communities excepted) until 2035, thus allowing its assigned Haftarah of 1 Kings 18:46-19:21 to be read publicly in communities worldwide.

The Haftarah tells the story of Elijah's horrible day right after the great miracle at Mount Carmel. Dejected after his plans and hopes seem to not be proceeding as planned and with Queen Jezebel taunting him that he has 24 hours to live, he calls out to God and begs for his life to end there and now. God's response is to send an angel to Elijah who instructs him to eat, embark on a 40-day journey and then reassess the situation.

For those of us in Elijah's Journey, an organization focused on suicide awareness and prevention in the Jewish community and named for the narrative of this Haftarah, this Shabbat will be one of great meaning. We have prepared a special Haftarah supplement that is being shared in communities around the globe and we are hoping that this Shabbat will be one of awareness for the entire Jewish people. Each year nearly 40,000 take their lives in the US alone and countless others suffer silently.   There are many Elijahs in our midst ... far more than we realize ... pleading for an angel to be a calming force ... to listen without judgement.   

We'd like to believe that we all have it within us to be the angel that comforts the Elijahs of our day. We know they're here because we've heard their stories and they exist in every demographic, age-range, tax-bracket and relationship classification. We may not always have the perfect solution for their dilemmas but we can listen and assure them that no matter how dark and long the road may appear, they are not walking it alone.

Two weeks ago, Elijah's Journey joined with 2,000 others of all faiths in the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk sponsored by The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).  As dawn approached, we heard AFSP CEO Robert Gebbia lay out a lofty goal: A 20 percent reduction in the number of domestic suicides annually (or 7,600 lives saved a year) by 2025. As we listen to the words of Haftarah this Shabbat Morning, let us all take a moment to ask ourselves what dreams we have for the Jewish community when it is next read publicly worldwide on July 21, 2035. Are we listening to the Elijahs in our communities who need words of reassurance and comfort? Are we creating spaces and environments where they feel empowered to cry out when they struggle?   

May we all live to hear the next communal reading of Elijah's Journey and may we all be part of making the world of 2035 one that is better, safer and more beautiful for all.

Shabbat Shalom!

Efrem Epstein is the founder of Elijah's Journey, a 501c3 focused on Suicide Awareness/Prevention in the Jewish community. Elijah's Journey will be teaching a special Lunch and Learn this Shabbat (July 12) at Kehilat Hadar (100th and Columbus) in Manhattan: https://www.kehilathadar.org/events/2014/lunch-and-learn-elijahs-journey

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