Rabbi Sara Berman is on a mission: to lay bare the experience of depression, to fight the stigma that accompanies it, and to showcase the Jewish texts that allow us to provide greater support to those who suffer and their loved ones.
Ben’oni L’Binyamin is her story. As a memoir, it describes Berman’s personal struggles with depression, and how they have impacted her health, her family, her career, and her relationship with Judaism. As Berman walks her readers through her experiences, the annual cycle of Torah readings and holidays act as both signposts and and mirrors framing the reality of living with depression. As she references these texts, she provides clergy and lay leaders with language and images they can use to increase awareness and understanding for mental illness in the Jewish community. The books highlights her skills as a pastoral caregiver, as she translates her sources with delicacy and deep respect for traditional interpretations. While each section is deeply personal, and Berman does not shy away from sharing painful and intimate details, the texts provide the balance that allows for this book to reach beyond her immediate circle. As such, Ben’Oni L’Binyamin stands on its own as an accessible resource for those seeking to provide spiritual care to those dealing with the challenges of depression. It is a tool that easily earns its spot on a congregation’s bookshelf and in a community support group.
The simplicity of Berman’s writing style makes this book particularly manageable for a non-expert, as well as anyone who might struggle with reading about such a difficult topic in large chunks. Nevertheless, most readers will likely benefit most from having someone with whom to reflect on her words, especially as they will hit close to home for most of her intended audience. It’s not a book to jump into lightly, but those who are prepared to brave the darkness will be richly rewarded for their effort.