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 by Rabbi Sarah 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 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 by Rabbi Sarah 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.