A Buddy System for Rachel

Rachel was a new member of a local congregation. She was brilliant, enthused about Judaism and loved going to Friday night services, Torah study, and helping to set up Kiddush. She also had schizophrenia.

Rachel could be disruptive in services and dominate Torah discussions with ideas that felt confusing and alienating to other members. Her rabbi called to find help find a way to keep her included in the community.

We consulted with the congregation on how to set up a buddy system. This meant that Rachel could continue to participate and contribute, but with the support of a rotating roster of friendly volunteers, trained by our pamphlet on working with mentally ill members, who could sit next to her in services and at Torah study. At the same time, we supported the congregation in doing some learning and studying about mental illness so Rachel’s behaviors would seem less unusual and easier to understand to the community. In this way, the congregation and Rachel were able to hold onto and learn from one another.