“There is not a single other inpatient psychiatric unit of this calibre in the entire country.”
Prof. Strous, Director of the Psychiatry Unit, Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Centre in Bnei Brak, Israel, a world renowned psychiatrist, describes the groundbreaking revolution that defines the establishment of a Mental Health Building that is specifically adapted to the Torah-observant community, and the tremendous damage that emotional abuse can cause. “Both as far as the medical team as well as the physical conditions, there is nothing that comes even close to what is being offered here.”
Unfortunately, mental illness is prevalent, and yet it is commonly denied or concealed. This is especially true for the Orthodox Jewish community. The paralysing fear of “what will people say” prevent many from seeking treatment which could potentially allow them to rejoin – or at least partially rejoin – normal life.
Over the last few years, there seems to be a growing awareness of the need to treat mental health issues and an understanding that this will assist not only the suffering patient but also his family members. This understanding has led to a new willingness and an increase in the number of patients seeking treatment.
A few months ago, a silent but powerful revolution began within the Orthodox community. This revolution is “Marbe Da’at” – Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Centre’s Mental Health Building, named by the leading rabbinical authority, Rav Chaim Kanievsky.
Two new inpatient wards will open shortly: one for women and one for paediatrics. The first, a men’s ward, was opened several months ago. The opening of the new wards serves as an expansion of the existing services, which to date include the men’s ward, the outpatient department and clinics. All the wards will offer completely separate inpatient services for up to three weeks, following which the patients will return to their homes to continue their journeys after having been placed back on track.
The new seven-story building is meticulously designed with visual, technological and ease of use considerations in mind. The Mental Health Building is managed by some of the greatest experts in all necessary fields. In 2011, the cornerstone was laid, and following feverish work under tight deadlines and enormous limitations, the massive building was erected, with three of its floors already in service.
Rabbi Dr. Moshe Rothchild, founder and president of Mayanei Hayeshua, says that the mental illnesses so prevalent nowadays are “connected, among other things, to the stresses of life. In the past decade since we began systemising the treatment of mental illness, we have treated over 23,000 individuals, with some of them receiving ongoing support to this day. 10% of new mothers suffer from postpartum depression. There are hundreds of thousands of people who need treatment. The public is not aware of the extent of the problems, which exist in all the educational institutions, from elementary schools to yeshivahs, high schools and post high school. Sometimes, emotional damage caused by classmates or the educational staff may drag on for years. It is a huge need… and the problem was that there was not even one Medical Centre or hospital in the world that met the needs of a Torah-observant patient,” he said.
According to Prof. Strous, “Mayanei Hayeshua’s psychiatric ward offers the best accommodations in Israel. Both as far as the medical team as well as the physical conditions, there is nothing that comes even close to what is offered here. It’s like a five-star hotel in comparison to other facilities. There are twenty-four rooms in the ward. Each spacious room has full private bathroom and shower. The wards include: therapy rooms, occupational therapy, computers, gyms with fitness instructors, art therapy, music therapy, gardening, animal therapy, and of course, psychologists and psychiatrists, doctors, nurses, social workers. It is very special here. The important thing is that this ward uses no coercion; everything is done with the patient’s consent, and the rooms are always open.”
According to Prof. Strous, “we accept everyone, but the atmosphere and schedule follow Jewish law. There are many options of programming for Torah observant patients.” He notes that Torah study sessions are often beneficial to the healing process.
The professor is effusive in his assertion that the Mental Health Building constitutes exciting news to the Orthodox community. “The new wards enable patients to receive appropriate treatment in the atmosphere to which they are accustomed.”
Some of the patients travel to the Building from abroad. There is a huge demand, and thankfully we are already seeing excellent results in the few months since the Building opened.
In addition to the high calibre of the doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists, the team is in constant contact with Mayanei Hayeshua’s halachic committee, which consists of some of the most respected names in the Jewish community: Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky; Rabbi Nissim Karelitz; Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein, who serves as Chairman of the committee; and other important rabbinic figures such as Rabbi Moshe Shaul Klein and Rabbi Sriel Rosenberg. The rabbi of the Medical Centre, Rabbi Yosef Baruch Hoffner, also serves as the intermediary and executive halachic authority.
50-year old Prof. Rael Strous, born in South Africa, where he also studied medicine, serves as the director of Mayanei Hayeshua’s “Marbeh Da’at” Mental Health Building. He studied psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, and then at the Harvard Medical School in Boston.
In 1998 Strous moved to Israel, where he studied Torah and began to work at the Medical Centre in Be’er Yaakov. He served as the department manager and then as deputy director of the hospital. Prof. Strous says: “My specialisation is in psychiatric medication – “psychopharmacology” in professional terms – in all fields: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, OCD, anxiety and more.”
In the last week of November 2019, Professor Rael Strous, the South African-born medical director of Mayanei Hayeshua’s Mental Health Centre, and professor of psychiatry at Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Medicine, was in London for a busy round of meetings and events organised by the British Friends of Mayanei Hayeshua.