An older single alone and quarantined for weeks on end. A recovering alcoholic. A young adolescent stuck at home with her sexual abuser. A 30-year-old suicidal man on the brink of doing something drastic. These are just a surface glimpse into the hundreds of calls that reached the Amudim support hotline over the past months.
As the pandemic rages on, the lockdown continues and death toll rises, people around the world suffer isolation, devastating loss and indescribable grief. For mental health patients, abuse victims, and recovering addicts, this combination can be fatal.
In the midst of widespread confusion and anguish, Amudim spearheads community-wide initiative offering vital, life-saving support to hundreds of mental health patients and abuse victims
Rachel* is a 15-year-old Brooklyn teen and longtime victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her elder brother. One year ago, she finally mustered the courage to speak out and seek help, and since then both have undergone intensive therapy. Stuck in close quarters now with her brother, Rachel is terrified of setback. Moshe*, 46, is an older single living alone in a basement studio. His father succumbed tragically to the virus, and he is now in quarantine for over five weeks. Bereaved and isolated, he spent the weeklong Passover festival alone.
David*, 35, is a husband and father of four with a history of anxiety, severe depression and suicidal thoughts. Laid off from work, trapped at home in a small apartment with his family, and lacking his stabilizing weekly therapy sessions, trepidation for his physical and mental health along with his shaky financial future nearly led him to end his life.
What these three people have in common? They all reached for the phone before it was too late.
In a month since launching operations, Amudim’s free support hotline accepted 1,669 calls from across the United States, England, Panama, Israel, Mexico and even Switzerland, handling issues ranging from domestic and sexual abuse, anxiety, coronavirus fears, addiction and recovery issues to financial worries and suicide ideation. Approximately 1,251 calls were resolved in a single conversation, while the remainder was referred for follow-up care.
The emergency hotline was initiated by Amudim, which provides comprehensive clinical case management to people in the Orthodox community who struggle with addiction, abuse and severe mental health issues. In addition to its primary goal, Amudim works hard to foster public awareness and eliminate stigmas that prevent many from seeking vital treatment. Five PSA videos, two music videos, hundreds of public awareness events, op-eds and articles have opened conversation on abuse, addiction and mental health topics that were once taboo in the insular, family-centered Orthodox Jewish community. Expanding its efforts into prevention, Amudim introduced school-based programs to empower and educate students in grades five through twelve using social and emotional competency learning programs.
“On a typical day, Amudim averages 180 to 200 calls from current clients and new callers,” says Rabbi Zvi Gluck, CEO of Amudim. “During the first week of lockdown, we recorded a huge spike in call volume, with 270 to 300 calls entering each day, far beyond our team’s capacity. We also realized that while many calls involved true crisis situations, others addressed coronavirus subjects as financial worries, anxiety and parenting issues. Consulting with other organizations, which like us, were inundated with calls, we spearheaded the effort to launch a support hotline.
Multiple organizations collaborated with us, lending us staff to field calls on the hotline which operates from 8 am to 11 pm EST daily. Also joining us were private mental health practitioners, generously enabling callers to speak to a professional free of charge, with complete anonymity, while alleviating some of the untenable burden being shouldered by Amudim’s case managers.”
Gluck is a longtime community activist, Hatzalah paramedic, Port Authority Police Chaplain and NYPD liaison with experience aiding kids at risk and abuse victims. In a chance meeting in 2014 with philanthropist Mendy Klein of Cleveland at the home of Moshe Wolfson, the trio, who have been known to invest heart, soul and wealth, when in came to helping those with issues ranging from abuse, addiction, and many other serious issues, Amudim, the Hebrew translation of “pillars,” was born.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that in just five years, Amudim would grow as it has, evolving into a worldwide resource with offices in America and Israel and addressing a wide array of communal needs long swept under the rug.”
As the go-to person for emergencies of all types, Gluck received an avalanche of calls for assistance since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Callers included individuals who need help burying their loved ones in the United States and Israel, frantic family members who couldn’t receive information about relatives in the hospital, and patients requiring medical assistance but were terrified to check themselves into a hospital.
As Amudim is a community resources organization, Gluck was able to arrange for the purchase of over 50 oxygen concentrators for coronavirus victims in his home borough of Queens which has been hardest hit in New York City. The effort is coordinated with medical teams to ensure that patients who can manage with oxygen at home receive proper care without burdening New York’s already overloaded hospitals. He likewise facilitated the delivery of kosher and kosher-for-Passover food to patients in hospitals.
While the entire world endures similar challenges and isolation, the Orthodox Jewish community faces unique challenges, such as prayers with a minyan, postponing weddings despite the strong custom to avoid doing so, and burial and shiva. Rabbi Gluck works hand-in-hand with community leaders to discourage any gatherings, including synagogues and small minyanim, while remaining in close contact with local authorities to ensure that lines of communication remain open in order promote understanding and sensitivity during these trying times.
One major challenge was Passover, which fell at the height of the crisis. At the start of the lockdown, therapy phone calls and Zoom conferences proved to be a lifeline for numerous clients, but as the festival swiftly approached, Amudim’s staff realized that three days of phone silence compelled by two days of holiday followed by Shabbat could be devastating for patients. They appealed to Rabbi Dovid Cohen, a leading rabbinic authority in the United States who is deeply involved in the mental health field as rabbinic adviser of Shalom Task Force for over 30 years. Rabbi Cohen issued a groundbreaking halachic ruling permitting individuals in severe distress to call mental health professionals or use Zoom, phones, and other communication methods, on Shabbat and yom tov on grounds that it could be an issue of life and death. Rabbi Cohen’s ruling was repeated by Rabbi Shmuel Mayer Katz, a leading dayan in Lakewood, NJ, and in an extraordinary step, both reiterated their rulings on video so it could be disseminated and published in multiple media outlets.
Rabbi Gluck says that it is difficult to assess if there is an increase in sexual abuse at this time since potential victims are with their abusers all day, every day. However, with the generous assistance of private donors and the UJA-Federation of New York, Amudim arranged for many clients who were living with their abusers to be transferred to safe locations, receive kosher for Passover food, and have access to a clinical staff member to ensure a safe, sober holiday. Not surprisingly, Amudim is seeing an increase in child abuse-related calls on the hotline, mostly from parents who are unable to cope with their kids 24/7. In response, the organization developed a special video animation series with solid story lines and skill sets created by clinicians that are available on Amudim’s coronavirus webpage. The site likewise offers information on group and Zoom meetings for people in recovery or who struggle with mental health issues; anxiety tips, tools, links and advice for parents home with children; and informative videos featuring prominent clinicians. To date, Amudim’s coronavirus web page has seen traffic from over 50 countries and its videos garnered over 50,000 views in just one month.
When asked about the disproportional number of Orthodox corona patients and deaths, Gluck responds, “It’s very troubling to me that the haredi community has been painted as a demographic that spurns the rules. As a member of this community, I can affirm that by and large, 99.5% of the community adheres strictly to the guidelines. Leading rabbis and public figures in the United States and Israel, including Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, have instructed the community to observe social distancing guidelines, avoid praying with a minyan, and cancel all events. The 0.05% that is flouting authority are giving the much larger majority a black eye, and the media is spotlighting that tiny group of lawbreakers and turning their noncompliance into a religious issue, which is a blatant distortion of truth.” The actual number of corona patients is also a result of the sector’s large families, with one family member often infects an entire family.
With Amudim’s caseload substantially increased due to the current situation, it is looking ahead to the future and planning to maintain its support line as long as necessary and beyond. Consistent with its practice of keeping ahead of the curve, and aware that people in specific communities are reluctant to attend existing meetings for 12-step programs, it plans to launch support groups for that demographic staffed by top clinicians, in addition to bringing on additional case managers to handle Amudim’s ever increasing volume of calls. Says Rabbi Gluck, “We’ll continue in our roles as trailblazers, finding solutions to the problems in our community, and doing what we do each and every day to the very best of our ability.”
* Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those concerned