By Temimah Zucker, USA
The day I accepted that I had an eating disorder was the day it was made clear to me that I was not the only Jewish person in the world suffering from this mental illness. I was eighteen years old, scared and fatigued, having been diagnosed with my eating disorder months prior, but unable to recognize that the label “Anorexia” was somehow connected to me. Much like I was unable to recognize that the things I was doing to myself were connected to – and would eventually catch up with – me.
That day my father, a rabbi, had showed me the film Hungry to be Heard, produced by the Orthodox Union in an effort to shed light on the reality of eating disorders in the Jewish community. It was after viewing this film that, after months of struggling, I was able to come forward and admit I needed help.
All individuals struggling with an eating disorder have common threads that pool them together. And yet, the experience of an eating disorder is incredibly isolating – it feels as if no one could possibly understand. Judgment and ignorance are often offered rather than support and care.
‘Within a few hours everyone will know’
The Orthodox Jewish community is a niche community filled with religious laws, cultural customs – overall it is a way of life. Among the factors that make up this community includes the reality that it is tight knit; often if someone does something, within a few hours everyone will know. This provides the opportunity for support but in the context of an eating disorder it can also feel daunting as if everyone is speaking about the individual struggling.
Eating disorders – like other types of mental illness – are far from simple. They are complex and layered and to understand an eating disorder takes time. To come forward and ask for help in general takes strength and bravery. To do so in the context of an illness that is difficult to understand, well that takes courage and commitment. But to come forward in a community where mental illness is largely unknown, where news spreads fast – well, that takes guts.
But it shouldn’t need to. Eating disorders are a coping mechanism of some sort. They aren’t a form of vanity or a “phase.” The person suffering is doing just that, suffering.
World Eating Disorder Action Day is important to the Jewish community because as a community, we need to go to greater lengths to understand the struggles of those among us.
When I was in treatment I remember feeling as if I was climbing an uphill battle – attempting recovery while also adhering to Shabbat (akin to a weekly Thanksgiving with respects to the food being served) as well as Kosher restrictions and large gatherings. And yet, I was able to use all these factors to aid in my recovery.
As a community, we need to develop a greater understanding while implementing the tools that the community has to offer to aid those in recovery.
We need to learn and grow and to provide respect for those in and outside the community who are struggling, and to help.
I have witnessed progress along my journey from sufferer to now being recovered and an eating disorder therapist myself. Treatment centers make accommodations so that religious individuals can attend and receive help, organizations like my own – Tikvah V’Chizuk – have blossomed to help those in recovery by spreading awareness, treatment centers in Israel have opened to address the large population there and the lack of a multitude of services. But there is much more we can do as individuals and as a community – a community of Jewish individuals, as well as the community of those looking to/for support, a community of people looking to make a difference in the world and to better help those suffering.
A nation familiar with struggle
We are a nation familiar with struggle. We have suffered for many years and one theme that has always amazed me about my people is our resilience and sense of community. When a tragedy strikes across the world, the nation bands together to remain strong and provide comfort as one. Within a community, when a member is diagnosed with a physical illness, friends, neighbors, even strangers, work together to provide support. What is so different about mental illness? Why is this not approached the same way? If we were able to approach mental illness such as eating disorders as a community – as a nation – the way we have looked at other struggles we would be an incomparable source of support.
Maimonides said, “The children of Abraham are compassionate to all, emulating the attribute of the Lord.” We are a people who highly value compassion toward our own community and toward others. It is time we spread awareness to better help those around us, to support, guide, strength, and advocate.
With the help of awareness I was able to take ownership of my eating disorder and eventually, to fully recover. Think of what we can do as a community for all those suffering if we only work together.
Temimah Zucker, LMSW is a primary therapist at Monte Nido Manhattan. After recovering from her own struggle with an eating disorder she found a calling and passion in immersing herself in the field of eating disorders as a therapist, speaker, and writer. Temimah advocates for full recovery and for the positive relationship between the body and soul. Her hopes for World Eating Disorder Action Day include greater understanding and awareness which will yield better opportunity for change as related to treatment, prevention, and overall healing. Temimah lives in New York with her husband and adorable recovery dog Ferdie.
Join Temimah in supporting World Eating Disorders Action Day. Be sure to follow along on Twitter @WorldEDDay and hashtag #WeDoAct, #WorldEDActionDay, @WorldEatingDisordersAction on Instagram and World Eating Disorders Action Day on Facebook.