By Efrem Epstein
"The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined." Isaiah 9:1
Today is the 1st Day of Channukah, the Holiday of lights. As I light the Menorah each nite this year, I am hoping to take a moment and think about what I can do to bring additional light to those in need. Everyday we encounter people in a state of emotional darkness, whether always we recognize it or not. Even when we're powerless to completely brighten their world, perhaps we can light a candle and walk the dark road with them.
My name is Efrem Epstein and I am the founder of Elijah's Journey, an organization focused on Suicide Awareness/Prevention in the Jewish community.
"But it shall come to pass, that at evening time there shall be light." Zechariah 14:7
This past week, Jews around the world read the story of Joseph in prison (Genesis 40). Joseph is at his low point, in jail with no promise that he will ever get out. One day he notices that two of his cellmates look anguished and he stops to ask them about their emotional state. This results in a chain of events that ultimately ends up changing the course of Jewish History. Think about this: The world changed because one person in his darkest moment found the strength to ask others how he could help others who were feeling down. We all have the power to change the course of history by bringing light to others every day.
"In thy light, do we see light" Psalms 36:10
I see so much of myself in the character of Pat from "Silver Linings Playbook." A few years ago, I even wrote a piece about the movie and how it related to me, my struggles and, believe it or not, Channukah (yes, based on the dates of the actual football games, it can be calculated that the final dance contest takes place on the 8th Night of Channukah). Pat and I are both die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fans, who took up dancing as a hobby, spent time living in Baltimore, wrestled with issues of life’s purpose and idealized love and battled the demons of depression and won (K’eyn Ayin Hara). Like Pat, I was also privileged to have a friend who literally got me to dance through my tough period. Without her, I doubt Elijah's Journey would exist today.
Earlier this year she ascended to Heaven but her presence in my life remains as strong as ever.
Thank you Cinzia for being my light when I needed it and for giving me the power and strength to bring light to others. Love You and Miss You!
"But the path of the righteous is as the light of dawn, That shineth more and more unto the perfect day." Proverbs 4:18
During my darkest period, not only did I feel broken but also that I was at least partially responsible for my own grief. I'd count the mistakes I'd made in the past that had led me into my emotional mess. I must have been both unrighteous and irresponsible to deserve my fate. Somehow I must have not been worthy of the life I so wanted.
In the years since, I have come to learn of so many others who spent months second-guessing their past and beating themselves up while in the throes of grief. After all, if the world is just, then we deserve our fate and if it's not just, then what hope can we have that any positive actions will be rewarded.
Today, I believe the world has the potential to be just but only when we all work together. A true righteous world will be one which constantly aims to bring light to darkness. One which recognizes that darkness strikes both the righteous and the unrighteous. One which asks how to help and not who is worthy of help.
We still have a long way to go but I believe we're getting there, one day at a time.
"And as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, A morning without clouds; When through clear shining after rain, The tender grass springeth out of the earth." 2 Samuel 23:4
June 8, 2006 was a gray, overcast day. I was now nearly a month into my struggle and beginning to wonder if I was ever going to get better. At one point, I looked up to the dark sky and prayed. I made a promise to G-d....If I came out of the dark space, I would work hard to try to make a difference for others. A month later, G-d made good on the first part of the bargain. I knew I had an obligation to keep mine but wasn't sure how.
On September 10, 2009, three years and two AFSP Overnight Walks later, I found myself commemorating World Suicide Prevention Day at the UN. It was a day of learning about amazing suicide awareness/prevention initiatives in the elderly, immigrant, LGBT and other communities. In the middle of one of the presentations, I started wondering why nobody was speaking about special initiatives for the Jewish community. An idea sprouted in my head....Three months later that idea was named Elijah's Journey.