Circle of Healing

May 30, 2024

Hand in hand, Yad B’Yad members support each other through shared struggles

Elisheva Braun

Bills, bedtime, Yom Tov seudos, there’s nothing predictable in her world. None of it can be taken for granted.

There may be sulking stares, outraged, outrageous accusations, or a tsunami of tears. There may be no one to talk to at all. But whether there are mountains of words or silence, always, she is alone.

She watches others sometimes, picking out cantaloupe, wiping a runny nose, taking a thousand and one pictures at the siddur play. No one knows what it’s like.

She keeps moving—calling the credit card company, tucking blankets under quavering little chins, singing zemiros into the stillness.

Inside, she is hollow.

An idea whose time had come

Twelve years ago, the frum world cautiously stepped into the realm of emotional healing.

Chana Esther Schechter is pursuing a degree in social work at Yeshiva University-Wurzweiler School of Social Work. A doctor of audiology might not seem like the typical candidate to found a mental health organization, but Chana Esther’s warmth and approachability, coupled with her passion for helping others, make her the perfect fit for the role.

An outsider to the world of professional therapy, she noticed a crucial gap: while organizations abound for physical ailments, those grappling with mental health issues grapple alone.

“It just came to me,” she says. “What if people facing similar challenges could come together and support each other? So I called Relief Resources and asked them what the most common challenges were. Later, I met with Rabbi Blech, Rabbi Shachar, and Rabbi Gissinger to discuss the idea of opening support groups. They loved it.

“Everyone else thought I was crazy,” she laughs. “Who’s going to show up for support groups? And I get it—who doesn’t worry about shidduchim? But Hashem is in charge of everything. We can’t play G-d; all we can do is hishtadlus to help ourselves and others as much as we can.”

And show up they did.

“I was shocked at how quickly it took off.”

Before long, the Schechters’ dining room table became the gathering place for four monthly support groups, each guided by a skilled therapist as the women united to share strengths and ease each other’s burdens. Clinical directors Goldy Jaroslawicz LCSW and Blanca Klein LCSW were enlisted to help shape Yad B’Yad policies and decisions.

At first, Chana Esther debated whether to charge a nominal fee for attending the groups. Some reasoned that if members paid even a small fee, they’d take the commitment more seriously.

“My feeling was that members would show up because the groups provided desperately needed support. They would want to be there and would make every effort not to miss a meeting,” she argued. “I also believed that some people were spending so much on individual and marriage therapy that they couldn’t afford anything more. Rabbi Gissinger asked me if the organization would charge a fee. He was so happy to hear that it wouldn’t, and then I knew I’d made the right choice.” A few attendees have since told Yad B’Yad that if they had charged even just five dollars, they wouldn’t have had the money to join.

Currently, Yad B’Yad runs 20 groups and counting. The organization facilitates in-person Lakewood groups only, though they’ve helped others establish groups in Monsey, Toronto, Cleveland, and Williamsburg.

“We’ve toyed with the idea of hosting Zoom groups, but at the end of the day, they really don’t compare to in-person connection,” asserts Goldy Jaroslawicz.

Healing together

Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky told Yad B’Yad’s directors, “Comparing individual therapy to group therapy is like comparing davening b’yechidus to davening with a minyan. There is no comparison.”

Facilitator Rivky Bertram LCSC says, “The transformation that happens to the women who join a group is miraculous. The power of shared experience, support, and encouragement fosters confidence and courage in the women to nurture themselves and their families in ways they could never have dreamed possible.”

For Shoshana Landa, LSW and Yad B’Yad facilitator, support groups are, “the classic example of ‘the total is greater than the sum of its parts.’ There’s a certain power and strength in a group.” In fact, many therapists have noticed that their clients make more progress in one group session than they do in months of therapy.

To have a therapist tell you that you’re not alone doesn’t cure the aloneness. Getting to know others who are dealing with what you’re dealing with is unbelievably validating. You know—you feel—you’re not alone.

Says Michelle Halle, LCSW, “Our group has been running for over four years. It’s morphed from a support group to a sisterhood. The members have built meaningful relationships with each other because this is an environment of trust, acceptance, and understanding. They keep discussions lighthearted even when talking about things that break the heart. Most importantly, we focus on resilience.”

Chana Esther remembers, “Once, in the early years, a group meeting ended at 10 p.m. At 12:30, my husband noticed two women talking in a car in our driveway. I ran outside to check if everything was okay. ‘We both have husbands with mental illnesses,’ they told me, ‘We finally found each other. We have so much to say.’ Eventually, I got used to it; members often stay and talk for hours after the session is over, relishing the joy of talking to others who deeply understand them.”

The process

The hour-and-a-half sessions are led by one or two therapists—all highly regarded, thoroughly researched, Relief-recommended professionals with long waitlists who donate their time for Yad B’Yad pro bono.

Goldy points out, “The therapists don’t get clients from running the groups. We don’t allow clients to be in their therapists’ group as it impacts the group’s dynamics. Their volunteer work here is purely l’shem Shamayim.”

Groups gather once a month, either at the homes of the facilitating therapists or at Empower, whose founder, Yossi Shafier, graciously lets Yad B’Yad use the conference room free of charge. Every group is run differently. The therapists ask the members what they’re looking to gain, whether it’s skills, process, or simply sharing. The meetings aren’t venting sessions.

“We never want people to walk out more depressed than they walked in,” Goldy explains. “Meetings are supportive, healthy, hopeful experiences. Members cry together, lend each other support and strength, learn from one another, and share practical tips and much-needed validation. A lot of growth happens in these groups.”

Blanca Klein LCSW came up with the idea of starting each session with something positive or inspirational.

Chasya Berger LCSW notes, “I find that this practice helps the group maintain a balanced worldview, especially in the context of the sad or heavy topics that come up.”

After that, the first people to share are those who didn’t get the floor in the previous meeting.

“All feelings are welcome. There’s zero judgement, just acceptance, and everyone feels safe opening up and hearing each other,” Shoshana says. “It gives the women so much strength when others really ‘get’ them.”

Sometimes, there’s a psychoeducation element where the therapists explain a modality or a biochemical mechanism.

At the end of the session, there’s a quick re-grounding exercise. A game of Bananagrams, deep breathing, and guided meditation are all ways of calmly refocusing on the present. As time passes and the group gels, members stand around talking long after the session has ended.

Safe space

It’s very important that members feel safe sharing. Once a group has been up and running for a few months, facilitators close the group to new members and won’t reopen it for at least a year. Groups start with a minimum of seven members and are capped at twelve members. It’s rare that they add new members to existing groups. Members sign a confidentiality form; there’s a lot of emphasis on the importance of privacy. To date, they’ve never been notified about a breach of confidentiality.

Roomful of comrades

“My neighbor’s husband had cancer,” Shaina* shares. “It seemed like there were always homework helpers and chessed girls coming in and out of the house; they were always getting suppers and presents and parties. At the same time, my husband was in the psych ward. My house, just across the street, was silent. I also had a sick husband, but I had no support.”

To step into a group, into a roomful of women who knew her pain, was to be understood, validated, and held.

For so long, she’d felt alone. But in the warm, loving sisterhood of her Yad B’Yad circle, Shaina finally found a home.

In the depths of uncertainty, in the silence of private pain, there’s a simple comfort in the warmth of knowing you’re not alone.

*Name has been changed



Meet the groups

Men’s groups

Spouses of mental illness

Mordechai Weinberger

Shlomo Moskowitz

Spouses of survivors of abuse

Mayer Atkin

Bipolar disorder

Mordechai Friedman

Childhood neglect

Yehoshua Scheinberg


Chanoch Krohn


Women’s groups

Spouses with mental illness

Rivky Bertram and Chanie Cohen

Adina Deutsch and Altchie Redisch

Shoshana Benoliel

Women divorced from ex with mental illness

Goldie Schechter

Mothers of children with schizophrenia

Goldy Jaroslawicz

Mothers of children with ADHD

Miriam Newhouse

Toby Ribiat

Mothers of children with autism

Chasya Berger


Jodie Touboul and Eta Miller

Survivors of childhood neglect

Goldy Gorelick

Michal Halle

Esther Gendelman

Shoshana Landa and Chasya Berger

Genese Lieberman

What kind of group would Yad B’Yad never open?

“Anything that already exists in our community,” Chana Esther says. “Before opening a group, we find out whether anyone else offers it. Our goal is to better the community, not to duplicate its resources.”

Changing the landscape

“Yad B’Yad has been a tremendous asset to the frum mental health community in Lakewood,” Relief Resources’ Duvi Kessner says. “They’ve accomplished something that, to my knowledge, still doesn’t exist in any other community—a support network for people struggling with various issues run by reputable professionals. It has been a game changer for so many people.”



Finding my voice

A member shares

I had been in therapy for a year when my therapist recommended that I join a Yad B’Yad support group. I was very unsure about it. I was uncomfortable meeting new people, and sharing my story with strangers sounded terrifying.

I had a meeting with the facilitator, Michelle Halle, which went very well. I told her I’d join the group, but that I would come ten minutes late to the first group. “If there’s someone I know there, I’m going to say, ‘Whoops, wrong room,’ and walk right out.”

In that first meeting (where, thankfully, there was no one I knew), everyone was asked to share about themselves—as much or as little as we wanted.

The first woman to speak shared so much, I immediately felt comfortable. Nothing I say will top her story, I figured. Plus, we were all holding our confidentiality forms. I went for it.

Now, whenever we get a new member, we share our stories again. We help each other with the retellings and remind each other when one of us forgets a detail.

The group was incredible—I was so excited. After the first session, we had already exchanged numbers, so we were able to talk to each other between meetings.

In one day, I went from having zero support to being a part of a group that held space for me. There’s no judgement; nothing is taboo. Everything is normalized. We don’t have to try to impress anyone.

Once, a member who had said she would come didn’t show up. When one of us called her, she said, “I want to come, but I just don’t have the energy to get dressed.” We said, “Come the way you are,” and she did, snood, sneakers, and all. It was very helpful for her to get that sense of acceptance.

Meetings became the highlight of my month. My husband, who chose not to be in therapy for his childhood trauma, watched me come home on a high from the groups and wanted one for himself. Yad B’Yad put together a men’s group, and my husband is loving it and gaining a lot.

Michelle calls our group a sisterhood, and I think it’s very accurate. The women in the group became my closest friends. We talk on a daily basis, not always about heavy topics. Sometimes, it’s just about our kids, our husbands, our days. We help each other out and share advice. We remind each other of our strengths when things get tough. We share a level of mutual understanding.

When you have so many people, many more resources are available to you. Now I can get references for therapists, organizations, and different avenues of help.

Before Yad B’Yad, I was completely uncomfortable discussing what I’d gone through, even with people I trusted. I also wasn’t aware of all dimensions of what I was experiencing. Sharing in this way helped me become comfortable with myself. It gave me insight into my past experiences and showed me how to move forward.

We meet up out of the group, and our kids play together. Sometimes, we meet random people who ask how we know each other. “Oh, our kids are friends,” we tell them, smiling.



Healing Humpty Dumpty

The therapist’s take

Survivors of childhood neglect and abuse make up the largest demographic of Yad B’Yad members, with five existing women’s groups, a men’s group, and more scheduled to open.

Why is this painful phenomenon so deeply detrimental? And why is it so widespread?

Shoshana explains.

In psychology, attachment theory talks about the earliest connections we form with our primary caregivers, most often our parents. Our ability to build healthy adult relationships is based on what happened to us during the earliest years of our lives, when we learned through our experiences if it’s safe to trust and if the world is a secure and predictable place.

When the people who are supposed to care for you bring you pain instead of security, your sense of self is shattered. Without the trust that comes from being able to rely, both practically and emotionally, on a parent, your life is built on shaky ground.

On the practical side, there are a lot of difficulties, like not being able to go to your parents for Yom Tov or after giving birth—or going and dealing with flak or manipulation—along with all the emotional challenges that come along with that.

None of this means that you are doomed for life. Many survivors live full, happy, and productive lives. The right therapy can be tremendously healing, allowing the person to bring to fruition everything that was hidden inside, unaccessed.

I’m often asked why this issue is so prevalent today, and I think the answer is twofold.

Firstly, in the past, people were busy with just surviving: having a roof over their heads, being able to put food on the table, and staying frum in the face of many challenges. They didn’t have the wherewithal to deal with emotional health. In order to withstand all that they did, a certain harshness had to be developed. It’s only due to that toughness that we exist. Yet, there’s a price to living in survival mode, and for this generation, that toughness no longer works.

I also very strongly believe, and the literature confirms this, that abuse, neglect, and mental illness have always existed. As life has changed, our focus has changed. We’ve learned more about mental health, and we have the time and headspace to feel, face, and address these painful topics.

At Yad B’Yad, we don’t bash the parents. Instead, we focus on self-healing and building resilient relationships. Through reparenting themselves and nurturing self-compassion, survivors can overcome the scars of the past and build a brighter future.