I’m sitting on a chair just beyond the larger waiting area of the psychiatry section of the emergency room, waiting to see a psychiatrist who will determine our next steps.

There is no available space in the waiting area, as there are nearly 50 people ahead of us, and as the parent of a legal adult, I’m really not even supposed to be here due to COVID regulations. They have been kind to me and allowed me to wait just beyond the general area, so I can be nearby but not actually with my daughter.

I had heard on the news how COVID was causing a mental health crisis of epic proportions but now I am seeing it up close, in full view.

The nurse who placed me in this private section told me to expect to spend the night, as there are literally 50 people ahead of us. My daughter cannot see me from where they’ve placed her, and I cannot see her, though the image of her in her red jumpsuit (with no pockets so she can’t hide anything to potentially hurt herself with) is indelibly seared into my mind. We can text each other. We are watching fully grown adults yelling at the top of their lungs in various stages of emotional despair.


My daughter is scared out of her mind. I am scared out of mine. We are both exhausted beyond belief on top of the crisis she is in, and the announcement that this process is going to be an all-nighter only adds to the angst we both feel.

I reflect for a few minutes on how we got here. What is a congregational rabbi doing here with the rest of society’s struggling souls? Am I better? Are we better? Do we have the same challenges in both the mental health and substance abuse realm as does the rest of the world? Are we, Orthodox Jews, wired differently? What led up to this crisis we find ourselves in?

My beautiful daughter had been struggling for years with ADHD, anxiety, depression, and the like—stuff that I now know is relatively mild in the mental health world.

As she struggled through her school years, she changed schools a few times to accommodate her needs. There were some minor traumas she experienced in her younger years, yet everything seemed to be in relative order. She had friends, a therapist, a psychiatrist, and the love and support of her parents (us).

As COVID hit and schools shut down, her college classes went online as well. That is when things started to take a marked shift south.

Shabbat became unbearable to her. Unable to distract her racing mind with computer games, her friends, or her phone, she started abusing alcohol to get through the day.

Being newbies at this, we tried to scream and yell and rationalize with her but it was all to no avail. As I now know, taking their drug of choice - whatever the substance is - from a struggling soul or an addict is taking their solution, not their problem. Yelling at them to stop the one practice that gives them relief from their pain of existence is pointless.

After a number of months, she got herself a job in another state and things appeared to be on the uptick. She was living independently, feeling fulfilled, making money and life seemed good. When that summer job ended some three months later, she again moved nearby where she found another job and again she was living independently, paying her bills, making a good living for a young woman, just past her teen years. All appeared to be going well.

Then things began to unravel. There were a few telltale signs in retrospect, like dissolving into tears at trivialities, and the fact that she was having trouble making rent even though with her job and our stipends to help out with food and rent this should have been a total non-issue.

Later, we learned she was using cannabis. In fact, she told us she was doing so—which is part of the miracle or silver lining of this journey, though we didn’t know the copious amounts she was using until later.

Her mood was no longer stable, the highs and lows seemed more extreme. Her psychiatrist was concerned enough to reach out to me and discuss medication adjustments. Alas, it was too little too late.

My daughter called me in a panic, with her psychiatrist on the line, and through her tears she told me she could no longer handle the pain and begged me to please, please take her to the hospital.

Confirming with her doctor that this was the correct next step, I raced over to her place, filled a few bags with clothing and essentials, and headed to a well-regarded hospital in our area where we knew she’d get better treatment.

Thus began the longest journey that we now find ourselves in.

The ride to the hospital was simply unbearable. The emotional swings were painful to watch; I can only imagine how painful they were to experience. From high, manic confidence and impulsivity to the depths of tears and despair, separated by mere nanoseconds at times.

On the road to the hospital, I had some time to plan as best as I could and lean on resources of knowledgeable and well-connected friends and colleagues. Little did I know that this was not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. We were getting on a rollercoaster that has lasted quite a while and is clearly going to be with us for the rest of our lives.

Eventually, we were seen.

After a short 30-minute consultation with my daughter, and another consultation with me, the doctor determined that some time in a facility to level things out was in order. Finding a bed in a good place under normal circumstances, however, was difficult enough. Add in COVID and the late hour, and it could take days, even weeks in some cases, to get a bed anywhere, much less somewhere reputable.

As they gave my daughter medications and she finally fell asleep, I too left to get a bit of rest, after securing promises from the nurses that they would call me immediately if something changed. Before I even arrived home, I got the call that they’d secured her a bed at one of the best facilities in the country - a place that I knew just a few hours earlier didn’t have a bed - and they’d be transporting her within the hour.

Thank G‑d and His wonderful agents!

The next 10 days were a blur of visits to the site. Because of social distancing, only kosher food drop-offs were allowed, and a few moments by a window to wave at one another. We brought food twice a day, and some friends pitched in to help, but to see our daughter’s brave soul locked up and denied her freedom, for her own good, still crushed us and crushed her even more.

The days and nights blurred together as we juggled trips to the hospital, phone appointments with the clinical teams and doctors, setting up insurance that would help with some of the bills, trying not to neglect our other kids at home, all while fumbling through the dark to figure out what was next as a step down from the hospital before reentering life. What treatment program would be a proper fit?

Residential, PHP, IOP, sober living … terms and acronyms that were previously meaningless and unfamiliar now dominated all my awake time and sleep time consciousness. Trying to understand everything in a very short amount of time was quite a task.

Eventually, we settled on a center that would address both the underlying and presenting issues (emotional health, trauma and substance abuse), and also had resources for our daughter to retain her Jewish identity and practice.


Learning to accept that you are going to do the best you can with the limited knowledge and resources available to you is a slow process. Eventually, you learn to fall into G‑d’s embrace and accept that this is G‑d’s plan and He is in fact running the world.

I read the following insight from Rabbi YY Jacobson on one of the final verses in the Torah.

“[The Heavens] are the abode for the G‑d Who precedes all, and below the world [are] arms...”

What is the meaning of this enigmatic statement that “below the world [are] arms”?

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov offered a moving interpretation:

If we had to categorize all of humanity into two groups, we could say that there are the people who are comfortable in the world, and there are people who find no place for themselves in our universe. There are those who have both their feet etched confidently in the ground. They know who they are and they know what they want, and if they don’t, they are not bothered by these questions.

But there are others who struggle with deep psychological, emotional, and spiritual dilemmas, who experience deep anxiety, pain and grief, who suffer from addiction and other internal maladies.

All these people somehow never feel fully present in our world; they never feel grounded and stationed solidly on the earth.

It is to these people Moses speaks when he says: below the world there are arms. When you feel like you are “falling off” the planet, that you have no place in our world, that you don’t belong here, you should know that below the world there are arms that will embrace you when you “fall off.”

These are G‑d’s arms, in which you can fall and let out all your pain and anxiety.

But here’s the catch: Only those who “fall off” can experience this embrace. As long as you feel secure in your own being, as long as you feel confident in your own ego, you can’t feel the transcendent embrace of G‑d.

Only when you have nothing else to hold on to, can you experience those loving arms which are always present below the world for those who fall.


This is us. Our daughter has nothing more to lose, and neither do we. Only now can we experience G‑d’s loving arms and fall into His embrace.

The author is a rabbi in North America. This is the first of a series of articles chronicling his daughter’s ongoing struggle with addiction and mental illness.