A Beautiful Flower
by Bob Ingrum
Marisa was the light of our lives and she brightened the day for all who knew and loved her. Her brilliance was amazing. It was clear from a very early age that her intelligence was extraordinary. She conversed with adults at their level. She devoured books like they were potato chips. She was athletic and enjoyed a wide variety of sports from swimming to gymnastics and soccer to volleyball. She was the born leader that the other kids loved to follow. She enjoyed Hebrew school and grew up in “her” synagogue from pre-school through high school.
As she neared puberty, another aspect of Marisa became evident. She developed problems with social relationships. Her moods swung from fantastic plans for the future to total despair. After repeated suicide attempts and hospital stays and years of counseling, Marisa was enrolled in a therapeutic boarding school where she was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. After 18 months, it was decided that she was stable enough to return home to finish high school and start college. Her therapy continued with both mental health professionals and her rabbi.
Marisa started college on a National Merit Scholarship full of hope and plans. She actually started college three different times and would succumb to deep depression and have to drop out before the end of the semester. She tried Community College and work as she searched for her independence and an ability to move forward with her life. Finally, she could no longer see the future and she took her life shortly before her 22nd birthday. A beautiful flower, full of potential and promise, was gone long before her time.
Her death was devastating to us as her parents, but also to our temple community. She was not only our daughter, but a daughter of the congregation. She grew up here. She belonged here. If we could not have her back, we all wanted to make sure another child of ours did not suffer her pain and other parents could find the help that we could not find.
A memorial fund was started at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Marisa’s name for the express purpose of funding programs to help youth and parents suffering through emotional challenges. The first step was bringing Rabbi Edythe Mencher from the URJ to Los Angeles to share the Resilience of the Soul program. Jewish clergy and professionals from the Los Angeles area were invited to a workshop. A separate workshop was held for parents at Ahavat Shalom and a meeting was held at our home for people who were interested in being on a “Resilience” committee.
The clergy and professional staff of Ahavat Shalom joined with concerned congregants to institute changes within the curricula aimed at building self-esteem and resilience among our youth at all levels, but especially in the Confirmation program. Programs were designed to help our teens cope with the stresses of the teenage years using positive skills and tools.
For the past two years, Temple Ahavat Shalom has offered a parent education course called D.E.A.R. – Developing and Encouraging Adolescent Resilience. This course was written and developed by a congregant, Lila Snow, after she was inspired by the presentation given by Rabbi Mencher. Lila holds an MA in Educational Psychology and teaches Human Development at a local community college. D.E.A.R. is a 15-hour course divided over 12 weeks and includes information about cognitive, social, physical and emotional development in adolescents followed by focused sessions which help parents develop research-based, flexible strategies to help their teen build resilience. It includes recommended reading as well as a parent workbook.
Additional information about the D.E.A.R. program and the implementation of the Resilience of the Soul program through the school curricula is available by contacting the TAS Director of Education and Youth Programs, Hallie Steinberg, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Lila Snow, at LilaSnow@msn.com. Efforts to further develop this program to make it available to all interested congregations are currently underway with joint funding from an URJ-West District Kodimar grant and Marisa’s parents.
It was exciting at the recent URJ Biennial to learn of the Campaign for Youth Engagement. There is no question that engaging our youth is the key to the future of Reform Judaism. Our youth are not homogenous. They are not all brilliant. They are not all superstars. There are some that have physical disabilities. There are some that have mental disabilities. Some need special types of engagement. It is not enough just to open our synagogue doors. We must open our hearts. We must open our pocketbooks. We must open our minds to understanding our youth and developing programs that reach all of our youth and provide the support they and their families need to develop into happy, functioning individuals.
The Campaign for Youth Engagement working with Caring Community will be able to make a great difference in the lives of our youth and their families, now and in the future.
Bob Ingrum is the Treasurer of Men of Reform Judaism and a long-time Congregant at Temple Ahavat Shalom-in Northridge, CA. He is a current Congregant at Congregation B’nai Brith-Santa Barbara, CA.