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Yom Kippur sermon raises awareness about mental health, NAMI Walks

The Herald-Tribune - 10/13/2021

Oct. 7—SARASOTA — Rabbi Michael Shefrin had planned to participate in Saturday's virtual walk to support of the National Alliance for Mental Illness Day of Hope by walking at home on his treadmill.

But that changed following the outpouring of support Shefrin received, after he shared his own struggles with mental illness as part of his Yom Kippur sermon at Temple Emanu-El.

"For me personally, I have my own struggles with depression and anxiety and other mental illness in my own life," said Shefrin, who stressed that with his own family, support system and therapists, he's fine, but he worried about society as a whole.

"When I look around the world the last 18 months or so, and especially in our country the last few years where division seems higher and isolation seems greater and there's an underlying current of fear and anxiety and anger," he added. "I worry we're going to get through this pandemic and there's going to be another pandemic of people who are affected by mental health in a not useful and challenging way."

So, Shefrin chose one of the highest-attended services of the year to tell the congregation that their rabbi, who they "see as generally a happy and energetic, very social person has a side of him that you don't see."

Within hours of the conclusion, Shefrin was getting emails, phone calls and later cards in the mail thanking him for sharing his story.

"When someone has a cut on their arm there's something visible about it," he said. "What's happening internally isn't so clearly obvious."

The YouTube video of his sermon has reached viewers in his home state of California, and he's heard from people who know his family.

Locally, members of the congregation decided to join him Saturday.

"I had planned to do this 5K on my treadmill at home," Shefrin said. "Our temple just decided, 'Let's get together and do it together on our own as a group."

So more than 70 members signed up to join Shefrin at Nathan Benderson Park at 8 a.m. Saturday, to walk and raise awareness and money for NAMI of Sarasota-Manatee.

"It just feels like really holy work come together as a community in this way in these strange times that we're going to walk together," Shefrin said. "We chose to take our virtual walk in person, which is cool.

"NAMI's work is so important and so out there, and we're happy to be a part of it."

Colleen Thayer, executive director of NAMI of Sarasota-Manatee, said this is the first time the local NAMI affiliate has participated in one of the NAMI Walks.

Thayer said they had planned to organize a walk for a couple of years. Ironically, with the COVID-19 pandemic in its second year — amplifying the isolation and anger that Shefrin referenced — it was easier to establish.

It's not too late to join. Anyone interested can visit to register. As of Thursday morning, 154 participants, representing 23 teams have registered and pledges totaling $42,922 have been recorded.

Shefrin noted that many of the Temple Emanu-El members have registered with the temple but not necessarily online.

While members of Temple Emanu-El plan to walk at Benderson, Thayer stressed that this year it's technically a virtual walk.

"We're encouraging the teams to do whatever they want," Thayer said. "Some teams are meeting and walking, and we have one team that's doing yoga.

"Teams can do whatever they want."

—To watch a YouTube video of Rabbi Michael Shefrin's sermon, visit

Earle Kimel primarily covers south Sarasota County for the Herald-Tribune and can be reached at


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