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Nefesh Chicago supports Orthodox mental health professionals heal hearts and minds

For more than 20 years, Nefesh Chicago has served Orthodox Jewish mental health workers, and therapists serving Jewish clients, with professional support and training, networking, peer consultation, resource development, and community education.

Nefesh Chicago image
Cincinnati’s Dr. Nachum Klafter will address members of Nefesh Chicago on Oct. 29.

Illness does not discriminate, and that includes mental illness. Still, treating illnesses includes treating different patients in ways they can accept.

For more than 20 years, Nefesh Chicago has served Orthodox Jewish mental health workers, and therapists serving Jewish clients, with professional support and training, networking, peer consultation, resource development, and community education. Nefesh also educates the public on personal, family, and community mental health issues.

"Orthodox Jewish mental health professionals trust Nefesh Chicago to deliver leading-edge clinical training relevant to the work they do in the community," said Dr. Paul Cantz, Psy.D and vice president of Nefesh Chicago's board. "Non-Nefesh Chicago members have also benefited from these trainings, since they promote the cultural knowledge and sensitivities required to treat Orthodox clientele." A clinical assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Cantz is also a supervising psychologist with Hartgrove Hospital's inpatient unit.

Nefesh tailors its professional training to the needs of Orthodox Jewish mental health professionals, and others who face such issues in their line of work. The organization's members are Torah-observant psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, therapists, counselors, nurses, clergy, and others in the mental health field. Through Nefesh, they network, collaborate, and learn, addressing issues based on widely accepted mental health principles, within the framework of Torah and halacha (Jewish law). 

"Nefesh provides education to clinicians, educators, rabbis, and rebbetzins (rabbis' wives), and community members, and connects the mental health needs of Chicagoland with the resources of professionals worldwide," said Nefesh Chicago board member Dr. Malka Miller, Clinical Psychologist at Barnes & Klatt and Yehi Ohr-Jewish Institute for Psychological Advancement .

Bringing in experts is one way Nefesh fortifies its local training. On Sunday, Oct. 29, Nefesh welcomes board member Dr. Nachum Klafter, director of the Advanced Psychodynamic Psychotherapy Training Program at the Cincinnati Psychoanalytic Institute and director of Psychotherapy Training at the University of Cincinnati's Psychiatry Residency Training Program. This visit is the first of his two-part series, "The Damaged Core: Understanding and Treating Personality Disorders;" Part II will be presented in January.

Klafter's own education embodies Nefesh's two-prong approach. He studied at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and New York's Yeshivat Darchei Noam. He also completed his psychiatry residency at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, where he served as chief resident. 

Nefesh Chicago was established in 1996 as a local, then regional, branch of Nefesh International. The Chicago branch's president is Rabbi Dr. Dovid Montrose. Its rabbinic advisory committee is led by Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Moreh D'Asrah, Rabbi Abraham Twerski, M.D., and Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Ph.D. liaison. Renee Lepp, on Nefesh Chicago Board of Directors for 20 years, had served as the director of The Ark for 13 years. 

The Chicago branch brings in leaders such as Klafter and Mona Fishbane, the American Psychological Association's 2017 Family Therapist of the Year. In the spring of 2018, Nefesh Chicago will hear from Dr. Jeremy Lazarus, the first psychiatrist to serve as president of the AMA. 

Past seminars include: "Healing Intergenerational Wounds," "A Neuropsychological Overview of Trauma," and the issues of anxiety, transference, and even confidentiality. For the general community, Nefesh held a networking barbecue for graduate students, an orientation for those going to seminaries, and a talk on halachic issues for attorneys.

At this year's Annual Nefesh Chicago Conference, speakers from Harav Hadayan Shmuel Feurst to DCFS representatives spoke on issues such as infidelity and child abuse, from the perspectives of halacha , the legal system, and mental health. Participating professionals earned continuing-education hours through a partnership with Adler University.

Nefesh Chicago also holds an annual event for rebbetzins , community leaders in their own rights. The topic of their most recent event was prenuptial agreements. 

Much of the mission of Nefesh is to communicate with the clergy; rabbis and their wives are often the first to be informed of a crisis. Clergy can link congregants with Nefesh's referral service for psychological and social services within the Jewish community.

The organization also raises awareness of mental health issues community-wide, teaching educators, parents, and teens, and connecting with originations like the JUF-supported Jewish Child and Family Services and Associated Talmud Torahs.

Nefesh Chicago prides itself on providing education, friendship, support, collegiality and inspiration to its membership. Dr. Rachelle Gold, a Chicago-based psychologist, said that "Nefesh offers outstanding academic exposure in an intimate setting, speaks to a wider Jewish audience, and regularly surpasses expectations." 

Dr. Klafter's presentation to Chicago-area clinicians will be Sunday, Oct. 29, at The WiFi Building, 8170 N. McCormick, in Skokie. More information, including event registration, is available at


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