Honored in the Knesset


Honored in the Knesset

by Shirley  GamaroffCategory: PeopleIssue No. 163

Jill Sadowsky receives Ministry of Health’s Shield 2010 for her  work with the mentally ill

Yesterday, as we stepped into the Knesset building, I felt excited to  actually be there for the first time after living in Israel for more than 40  years. But the reason for my excitement was even bigger – my friend, Jill  Sadowsky, was to receive a Shield of Honor from the Minister of Health at this  special ceremony. The award is given to outstanding volunteers in the medical  field. Jill received her Shield in appreciation of the outstanding voluntary  work she has done to help families of the mentally ill.

The only sad thing was that her beloved husband, Alec, is no longer with us  so see Jill get what she so deserved.. They endured their difficult times  together, and he supported her and worked effortlessly to help his son and  others in a similar situation.

Jill does not waste her time wallowing in self-pity, but turns her personal  suffering into positive actions helping the society around her. Her main effort  for more than 30 years has been to help parents and families who have a mentally  disabled child or family member. When her son, Doron, became ill with  schizophrenia, Jill was shocked by the aloofness of most of the psychiatric  staff to the families. She was struck by the lack of understanding and respect  shown to the afflicted people and their families. Since 1984 Jill has worked  under the umbrella of ENOSH, The Israeli Mental Health Association, and alone,  to try to change the attitude to mental illness and the mentally disabled. She  tried to help them and their families’ daily encounters with the illness.

In the beginning, Jill and Alec struggled on their own dealing with this new  and difficult life situation. They first heard about ENOSH from a mother whose  child was in the same psychiatric hospital as Doron. She told them that ENOSH  was starting a support group for families. At the meeting, Jill spoke about her  son and his illness; as she spoke, other parents identified with her, chipped  in, and shared their own experiences. She began learning from them how to live  with and try to manage the situation. For the first time since Doron had become  so ill, Jill felt she had found a family. “They knew what I was feeling and  I knew what they were feeling.”

As time went by, she noticed that some of the English speakers in the group  did not fully understand what was being said, and they couldn’t express their  feelings in Hebrew about such a painful and sensitive subject. Jill realized how  important it was to set up an English-speaking support group for families of the  mentally disabled. On a voluntary basis, under the auspices of ENOSH, Jill and a  friend started the group.

“The purpose of the support group was to give parents of mentally ill  children the means to cope with the situation and its specific behaviors. We  shared our experiences about living with someone who is mentally ill because it  affects every aspect of a family’s life.”

The group met in Ramat Hasharon. English speakers from all over the country  came, and Jill and Alec were the only family from Ramat Hasharon. Unfortunately  the others were afraid someone would see them, thereby acknowledging publicly  that there was mental illness in their family.

Jill ran the group until Doron died. He was medication- resistant and, sadly,  16 years after suffering from his illness, he committed suicide. At this point  Jill wanted someone else to take over the support group, but when no-one  volunteered to do the job, they stopped the group. Jill has continued, however,  to help the numerous people who have turned to her for support.

In 1998, a few years after Doron’s death, Jill published the book “Weep  for Them” in Hebrew. Using a pseudonym and fictitious names in the story,  the book told the story of Doron and his family, giving an honest look at the  human aspect of treatment, hospitalization and attitudes to the mentally  disabled and their families. When a new psychiatric home was opened for  Holocaust survivors who were mentally ill, the Ministry of Health distributed  the book to as many psychiatric professionals as possible.

“Fortunately, today there is a new awareness in the mental health system.  The situation has changed dramatically for the better. Families receive better  support, there are now sheltered residences in the community for the ill, and  doctors handle parents in a kinder, more humane way.”

One of the more difficult situations the families have to deal with is when  the mentally disabled person has a violent outburst. Sometimes the only thing  the family can do is to call in the police. Often the police have no idea how to  deal with the situation, as they have not been trained to work with such  cases.

Continuing to fulfill the promise she made to Doron that she would try to  help improve the position of the mentally disabled, Jill began working on her  Police Project. The objective was to develop a program that trains policemen to  recognize mental illness, giving them the tools to deal appropriately with  situations involving the mentally ill. To her surprise, she discovered that in  the city of Memphis in the United States there was a program exactly like the  one she had envisaged. It is called the C.I.T. (Crisis Intervention Training).  Jill was invited to give a presentation in Memphis at their National Conference  in 2007, to show how far she had gone with the police training course in Israel.  She is still in contact with many of the police officers there who are always  willing to help out when she runs into difficulties.

Jill and her colleague, Malka, launched the Police Project in Israel.  Together with a social worker from ENOSH, they have presented their program at  Police Headquarters in Tel Aviv and at other police gatherings. But this is not  enough. Their aim is to get their program into the police academy school where  officers are trained.

I asked Jill what her dream is for the mentally disabled and their families.  Idealist that she is, Jill hopes for and believes that new, effective medication  for the mentally disabled will be developed so that no one will need to live  through what Doron, she and her family had to. She wishes that one day mental  illness won’t be such a serious illness as it is today. Until then, Jill will  continue helping parents and families, and fight against the stigma suffered by  mentally disabled people and those with other disabilities.

For more information visit the website www.enosh.org.il  or contact Jill netsad@netvision.net.il


This entry was posted in Schizophrenia on by .

About Jill

Author of books and articles on support and experiences of living with a mentally ill family member. My aim in blogging is to let others see how a loving family, with a father and husband who is able to give unconditional love, can help the family cope. Many call me the blogging grandma.'

One thought on “Honored in the Knesset

  1. Julian pencharz

    Hello Jill,
    Shirley wrote a beautiful tribute to your work in the field of mental health. I echo her sentiments, and hope the dream you voiced to Shirley comes true.
    Your loving brother,



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