Partially due to society’s stigmas, the mentally ill are compelled to prove to the world – and even more importantly, to themselves – that their lives can be meaningful. For those with musical inclinations, Ezer Mizion’s Sounds of the Soul music group fills that need and helps them to restore a sense of self-esteem. Says Danny* who plays the bass guitar, “When I saw the audience dancing to the music that we had created, I understood that I am worth something. I’m not a ‘broken utensil’ to be discarded as refuse. I can create. I have value.”

Danny, now 28 years old, had a normal childhood – attending school while at the same time, developing his love for music. At the age of fourteen, he began “imagining all kinds of thoughts.” He stopped doing his homework and wandered around the streets for hours. For two years, he was in a hospital for the mentally ill, a period he does not remember and does not want to talk about. Afterward, he went back to school, while continuing to receive medication. Today he is in a sheltered living facility, sharing an apartment with three other young adults.

Until he joined Sounds of the Soul, he had not emotionally connected to any program and quit each one soon after joining. When his mentor recommended Ezer Mizion’s musical framework, he did not hesitate. “Music gives me a sense of peace, of focus, and deep pleasure,” he says.

In the past, care for the mentally ill meant at best, isolation from society and drug treatment, and at worst, incarceration in closed hospitals for the mentally ill. In the course of time, it became understood that rehabilitating these patients entails taking them out of the closed institutions and integrating them into the community. Accordingly, alternative frameworks were established, such as sheltered living facilities, where mentors, coaches and assistive staff helped the rehabilitating individuals manage their lives. The prevalent approach is to bring the patient to the level of being able to lead a meaningful life, in spite of his illness.

Ezer Mizion’s programs are run within halachic parameters with separate occupational services for men and women. The program includes a Counseling Center for families. “It is very important for us to convey to the families that they are not alone. The natural tendency of the patient and his family is towards self-isolation, powerlessness and loss of hope. We say to them: Come to us, deal with the problem. You aren’t helpless. There is something to do about it.”

Occupational rehabilitation takes place at Ezer Mizion’s sheltered work facility. The rehabilitating clients work in a number of areas: wiring, welding, packaging, and machine assembly. The work environment is a social and professional framework that can potentially serve as a springboard to a job in the open market.

Ezer Mizion’s Sound of the Soul ensemble, geared for rehabilitating individuals who have talent and/or experience in the music field, was founded a year ago. They are a diverse group of individuals, from different walks of life and training, including some highly trained and qualified professionals.

Benny Schwartz, a graduate of the Rimon Music School, a guitarist in the Ayelet Hashachar band, and an educator who has experience working in various informal frameworks is the project coordinator. Together with the social workers and therapists accompanying the group, he uses ‘do, re, mi’ to create miracles. As a result of working in Sound of the Soul, much progress is seen in rehab as well.

Schwartz relates, I was surprised to discover the tremendous strength of their will. This is their key to success. There is a constant feeling of mission that pushes them forward and does not allow them to lapse into gloomy thoughts.

Schwartz’s words are warmly seconded by Moshe (35), who plays classical guitar. Ever since Moshe remembers himself, he was highly irritable. At age four, he already threatened to burn down his kindergarten. He expressed his feelings mainly in verbal outbursts and physical violence. His parents resisted moving him to a special school, sufficing instead with medication and emotional therapy.

As a young adult, Moshe worked in the family carpentry shop, but his work there did not meet his needs. Only at Sounds of the Soul did he finally find a salve for his pain. “I enjoy the practice sessions, I enjoy learning new things and being with friends. And most of all, I love to perform. We are really professional,” he boasts with good reason.

There are two prerequisites for joining the group: ability to play a musical instrument and willingness to toe the line. The work is intensive and includes five study sessions a week, five hours each session. Participants learn composition, ensemble playing, sound, theory, development of the musical ear, and more. The program is demanding but provides a great sense of satisfaction for those who join. The mentor of a new member, accepted on the condition that he come on time every day, told Benny: “No chance that he’ll make it. His days are absolutely disorganized.” Not only did the guy come every day and clock in on time, but he became the star of the band.

In the last few months, Sounds of the Soul ensemble has begun appearing before audiences – once at a professional seminar for psychiatrists and therapists for the mentally ill, once as a musical interlude for a festive ceremony, and most recently, at a family event of one of the ensemble members.

Sounds of the Soul where its members strike the chords of their own souls as their fingers manipulate the chords of their instruments.

Credit: Makor Rishon, Portraits

For further info: ezermizion.org

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