Johannesburg Jewish Community came to my Rescue
By Neo Nino Mofokeng
One can understand while living through a pandemic that every community would be overwhelmed by the needs of their own and therefore concerned first for the wellbeing of those closest.
It would hardly be surprising then for help to the ‘other,’ who are not of one’s community or nation, to be way back in the queue.
On a global level, we see this attitude play out in the international rush for a Covid-19 vaccine. Trump’s inciteful and isolationist “America First” policy may well turn the race to develop and distribute the vaccine into a global vaccine brawl, leaving the poorer countries behind in the rush to procure doses. We saw this scenario play out before with Trump when he incited his own states into ‘Bidding Wars’ to obtain medical equipment to combat Coronavirus!
It should then not come as a surprise for this mentality to permeate down from “My Country First” to “My Community First’!
However, not so in my personal case!
Seven weeks ago I suffered a mental breakdown during South Africa’s ‘Stage 5’ hard lockdown and I needed support – badly!
The unimaginable happened in my most difficult, lonely and challenging time.
The Johannesburg Jewish community came to my rescue.
It was an experience I feel important to share.
On the 20th of May, a freezing cold winter morning, I decided to take the bull by the horns – the “bull” being my mental health that had deteriorated dramatically because of the lockdown. I was on the tipping edge towards a mental breakdown.
The situation as it was, I was not alone. I was one of many across the nation struggling to cope mentally because of the hard restrictions imposed by the government. The unending news of the pandemic that we were subjected to on a daily basis from the mainstream media added to my feelings of anxiety.
The times were unprecedented and combined with the added stress over a range of issues from family matters, to work and studies, I simply could not cope.
I was in a bad, bad space. Every day I pretended to be strong and happy on the outside, which was not the case on the inside.
I had trouble sleeping. My sleep was drastically reduced to nonexistent throughout the days prior to my mental breakdown.
At the time when I decided to take the bull by its horns, my smartphone recorded my sleeping hours at only 1 hour 30 minutes. I suffered from acute insomnia, which intensified in the weeks leading up to my breakdown.
On that day, the 20th May, after struggling to sleep, I woke up early and travelled to the local hospital about 20 minutes away from my home.
Little did I know what awaited me – the rigorous coronavirus screening and testing and the snail’s pace service due to extra precautions!
It was the beginning of a very long day. I was only admitted 18 hours after arriving at the hospital at 05:30 AM.
My family arrived but later had to leave and I felt alone.
All during the day at the hospital, I cried for help by sharing my situation with people within my established community.
It fell on deaf ears. I received no support or aid!
Then I did something that many people would think as controversial due to the sensitivities around mental health-related issues.
I shared my tale and predicament on Facebook through a thread of posts and live stream videos. Later on, I even shared my private WhatsApp details.
Immediately after doing so, support from many people I know only as acquaintances; even strangers, and a few old friends started pouring in.
Right after that, Micki Jacobs and Mignon Milwid who are Jewish counsellors at Lifeline Johannesburg and Chai FM radio station, reached out to me through WhatsApp communications.
Both Micki and Mignon were total strangers.
Micki Jacobs sent me a WhatsApp voice note with a sober, caring voice and her texts offering to assist me was the best thing that could have happened to me, in light of the situation.
Mignon, communicated with me via texts, checking whether I was fine or not.
This melted my heart to the core. I was so grateful and at the same time amused, surprised, bewildered that I, this ‘Black lad from the Vaal’, could receive assistance from the Johannesburg Jewish community. The individuals and counselling services that mostly are there I thought to serve the needs of the Jewish community were there to help ME. Deeply moved, my frame of mind started to improve knowing there were people who not only genuinely cared but were ready to immediately help.
As for my own community, the less said the better. They were nowhere to be seen or heard in coming to my aid. This even after I reached out to the leadership through email and WhatsApp about my condition. They ignored me, which makes the unexpected assistance I received from the Jewish community all the more valued.
The diagnosis I received was “burnout”, “exhaustion” and “anxiety”. I received medical attention, which included being admitted to the for several days.
The purpose of me sharing this story is to express my gratitude to the Jewish community, especially the Lifeline Johannesburg Counsellors, Micki Jacobs and Mignon Milwid, and to shine light on challenging the stigmas around Mental Health.
At this time, when so many of us around the world are feeling overwhelmed and anxious, it is so important to reach out for help. You never know where you might find it!
About the writer:
Neo Nino Mofokeng is a Business Administration student and a volunteer tour guide and educator at the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre.