Talking about drug abuse and mental health issues in Brooklyn’s Jewish community was a taboo subject — until Ruchama Bistritzky-Clapman came along.
As the founder of Mask, an acronym for “mothers and fathers saving kids,” she has worked for more than two decades to help find families the support they need to assist children suffering from addiction, abuse, and mental illnesses, taking away any shame that may have come with it.
“Our focus is prevention and working towards stigma-free and helping families learn to reach out and get the help they need for their loved ones,” she said.
The organization, based in Midwood, offers a helpline that gives parents referrals to appropriate treatments, runs an e-mail support group for them to discuss their experiences, and puts on seminars and symposiums to educate the Jewish community about the problems within their neighborhoods.
This Woman of Distinction said in the past, parents were not always so quick to pick up the phone for help, and problems were usually swept under the rug. But with her advocacy and outreach as she continued to put full-page ads in the local papers advertising her services, people slowly became more comfortable seeking assistance.
“It’s unbelievable from when I started 21 years ago when nobody spoke about it,” she said. “In the religious community today, it is widely accepted to speak openly about the misuse of drugs and alcohol, mental health issues, and all at-risk behaviors.”
All of the programs are facilitated by professionals, who help families learn new techniques on how to help their struggling loved ones.
“We like to teach the families that whatever they’re doing is not working, to try something different,” she said.
Along with her work with Mask, Bistritzky-Clapman hosts a radio show every Thursday night called “Family Matters,” in which she discusses mental health issues with guests including doctors and advocates.
Through all of her hard work, she has made a lasting change to the way addiction and mental health issues are viewed within traditionally conservative circles.
“She’s broken a lot of molds, sometimes working with people who are very religious and have a particular worldview in which it’s hard to sometimes face realities like substance abuse or alcoholism,” said Rabbi Simcha Feuerman, the president of Nefesh, a network of Orthodox mental health professionals of which Bistritzky-Clapman is a board member.
This Woman of Distinction is known as a champion for mental health and addiction support within the Jewish community that has gotten people to stop avoiding the subject and start talking.
“She’s a very dynamic and energetic person who has really worked tirelessly on behalf of the families,” Feuerman said. “She’s really opened up a lot of dialogue.”
Founder and executive director.
Claim to fame: Opened up conversation about addiction and mental health issues in Jewish community.
Favorite Brooklyn Place: Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Woman I Admire: My mother, she passed away in May 2013. She was beautiful inside and out. She was the most generous, selfless, kind, genuine, and principled person I know.
Motto: Hang in, hold on, hug tight!