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Special Interview a ‘beautiful Israeli’

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Chanita Rodney is the “Beautiful Israeli” of 5743 (1982/83). She was given that title by “At,” an Israeli magazine for women, and by the Helena Rubinstein cosmetics company.

But, according to Mrs. Rodney, these companies sponsore the “Beautiful Israeli” contest in order to emphasize that “beauty in Israel” is not “only outward.”

In fact, Mrs. Rodney, 54 years old and the mother of four children, was given the prize because she “knew how to turn a human tragedy that afflicted her into creative activity for the common good,” as the person who submitted her name to the contest wrote.

Mrs. Rodney is the president and founder of Enosh, the Association for Mental Health in Israel, the first such Israeli group. Her impetus for creating the organization was the sudden mental breakdown of her oldest daughter 12 years ago.

For seven years, the family remained in ignorance of the nature of her daughter’s illness, until, almost by accident, Mrs. Rodney learned that her daughter was suffering from schizophrenia, she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in an interview here.

She began reading about the disease and researching the state of mental health care in Israel. She realized that what was needed was a “better awareness” about mental illness, she said.

NEED TO REMOVE SHAME AND STIGMA

“We have to take down the curtain of shame and stigma” associated with mental illness, Mrs. Rodney said. She learned this through personal experience. When she told friends about her daughter’s illness, she said, “they all said ‘shh’. We all nearly crumbled to pieces because it was so embarrassing,” she said of her family.

“We were supposed to live a lie. It was like living underground,” she said. She added that she “did not think Israel was a place to live like that.” She escaped the Holocaust, in which her parents died, by being sent to England from her native Berlin at the outbreak of World War II. Mrs. Rodney becam an ardent Zionist and together with her husband, a British soldier whom she met in England, moved to Israel shortly after the establishment of the State.

So, while watching Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s historic arrival in Israel in November, 1977, she decided that if someone could have the courage to do “such a great deed,” she could have “the guts” to issue a letter to the public announcing the founding meeting of an organization for mental health in Israel.

NOW A NATIONWIDE ORGANIZATION

The meeting was held in November, 1978 and the name Enosh, which means “human, humane,” according to Mrs. Rodney, was chosen for the Association. She used her extensive background in volunteer work, which included eight years as head of the Women’s International Zionist Organization’s (WIZO) southern Israel region, to organize and publicize the new group.

Enosh now has 18 branches across the country, II social clubs and several halfway houses, according to Mrs. Rodney. All the facilities are staffed by volunteers, including professionals in the field of mental health who donate their services.

The organization has 2,000 members and is funded by “small donations” and some help from Social Security. Its national headquarters are in a bomb shelter at Gan Hanevi’im in Tel Aviv. Mrs. Rodney said she was interested in starting an American Friends of Enosh, to help in fundraising.

‘A BRIDGE INTO NORMAL LIFE’

The Association’s services, which are all free, “are a bridge into normal life,” Mrs. Rodney said. There are no facilities for those just out of the hospital or undergoing treatment. The social clubs provide activities for these people and help them “learn daily life again. (The clubs) are open in the afternoon, because we help them find work in the morning,” she added. Many of them work in the branches themselves.

The organization recently opened its first sheltered workshop, and Mrs. Rodney would like to establish a “drop-in center” soon. The center would allow people “with problems who are too embarrassed to go to a mental health clinic” to come in and find “a listening ear and an understanding heart,” Mrs. Rodney explained. The branches can currently refer people to volunteer professionals but do not provide treatment.

There is “no lack of mental health clinics” in Israel, she explained, but there is a stigma attached to going to one. The clinics concentrate on medical treatments, while the Enosh centers are unique in focusing on social activities and the rigors of adjusting to daily life for the mentally ill, she said.

Mrs. Rodney, whose own daughter collapsed shortly after her tour of army duty, said that her organization services a lot of soldiers and works with the Ministry of Defense in that area. “The tensions we live in are different from (those in) other countries,” she said. “We are constantly preparing for war” and have to constantly be on guard against terrorists. “All this adds to the normal pressures” that people have to deal with, she added.

She therefore stressed the need to make mental health a “quality of life” issue in Israel. “We need a mentally well society to cope with the unique pressures,” she said.

A NEW ATTITUDE TOWARDS MENTAL HEALTH

Mrs. Rodney saw her winning of the “Beautiful Israeli” prize for this work as a sign of a new attitude towards mental health in Israel. “They’ve chosen the mentally ill as the beautiful subject of Israel. It shows how humane Israel is,” she said.

She also received the President’s Award for volunteer work in 1981. Many of those nominated for that award and all those nominated for the “Beautiful Israeli” prize are women. “The man in Israel is the soldier,” and the army has its own system of reward, Mrs. Rodney said.

Women “are doing a hell of a lot and no one’s talking about it,” she said in explaining part of the rationale for the “Beautiful Israeli” prize. “While the men are busy with the army, the women run the social (services). It’s a hell of a hard job,” she said.

This is the second year of the competition, which was patronized by Aliza Begin. This year, the campaign for the “Beautiful Israeli” was called “Aliza Begin’s Campaign” in memory of the Prime Minister’s late wife. Along with her title, Mrs. Rodney, a resident of Moshav Timorim in the Negev, received a car, a trip to Europe, a weekend at the Dan Carmel and assorted cosmetics from the Helena Rubinstein company.

Mrs. Rodney is currently organizing an international symposium on “The Future of the Mentally III in Soc- iety,” to be held in Jerusalem in October. Through the World Federation for Mental Health, she is in contact with over 300 mental health associations around the world. The symposium will represent “the first time that professionals, volunteers, families and patients will be on one platform to discuss” the current and future status of the mentally ill, according to Mrs. Rodney.

Mrs. Rodney continues her efforts to normalize the status of the mentally ill in Israeli society, in order, she said, to encourage people to seek help earlier, to give them back their self-esteem, and to support them and their families once mental illness is diagnosed. Many families of the mentally ill feel guilty about it and ashamed, and don’t talk about the problem, she said.

Mrs. Rodney, whose daughter is now the chief telephone operator at their moshav, said she and her family are “the proof that it helps the family” to talk openly about the problem. “It’s like anyone else with a problem,” she said. “But let’s face the problem and live with in a dignified way.”

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