By: Eli Novick  | 

Hundreds Gather Together at Active Minds’ 14th Annual Stomp Out the Stigma

Approximately 900 students, alumni, faculty and guests filled Lamport Auditorium on Feb. 27 for the 14th annual Stomp Out the Stigma (SOTS), advertised as “one of YU’s biggest events of the year.” Hosted by the Active Minds club, the event’s goal is to destigmatize mental illness and to encourage those who need help to seek it out by having three students take the stage and share their personal mental health journeys of struggle and perseverance.

The night began with Avraham Frohlich (YC ‘25), co-president of Active Minds, who reminded everyone in the crowd that “you are not alone” and then introduced YU President Ari Berman. Berman acknowledged that the past several months have been extremely difficult for the Jewish people, and therefore thanked everyone in the “room packed with courage and bravery” for coming to find “healing in an increasingly chaotic world.” “Healing … begins with a sense of community,” he remarked, and explained that the night was an opportunity to “find words” when everyone else has found themselves speechless.

Next, Dr. Yael Muskat, director of the YU Counseling Center, spoke about the importance of the night’s programming. She shared that 30% of college students have received a mental health diagnosis, in addition to the many others who are dealing with undiagnosed struggles, which can be suffocating under all the stigma and judgment that accompanies mental illness. The importance of SOTS, therefore, is to shatter those stigmas and allow students who are struggling to feel the “solidarity, love and compassion” of their classmates.

Dr. Muskat then introduced Jeffrey Schottenstein, a philanthropist and generous benefactor of Yeshiva University. Schottenstein, who together with his wife, Ariella, founded the Jeffrey Schottenstein Program for Resilience at Ohio State University to support students struggling with mental illness, also donated light blue “Stomp Out the Stigma” sweatshirts and a book entitled “The Art of Being You,” which is about “unlocking inner greatness and discovering true joy,” to be distributed to every attendee of the event.

Schottenstein began with a question: “Do you like my new jacket?” His jacket, he explained, was a metaphor for a coverup that many of those struggling with mental illness use to hide their struggles. He explained how he struggled with depression, anxiety and OCD when he was in college. Over the years he has thankfully sought out help and has gotten a new jacket, “replacing the jacket of shame and stigma” with one that can express — not hide — everything underneath. 

To begin the main part of the night, Rikki Kolodny (SCW ‘24), a former speaker herself, took the stage to introduce Ruchama Benhamou (SCW ‘24). Benhamou, who presented herself with confidence and charisma, bluntly told the crowd that it “is all an illusion.” She  spoke about her “logical and rational mind” that had prevented her from noticing the “intense emotional decline” that accompanied her parents divorce, move to Los Angeles and transition into college. Her college years, though disguised as normal, were burdened by “the weight of [her] thoughts,” and left her without the will to eat, sleep, get out of bed or even live. Eventually, thanks to her sister who “saw through her ruse” and informed her parents of her situation, she got the help she needed and was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and OCD. Benhamou explained that “we don’t choose the burdens we carry,” and that she learned to embrace and face her diagnoses instead of running away from them because “everywhere we go, we take ourselves with us.” Benhamou finished by challenging the crowd “to speak up. Not on a podium, not to a wide audience. To yourself.”

Next, Miriam Bluth (SCW ‘24), a third-time student liaison for SOTS, introduced Deena Zar (SSSB ‘26), who described her journey with an eating disorder and self-harm. She opened by painting the scene of her 17th birthday which she spent in the emergency room connected to IVs, malnourished and with cuts on her arms. Zar described the “diet culture” of her childhood home, which was filled with healthy eating and rampant exercise. The pressures of this environment introduced her to her new frenemy “Anna,” the name she cleverly gave her anorexia. Anna told her to stop eating and spend more time in the gym because “People will only be friends with you…when you look smaller.” To cope with the Anna-induced pain and self-hate, Zar began cutting herself on her bedroom floor “depressingly lit by my dim closet lights.”

Deena shared a powerful poem she wrote about the all-consuming, overwhelming fear that devoured her during this period of her life and explained to the audience that (and made them repeat after her) “eating disorders have nothing to do with food.” They’re irrational and psychological. She described her long recovery to where she is now, an optimist who wakes up every morning excited to “slay the day ahead of [her],” who has a healthy relationship with her parents, with Hashem and, most importantly, with herself. She shared with the crowd to remember that the goal in life is “progress, not perfection.”

Lastly, Sam Weinberg (YC ‘25), who was introduced by Eli Novick (YC ‘26), got up to share his story. Weinberg recalled how after the tragic passing of his friend Donny Morris at Meron, he, “like Barbie, started to become plagued with irrepressible thoughts of death.” Navigating his survivor’s guilt, Sam’s next several months were filled with attempts at seeking help and a breakdown that left him bedridden. Weinberg emphasized the difficulty of finding a therapist who is a good fit, and spoke about his eventual path towards finding joy, which involved both medication and the realization “that my wellbeing was something worth pursuing.” Sam lightened the mood with many witty jokes and pop cultural references, and concluded by telling the crowd that he would consider his speech a success if people walk away realizing that they are “not alone in [their] painful experiences” and that “those around [them] may be struggling with things they may be concealing.”

To conclude, Yael Berger (SCW ‘24), co-president of Active Minds, concluded by thanking the Office of Student Life, the Counseling Center, and everyone else who made the night possible. “We host this event every year,” she shared after the fact, “to break the silence, to show the YU community that although mental illness may not be visible from an outsider’s perspective, you are seen and you are heard. We show up for our friends at Stomp Out the Stigma because no one should have to suffer alone.”

Maia Purow (SCW ‘25), co-president of Active Minds, reflected that “after being an audience member at Stomp Out the Stigma last year and being completely moved and impacted by the speakers, I knew I wanted to get involved in Active Minds.” She shared how grateful she is to have been able to show the student body that “they are not alone in their struggles and that you never really know what people are going through.” 

Hopefully others, like Maia, have walked away from the event with the desire to “change the way we view mental health on campus.”

The Counseling Center, which co-sponsored the event, assists students struggling with mental health. Its services, complementary to students, can be accessed by contacting the office by email or through its website.


Photo Caption: Lamport Auditorium filled with students attending Active Minds’ SOTS event

Photo Credit: Yeshiva University