Ethan Silverman says he hates the saying, “Everything happens for a reason.”
After his mother passed away in his sophomore year of high school, someone told him this.
He said he thought, “What’s wrong with you? Why do you say that to me?”
But he said he lives by the saying, “You learn from everything you do.”
Silverman, a junior at the University of Florida, has faced a variety of challenges in his 21 years. His mother was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer when he was 4 years old and was given six months to live, but outlived her by 12 years. His parents divorced when he was 7 years old. He did not have a good relationship with his brother. And during the winter break of the first year of college, he fell into darkness and depression.
“I felt like there was no way out of it,” he said. “There was no light at the end of the tunnel.”
Silverman said he found himself again thanks to the help of family, friends and medical professionals. He said that all these moments in his life made him realize that he wants to help people.
In the fall, Silverman went to UF Hillel and spoke to Rabbi and Executive Director Yonas Zinn about his interest in incorporating mental health and wellness into the program there. UF Hillel staff were responsive, and now Silverman and Kara Levin, associate of engagement at UF Hillel, have created the UF Hillel Wellness Initiative.
“It’s important that we’re doing everything we can to find and support students wherever they are physically, mentally, emotionally, geographically,” said Jamie Zinn, UF Hillel’s chief assessment officer.
“This is what we live for. We exist to serve students.
The main goal of the movement is in its mission statement: to promote the application of mental health practices in the lives of students, especially in the Jewish community. This semester events have officially started.
One of the initiatives that started the initiative is “Healthy Wednesdays,” where event members and supporters show their presence on campus by raising awareness and taking action in Tullington or America’s Plaza in high-traffic areas.
“We always have people come and sit with us from the big UF Hillel tent and blankets,” Levin said. “And you don’t have to be Jewish, which is a beautiful thing. We are open to the community at large.
On the first Wellness Wednesday, February 22, people in the tent made terrariums.
Silverman said it was at this point that he realized what he was doing was important.
“People were saying, ‘Wow, I really want this,'” he said. “That’s when it hit me. This is an issue that needs to continue.
Eden Eyal, a sophomore at UF, is an ambassador for the safety initiative.
He says he’s been involved in Jewish organizations since he was young, and says he’s found the power of connection from those experiences.
Being a part of this initiative served as a further reminder to examine himself and those important to him, he said.
“I’m definitely proud to be a part of the Jewish community, and I think these initiatives that Hillel is doing will humanize the Jewish community,” he said.
Emerson Finkel, program manager at Hillel International’s Center for Student and Staff Wellness, said UF Hillel is excited to bring mental health and wellness to campus.
Hillel International has provided grants to various Hillels to launch similar initiatives.
Finkel said Hillel is launching a grant program aimed at hiring clinical social workers and Hillel professionals to support students’ mental health and well-being. These grants will be awarded in the next week or so.
“I really like that the initiative at UF started with a student coming up to the Hillel staff and saying this is something that’s important to me, and I want to see it happen,” Finkel said. “Some of the most successful programs at Hillel are really driven by the needs of the students and the students.”
Silverman and Levine said they want to grow the initiative.
Levine said she wants to build on the event’s desire to be more consistent and collaborate with other organizations on campus “because it’s not just the Jewish community that needs health.” It’s everybody.”
Silverman said he likes to bring in guest speakers to educate students about mental health and wellness.
“Given the significant mental health challenges that many students face, it’s important to be able to help students in this way,” said Jonas Zinn.
Silverman said his goal is to become a child therapist in the future. Currently, he says, he is focused on helping people in any way he can.
He said he will follow his word.
“You learn from everything,” he said.