By Meira (Rachel) Entin
On Tuesday, March 1, 2022, Stomp Out the Stigma, one of Yeshiva University’s largest events with 500 registered to attend, took place in Lamport Auditorium on the Wilf campus. Gathering students, alumni, faculty, and heads of school such as President Berman, Deans Nissel, Asher, Bacon, Bednarsh, Pine, and Halpern, Stomp Out the Stigma gives a small group of Yeshiva University students the chance to share their mental health experiences with the audience.
Stomp Out the Stigma is run by Active Minds, an official Yeshiva University club and branch of the Active Minds organization, which works to destigmatize and normalize mental health and illness. Dean Nissel, who first initiated this event a few years after the Yeshiva University Active Minds chapter was founded in 2007, told the YU Observer that it “started as a much smaller program, with perhaps 50 students and quickly grew to hundreds of students.” Active Mind’s co-presidents, Sarina Hilowitz (SCW ‘22), Shay Fishman (YC ‘23), and Yael Berger (SCW ‘23), worked tirelessly to bring Stomp Out the Stigma 2022 to life, along with other members of the club, student liaisons, and members of Yeshiva Universities Counseling Center, notably Dr. Debra Alper.
After a brief introduction, President Ari Berman began by speaking about empathy, the pain of watching people we love struggle with mental illness, and the value of sharing. While, as President Berman noted, we are unable to ever fully understand another’s experience, we had gathered as a community to further understand and honor the particular pain and struggle of the individuals who would soon share their stories. Following this reiteration of Yeshiva University’s deep commitment to and care for its students, Sarina Hillowitz (SCW ‘22), senior co-president of Active Minds briefly introduced the program. Sarina began by framing coming together in solidarity for Stomp Out the Stigma as an expression of the value of imitatio dei– following in G-d’s path of kindness.
Eli Sandhaus (YC ‘24), Gabe Gross (YC ‘24), and Shay Fishman (YC ‘23, co-president Active Minds) then individually addressed the large, yet notably silent crowd. Each speaker was introduced by the student liaison who had worked with him in developing his speech and then took to the stage to speak about his mental health journey in his own unique way. While one speaker debuted with the rap “Leave Me Alone” by NF, which expresses the experience of struggling with mental illness blasting throughout the otherwise silent room while he faced the crowd, another began by quoting Rav Soloveitchik on loneliness. Sharing with remarkable clarity of voice and narrative, the speakers spoke about their mental illnesses and their development, what growing up with these mental illnesses was like, and some events that have greatly affected them. Addressing the duality of mental illness and their experiences as being major facets of their lives, and yet not constituting their whole selves, the audience was left relating to the speakers primarily as friends– friends who had encountered great pain and struggle. The speakers touched on themes of responsibility, expressing that they were picking up the mic and telling their personal story, epitomizing vulnerability, to help others. These three speakers, in their commitment to sharing and strength in doing so, have given the attendees a window to look into and to, this time, feel less alone.
Reflecting on the event, one student who chose to remain anonymous (SCW ‘25) expressed to the Observer that while one of the speakers was speaking about traumatic events that he had endured she “had the merit to almost tangibly feel the Shechina [divine presence] even though I’m not naturally sensitive to spirituality at all…I had learned, especially from the Aish Kodesh Hy”d, that Hashem [G-d] is with us in the darkest places; in the most excruciating pains, there He is. And perhaps, while [one of the speakers] spoke, and the collective Jewish soul re-experienced his true nightmare, the Shechina came to give us company. ‘Imo anochi b’tzara’ [I will be with you in distress (Psalms 91:15].”
Regardless of spiritual inclination, Stomp Out the Stigma reminded us of the cyclical nature of support. The speakers expressed their motivation to show others who struggle that they are not alone, and as one speaker shared at the end of his speech, in doing so he felt newly supported. As the crowd stood up in respect to applaud each speaker, they conveyed this message of support and recognition to every individual in the crowd. And perhaps, most importantly, someone in the crowd was able to finally applaud their own struggle and strength.
Dr. Yael Muskat, director of Yeshiva Universities Counseling Center, delivered the evening’s closing remarks. Emphasizing that while not everyone has a mental illness, everyone has mental health and will struggle with it at some point. She stressed the importance of not thinking in a “them and us” mindset when it comes to matters of the mind and reminded the audience of the mental health support available to all students at Yeshiva University. While it is easy to assess the need for support in the black and white way that Dr. Muskat warned against, it nevertheless is disingenuous to reality. Hannah Pollak (SCW ‘25) shared that “the challenges shared that night were ‘objectively’ more ‘extreme’ than mine… However, once I’m able to understand that my personal journey is not supposed to be measured according to his or her journey, I’m able to validate what I’m going through and appreciate the heroism of my story; despite the ‘size’ of my issue relative to yours.”
In addition to raising awareness and opening up the conversation amongst the student body, Dr. Shaina Trapedo (Straus Center Scholar in Residence, SCW Professor) remarked that this “powerful and empowering” event “furthered the important task of better understanding who’s in the classrooms.” In reflecting on Active Mind’s hopes for Yeshiva University moving forward co-president Sarina Hillowitz (SCW’22) shared with the YU Observer that “the turnout [to Stomp Out the Stigma] alone shows that de-stigmatization is being implemented and that people are being there for their fellow students” and that she “hopes that this will be increased even more.” Dean Nissel, in correspondence with the Observer, said, “The student speakers benefit from the support they receive, and the community benefits from greater awareness and ‘normalization’ of mental illness. I have tremendous respect and admiration for each and every one of the student speakers over the years.”
If you are in need of assistance please contact 911 or:
National Hatzalah Volunteer Corps: (212) 230-1000
Beren Campus Security: (212) 340-7709
Wilf Campus Security: (212) 960-5200
Cardozo Campus Security: (212) 790-0303
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
To learn more about YU’s Counseling Center and schedule an appointment visit: https://www.yu.edu/student-life/counseling
To find a mental health professional visit:
To get a referral for a mental health professional visit:
Photo Credit: David Khabinsky