January 17th, 2022: A Day of Great Social Psychiatric Implications


Several important events, all in 1 day.




For the past several years, I have written a brief column for our congregation’s monthly newsletter in January in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr and his relationship to the Jewish people. For this year’s day, January 17, there is a rare confluence with another anniversary, one of the Jewish people. It is Tu Bishvat, which for centuries has celebrated trees and the sacred obligation to care for our environment.

Since the Jewish calendar is Lunar-based, it is generally celebrated on different days in January. However, for 2022, this combination could not be more timely. Not only has climate instability and environmental degradation become a global crisis, but the adverse changes generally hurt poor minorities the most in terms of such problems including asphalt overheating, lead and other toxins, and a death of trees, all of which contribute to increased violence, among other adverse psychological repercussions.

Though less well-known for this issue, before he was assassinated, King was starting to address ecological justice globally. As he once said:

“It is very nice to drink milk at an unsegregated lunch counter—but not when there’s Strontium 90 in it.”

Not only do these 2 days follow closely on the heels of the Texas Jewish congregation tragedy, but in Illinois, January 17th is also the inaugural birthday day honoring Muhammed Ali, the famous boxer and peace activist. Furthermore, January 17th had a full moon, often thought to cause mental disturbance, though there is no conclusive research evidence for that. We also are not too far past the first anniversary of the January 6th storming of our Capitol, and close to the upcoming anniversary of the assassination of Gandhi by a fellow Hindu fundamentalist.

Personally, as my sister JoJo reminded me, this year, January 17th, coincides with the Yahrzeit of my mother Misha, which is the beginning of the annual time of Jewish remembrance of loved ones. She was—and is—our family’s Tree of Life.

Perhaps the best way for psychiatry to honor all these interconnected special occurrences is to use our expertise to participate in how society can reduce the scapegoating that hurts those at highest risk of harm, and enhance cooperation for the well-being of all living things.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric TimesTM.

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