Exemple

Guest Blogger Julie Bindeman is a reproductive psychologist, speaker and author based in Rockville, MD

One of the most familiar parts of the Passover Seder is the four sons/children. These children represent the different places in which people come to the Seder: knowing and wise; selfish (or wicked); simple (or not knowing); and the fourth is silent as he or she doesn’t know what to ask and is just taking everything in. However, this breakdown doesn’t include a fifth child missing from the Seder, whether we give voice to him or her or not. The fifth child is the child of potential: the child that those struggling with infertility are working to create or the child that almost was, but the pregnancy ended before its completion.

The biggest difference in the Passover Seder from other Jewish observances is that it isn’t expected to occur in a synagogue within a large Jewish population. It occurs in homes across the world with families and friends gathering to retell the story. People come to this holiday in all different places and spaces in life: managing their own struggles whatever they might be. As 1 in 8 couples experience infertility and 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss, it would be foolish to assume that someone struggling with these issues isn’t attending a Seder with you. These struggles tend to be silent and invisible, especially within our holiday structure.

The idea of a fifth child is not a new one. In fact, the ​Lubavitcher Rebbe​ famously spoke about the fifth son of the Pesach Seder, but in doing so, was referring to Jews who had lost their faith and strayed from being Jewish. This idea has been one that my friend ​Rabbi Uri Topolosky​ has adopted and spoken about. He includes this fifth child at his Passover Seder, but not only as the child that has lost his or her Jewish way, but also as the child that is unformed and unable to physically be at the table.

Infertility and pregnancy loss are devastating experiences that are far too common and hidden. Giving them voice can be considered to be a great act of loving-kindness since many who struggle yearn to talk about it, but are unsure how others will respond. Many people attempt to say well-intentioned refrains such as, “Just relax, and you’ll get pregnant;” “G-d only gives you what you can handle;” “This is part of G-d’s plan for you” or “Why not adopt?” Hearing such advice often has the opposite effect. Rather than connecting, these comments make people who are on a fertility journey or grieving pregnancy loss want to retreat and isolate. It confirms that others aren’t able to put themselves in their shoes or understand their pain, and reinforces the need to stay quiet about these experiences.

Including the “fifth child” at Seder reaffirms that families experiencing infertility or pregnancy losses are seen, not only by family and friends, but also by their religion. Ways to include the “fifth child” at your Seder:

The story of Passover leads to the Jews wandering for 40 years in the desert, searching for the Land of Israel. This parallels the journey of a couple struggling to build their family: looking forward with hope, waiting for it to happen, potentially lots of false turns, wondering if or when their family will be complete, until (we pray) they reach their “promised land” of fulfilling the dream to parent. Whatever their promised land turns out to be, may they have a voice at the table. Let their hopes to tell the Passover story to their children be recognized.

In honor of this fifth child or for the many other reasons people may be missing from the Passover Table, considering asking a fifth question: who is missing from our Seder?

 

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Exemple

Reproductive rights have been hijacked. When someone mentions the phrase “reproductive rights,” the first things that usually come to mind are either birth control or abortion. However, the ability to prevent pregnancy is only part of reproductive rights. What about the right to have a child? This conversation has fallen by the wayside. Ironically, every year at Rosh Hashanah, Jews assert the centrality of having children, and we would do a great service to the world if we embrace that message a little more.

A married woman’s right to sex, which means access to fertility, was codified early in Jewish tradition. Initially included in the Torah’s injunction of a husband’s minimum obligations for food, clothing and sex (Exodus 21.10), the Talmud explains the women’s right to sex through an outline of the minimum sex a husband must provide for his wife (Ketubot 61b). For sure, mortality rates were influential in that process, but essentially Judaism has always been a pro-family, pro-child tradition. Early declarations of human rights spoke of enabling people to exercise their right to determine freely and responsibly the quantity and spacing of their children, along with the means for having them (see, e.g., the UN’s 1969 Declaration on Social Progress and Development, Part 1, Article 4). The language was not exclusive to birth prevention. It was inclusive of having children. The implied shift towards prevention has painful repercussions for millions who face fertility challenges.

Rabbi Daniel Polish, a contemporary leader on interfaith dialogue, wrote in that context in the 1980s, “The recognition of the importance of human life is at the same time both integral to the Jewish faith system and the first and necessary precondition for a belief in human rights.”

On Rosh Hashanah, God is coronated, and God’s rule is epitomized through opening the Book of Life and beginning to decide who shall live and who shall die. Fertility is the ultimate example of that synthesis and exemplifies the other themes of the holiday: the birth of the world, the beginning of humanity and its frailty, and God as ultimate ruler and source of life. The first words of the Torah reading for the first day of Rosh Hashanah (Genesis 21:1-34) describe God “remembering Sarah,” meaning opening her womb to pregnancy. The Haftarah text (1 Samuel 1:1-2:10) then introduces Hannah, who is loved yet barren. She tearfully pours out her heart, God remembers her, and she has a child.

God’s ultimate power is exemplified through fertility. The connection comes together directly in a Talmudic passage:

Three keys the Holy One, blessed be [God], has retained in [God’s] own hands and not entrusted to the hand of any messenger: these are the key of rain, the key of childbirth, and the key of the revival of the dead. (Taanit 2a)

While Jews remain a little skeptical about anyone’s ability to overcome death, most of us have come to recognize our ability to affect the rains. Environmental action is real, and can affect our planet for the better. The medical community enabled assistance for reproduction. When it comes to pregnancy prevention, modern Jews have spoken out. Are the steps leading to childbirth some exception that, unlike other areas of healthcare, we should stay out? Is assistance for conceiving a child exceptional and beyond our realm of action? The politicization of all things related to reproduction, the lack of insurance coverage, and the assumption that attempts to procreate will work whenever we want all seem to have silenced the topic.

Jews have almost always been open to intervention when our bodies have not performed as intended. The Torah states “Make sure he is healed” (verapo yerapei)( Exodus 21.19) in double (repetitive) language. The Talmud gleans from the double language that not only do doctors have permission to heal, but that healing is not considered to be an intervention counter to the will of God. (Baba Kamma 85a). Much of childbirth is out of our control, but bringing healing and relief to those facing infertility is something we can address.

I experienced years of infertility before becoming a parent. I have counseled hundreds of people dealing with a variety of fertility challenges. Wanting a child and then facing the prospect of not being able to have a child brings the importance of human life front and center. One of the ultimate expressions of our Judaism, of our faith in God and humanity, is through the creation of a new life.

Support, resources and advocacy are needed for people experiencing infertility and fertility challenges.

How can you help? Awareness is important and appreciated. As Rosh Hashanah’s messages of life, fertility, creation, and God’s power come upon us, remember those who feel isolated from that message. When we wish that others be inscribed in the Book of Life, include a prayer for those hoping and praying to be a part of creating life too.

Rabbi Idit Solomon is the founder and CEO of Hasidah, a Jewish nonprofit dedicated to building awareness about infertility in the Jewish community, connecting people to resources and providing financial support for treatment. She lives in Berkeley, California with her husband and three children.

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Exemple

Early in the Exodus story Pharoah’s dApple with shallow DOFecreed hard labor for the Children of Israel and that their baby girls may live but their baby boys may not. Despite this harsh reality, they continued to have children. The Midrash teaches that this is connected to apples. The women would take their husbands to the fields to entice them. They would conceive and then return to the fields to give birth and prevent the Egyptians from killing their sons. This all happened under apple trees as it says in Song of Songs 8.5: “under the apple tree I roused you; it was there your mother conceived you, there she who bore you conceived you.”

During enslavement in Egypt, one of the ways the Children of Israel expressed their spiritual freedom was by conceiving their future. Literally. Their hope was that the next generation would serve God and not Pharoah.

Some among us, however, are not free to conceive their future. Their hopes and dreams are enslaved by fertility challenges. Infertility can feel like a form of bondage: bodies that feel broken or unable to perform as we wish, decisions that seem impossible at times to navigate, and circumstances that seem out of our control.

On Passover we eat charoset to symbolize the clay our ancestors used to hold together the bricks they were making. The charoset also represents the sweetness of their redemption to serve God. By adding apples to our charoset, we invoke these symbols as well as the connection to fertility. We connect our past, present and future with the Song of Songs, the apple trees, intimacy, conception, birth and redemption.

Meditation for making and eating charoset with apples for those experiencing fertility challenges:

God of our ancestors, our souls are afflicted.

While we may be free in most ways, our dreams of fertility seem out of reach.

With the sweetness of these apples, comes the bitter taste of disappointment and loss.

Under the apple tree – shade us with your blessings.

Under the apple tree – may we find comfort with each other.

Under the apple tree – help us conceive a hopeful future.

Creator and Redeemer of all, let this charoset strengthen our souls.

May the sweetness of its apples linger with us.

Grant us clarity and hope along the way

to redemption.

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Rosh Hashanah 5774
Hannah: A Modern Interpretation

וַיְהִי֩ אִ֨ישׁ אֶחָ֜ד מִן־הָרָֽמָתַ֛יִם צוֹפִ֖ים מֵהַ֣ר אֶפְרָ֑יִם וּשְׁמ֡וֹ אֶ֠לְקָנָ֠ה בֶּן־יְרֹחָ֧ם בֶּן־אֱלִיה֛וּא בֶּן־תֹּ֥חוּ בֶן־צ֖וּף אֶפְרָתִֽי:  וְלוֹ֙ שְׁתֵּ֣י נָשִׁ֔ים שֵׁ֤ם אַחַת֙ חַנָּ֔ה וְשֵׁ֥ם הַשֵּׁנִ֖ית פְּנִנָּ֑ה וַיְהִ֤י לִפְנִנָּה֙ יְלָדִ֔ים וּלְחַנָּ֖ה אֵ֥ין יְלָדִֽים
(1Samuel 1:1-2) Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim, of the hill-country of Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. And he had two wives: the name of one was Hannah, and the name of the second Peninnah; and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.

They were on many accounts successful. They had careers and a house and family and friends that loved them. But they had no children.


וּלְחַנָּ֕ה יִתֵּ֛ן מָנָ֥ה אַחַ֖ת אַפָּ֑יִם כִּ֤י אֶת־חַנָּה֙ אָהֵ֔ב וַֽיהֹוָ֖ה סָגַ֥ר רַחְמָֽהּ
(1:5) But to Hannah he would give a special portion, for it was Hannah he loved, but the Eternal One had shut her womb.

They saw doctors and specialists who could find nothing to repair. They ascended the ladder of interventions steadily and were lifted into the realm of Assisted Reproductive Technologies.

   וְכֵ֨ן יַֽעֲשֶׂ֜ה שָׁנָ֣ה בְשָׁנָ֗ה מִדֵּ֤י עֲלֹתָהּ֙ בְּבֵ֣ית יְהֹוָ֔ה כֵּ֖ן תַּכְעִסֶ֑נָּה וַתִּבְכֶּ֖ה
(1:7) And as he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of the God, so [Peninnah] vexed her; therefore [Hannah] wept,

And so this happened year by year. She continued to prayer for strength and health and asked God for compassion. And he began to work extra to pay for the medical bills. And life vexed them as the rest of the world seemed fecund and others with good intentions would comment. They went to more specialists, had more procedures, and had more losses. And as they slowly moved through life, pregnancies ended.

    וְהִ֖יא מָ֣רַת נָ֑פֶשׁ וַתִּתְפַּלֵּ֥ל עַל־יְהֹוָ֖ה וּבָכֹ֥ה תִבְכֶּֽה
(1:10) And she was in bitterness of soul–and prayed to the Eternal, and she wept deeply.

And her soul was in pain and she prayed to the Eternal One. And she wept bitterly.

  וְחַנָּ֗ה הִ֚יא מְדַבֶּ֣רֶת עַל־לִבָּ֔הּ רַ֚ק שְׂפָתֶ֣יהָ נָּע֔וֹת וְקוֹלָ֖הּ לֹ֣א יִשָּׁמֵ֑עַ
(1:13) Now Hannah, she spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice could not be heard;

Just before one of the IVF procedures, when she and he, the doctor and nurse, the lab technician and the assistant were present, she tried to pray for strength and health and ask God for compassion.  But only her lips moved and no words came out. So he read the words for her. And they all wept with hope.

Yet that too ended in loss.

So they began to ask God and themselves different questions.  They began to count their blessings differently. They made a commitment to help others who wanted children too but did not have such blessings.

    וַֽיִּזְכְּרֶ֖הָ יְהֹוָֽה:  וַֽיְהִי֙ לִתְקֻפ֣וֹת הַיָּמִ֔ים וַתַּ֥הַר חַנָּ֖ה וַתֵּ֣לֶד בֵּ֑ן
(1:19-20) And the Eternal remembered her. And it came to pass, when the time was come about, that Hannah conceived, and bore a son

And the Eternal One remembered her.  At the turn of the third year, blessed with the resources to secure the doctors and a clinic, a donor and nurses, and the strength to try again, they conceived. The following summer their twin daughters were born.

 וַתֹּ֨אמֶר֙ בִּ֣י אֲדֹנִ֔י חֵ֥י נַפְשְׁךָ֖ אֲדֹנִ֑י אֲנִ֣י הָֽאִשָּׁ֗ה הַנִּצֶּ֤בֶת עִמְּכָה֙ בָּזֶ֔ה לְהִתְפַּלֵּ֖ל אֶל־יְהֹוָֽה:  אֶל־הַנַּ֥עַר הַזֶּ֖ה הִתְפַּלָּ֑לְתִּי וַיִּתֵּ֨ן יְהֹוָ֥ה לִי֙ אֶת־שְׁאֵ֣לָתִ֔י אֲשֶׁ֥ר שָׁאַ֖לְתִּי מֵֽעִמּֽוֹ
(1:26-27) And she said, O my God, as you live my God, I am the woman that stood with you here to pray to the Eternal One. For this child I prayed; and the the Eternal One has granted me my petition which I asked of Him;

And when she planned to wean them, they went to the House of the Eternal One. They remembered their petitions to God and knew it was the time to fulfill the commitment of helping others. And the Hasidah Foundation was brought into life.

Hasidah comes from the root Hesed – lovingkindness. Hasidah means stork. The Hasidah Foundation’s purpose is to build Jewish families by providing financial support for Assisted Reproductive Technologies, which is the term that includes in vitro fertilization (IVF) and the many related treatments and procedures.

The reading above is the story of Hannah and Elkanah. There are many Hannahs and Elkanahs today whose prayers for children are not answered as expected. Feeling denied of the fundamental human ability of bearing children, being unable to fulfill the commandment to be fruitful and multiply, cuts deeply. Nobody is raised to think they may not be able to bear children in the traditional way. Quite the opposite – we are repeatedly cautioned of its ease.  The world of infertility then becomes dark and lonely. It is – it was – deeply personal and painful.

So there is silence, sadness, sometimes anger, and a loss of control. Balancing the hopes and the fears can become a Herculean effort.  And for some, during the difficult time of dealing with infertility, there is also an insurmountable financial barrier between them and Assisted Reproductive Technologies, which can be a potential solution.

Assisted Reproductive Technologies have been able to address many of the variables that cause infertility. Medical issues, cancer, genetic factors, male factors, female factors – there are many situations where Assisted Reproductive Technologies can provide real possibilities for having children. There is access to the procedures here in Columbus and around the country. The statistics for success are in our favor. However, the financial barrier is a real one for many. It can cost from $10K to over $40K all inclusively for one IVF cycle depending on what all is involved.

Hasidah’s goals are to build awareness about infertility in the Jewish community, to help ease the financial burden that for some is a complete barrier, and ultimately to build Jewish families.

To you who are reading this, thank you for recognizing this issue. We hope you will continue to spread awareness to those those in need and those who can help.

To the Hannahs and Elkanahs today in our community, my prayer for you is for strength, patience and hope and to know which one you need at which time.  May God and all of us hear your silent prayers and take notice of this affliction.

:וַיִּשְׁתַּ֥חוּ שָׁ֖ם לַיהֹוָֽה
(1Samuel 1:28) And they worshiped the eternal one there.

הָרַחֲמָן, הַמְרַחֵם, רַחֵם עָלֵֽינוּ
May the merciful One, Who acts mercifully, have mercy upon all of us.
Now and always.

שנה טובה
Good wishes for the New Year

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