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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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On the last night of Passover, the participants at the retreat I attended shared reflections on Passover themes. What were our journeys? What made us feel liberated? One woman, while describing the diversity of participants in our newly formed community, referred to me as a nursing mother. Me? Ironically, moments earlier I had leaned over to my husband and recalled how the first of many IVF treatments in our fertility journey occurred the day before Passover Seder. Our Seder that year was minimal but hopeful as I lay on the couch on bed rest. The hope ended when I had a miscarriage several weeks later on Mother’s Day.  The experience was a hard one and my identity will always be connected to years of infertility. Nursing mother, even just mother, is not an identity I wear easily or take for granted.
 
On this Mother’s Day, if you are a mother, please take this day to appreciate the gift you have been given. Not everyone gets to share in the experience. Consider making a contribution to Hasidah (www.hasidah.org/donate) to help those who yearn for that identity and are struggling along the way.
 
If you are not a mother and are hoping to become one, please know you are not alone, that others have been on the journey, and that we care and want to support you along the way.
 
Wherever you are on the motherhood journey, may Mother’s Day come with blessings for you.
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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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