Some of the participants from Hasidah’s Las Vegas Infertility Awareness and Support Training

Rabbi Idit Solomon facilitated a training in Las Vegas for Rabbis and other Jewish professionals who work with young adults including Jewish Family Services Agency. Participants learned about issues people face when struggling with infertility. They explored the emotional and spiritual trials that come up and how to address them as well as ways to make their community more sensitive and inclusive. Thanks to the Las Vegas Board of Rabbis and Jewish Family Services Association for your support!

  • “Hasidah brings the all-too-common hidden heartache of infertility into the daylight of informed conversation and educated support.”
  • “This training is vital for clergy and other Jewish professionals because it offers a gateway to a certain level of empathy for those who are in the process of building their Jewish family.”

Let us know if your community could benefit from sensitivity and awareness training around infertility and other family building issues. We would be happy to arrange for a program near you.

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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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Is egg freezing a good thing? A recent article in the Forward by Amy Klein explores the personal stories of a growing number of Jewish women considering egg freezing. Egg freezing  is empowering for some, a relief for others and scary for others. For cancer patients it ought to be a given option.  For the general population, however, more questions are in order.

Egg freezing may add to the societal pressure on women’s bodies. We cannot treat women’s bodies as machines that can simply have parts temporarily preserved. As with all technologies that have the potential for good, society needs to change too. How we think about family building needs to change. The attitude of work versus family needs to change. The role of men in all of this needs to be discussed. How can we stop the I-never-thought-about-it, now-it-is-getting-late and we-can-control-it-all rat race and begin to have meaningful conversations with young people about the role of fertility and family?

To be sure this is not about blaming women for taking the opportunity to utilize this amazing technology to help them preserve their chances of motherhood. For sure, egg freezing has benefits and women absolutely deserve and have the right to control their bodies and their fertility. However, most technologies have unintended consequences as well as negative effects and it is important to consider them. Some of those are the issues about careers, fertility, family building, parenting, gender roles, and the politics of women’s bodies that are not being addressed. Let us not utilize this technology to prevent these conversations from happening.  These conversations are needed – early, openly and often – to empower women from the start. Not just to justify looking at the the freezer for a back up.

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Many find mikveh to be a place of healing and rejuvenation. Being part of the practice of for married women to immerse in a mikvah after menstruation before have relations with her husband, mikveh is intimately tied to fertility. However, for those experiencing fertility challenges, it can be a painful reminder that conception has not occurred.

Our partners at Yesh Tikvah have recently worked with the Eden Center to produce a booklet called “Birkat Emunah: A Mikvah Resource” (the title means “Blessing of Faith”), which provides prayers (in Hebrew and English), practical suggestions and personal stories to help women gain more control over their mikveh experience while facing infertility or pregnancy loss. Read more about the launch as published in the Forward or download the booklet.

 

 

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Hasidah’s name which means “stork” comes from the Hebrew word hesed, which means loving-kindness. Loving-kindness is showing support when people need it in the way they need it. Loving-kindness is maintaining their dignity while they are in need and in the process of helping them. Loving-kindness is helping them without making them beg for it. 

Every one of these baby crowd funding campaigns is a lost opportunity for the Jewish community to show loving-kindness, something we do so well for many other circumstances. Wanting to have a child is a basic desire that most of us understand without much explanation. Yet, we let people beg: Help me fund a chance to have a baby!

Thanks to the Forward for highlighting this issue. Let us know what you think – if the Jewish community will spend billions on trips to Israel in the name of the birthright, how can we direct support for the birthrate?

 

 

 

 

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Traditionally called the Season of Joy, Sukkot is inherently wrapped in fertility. Historically and religiously associated with agriculture, Sukkot is a harvest festival celebrating the fertility of the earth. Living in booths (Sukkot) commemorates the Israelite’s wanderings in the desert. Their temporary and unstable nature also reminds of of how fragile our lives and the world is.

The special reading done for this holiday is from Kohelet, which begins, “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born, a time to die…”

Fertility and the fragility are related. Those of us who have experienced fertility challenges know this all too well. But time plays a role as well. Most of it during a fertility journey seems to be spent waiting. A time to wait… and another time to wait. But Kohelet’s perspective can be helpful during fertility challenges. The verses continue that there is “A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Indeed all things under heaven have a time and a purpose. While fertility can feel all consuming, we do have other purposes in life. And time will continue. The message of fragility at this season is also a reminder of what endures. Our choice to laugh or cry endures. Our ability to reach out to another for support when we mourn and to dance when there is joy endures.

So if this Season of Joy seems hard to reach for you, if you are intimately feeling the fragility of the fertility world, remember there is a purpose for you in this world. Feel the enduring presence of your self and your ability to laugh and cry. And if you are mourning, know too that there will be a time to dance.

Always, there will be time.

Chag Sukkot Sameach – Warm wishes for a joyous Sukkot Holiday

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FINAL CALL FOR APPLICATIONS!

Co-sponsored by The Red Stone and Hasidah, four $500 grants for individuals and couples in the Washington DC area for fertility and adoption related expenses are available. Applications can be downloaded at www.theredstone.org and are due November 2 (paperwork from doctors/adoption agencies can come later). Email amy@theredstone.org with questions.

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The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are called the Days of Awe. They are traditionally filled with reflection as we prepare to stand before God On Yom Kippur in judgement of our actions. The “awe” in Hebrew is meant to capture both the amazement and the fear of standing before God.
 
These days are reminiscent of the waiting period endured between fertility treatments and the following pregnancy test. The time is filled with a mix of awe about what might be happening, a heavy dose of fear that the intervention did not work, and sometimes a gnawing sense of impending judgement about ourselves and our situation.
 
So at this time of year particularly, with the Days of Awe passing slowly and the themes of fertility filling the liturgy, we are especially sending our thoughts and prayers to those among us who are struggling with infertility and fertility challenges.
 
The High Holiday prayers are recited in the plural (we) to make sure everyone knows they are not alone in their mistakes and in their ability to change. So too does Hasidah stand with you. You are not alone. Let our collective prayers ascend higher in hopes of wholeness and peace wherever the fertility journey takes you.
 
May your comings and going during this season and all of the Days of Awe be in peace and may you be inscribed for a good and sweet New Year.
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Rabbinic Students in Pastoral Care Class at American Jewish University

Rabbinic Students in Pastoral Care Class at American Jewish University

Rabbi Idit Solomon presented at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, American Jewish University and the Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles this week.

Part of Hasidah’s mission is to build a robust network within the Jewish community to provide support for people throughout their fertility journey. Clergy and communal professional leaders play a critical role in building awareness and inclusion and being a source of support and resources when people face difficult times. The seminars helped  future rabbis, cantors, chaplains and faculty gain awareness about infertility and develop skills for providing people experiencing infertility and fertility challenges with emotional and spiritual support.
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Hasidah’s Rabbi Idit Solomon served as one of the advisers for G-dcast’s  latest life cycle video: Questions about Jewish Adoption and Surrogacy

G-dCast’s mission in producing the video: Making a path towards parenting easier on everyone, this animated short answers a few of the common Jewish questions about Adoption and Surrogacy.

Thanks G-dCast for bringing awareness to this important issue!

 

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