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Yom Kippur, Hawaii and Infertility

Self-blame is often an uninvited guest at an infertility experience. It sometimes tags along with curiosity. Is this because I was on birth control pills? Sometimes it just walks in the front door. I waited too long. I didn’t take care of my body. I didn’t eat well. Other times you don’t see it come in and it is just there. I must deserve this.

Yom Kippur is an entire day for the Jewish people to confess all their mistakes to God, make amends, and return to better ways. The Hebrew word for this is teshuvah, which means return. This return is meant to be a return to God and Godly ways. The process traditionally includes stopping the offending behaviors or thoughts, regretting them, asking forgiveness from the person you wronged, and committing to not repeating the mistakes. Regret followed by asking another for forgiveness, however, skips over a crucial step: self-forgiveness.

Forgiveness requires relationship. One does not ask their sister for forgiveness for breaking their neighbor’s power tool. You ask your neighbor. One does not ask forgiveness of God for arguing with another person. You ask that person. In turn, we turn to God for sins that are an affront to God: being jealous, haughty and xenophobia. Yet feelings of untrustworthiness or being a bad friend may remain in one’s own heart. One can do the steps of teshuva and still harbor self-blame.

Some things in life, like infertility, are not as simple as a power tool. Infertility often leads to deeper and more complex guilt intertwined with loss and longing. The self-blame is sometimes subtle and sometimes overwhelming. However, the full process for addressing remains the same.

Two years ago I went to Hawaii to lead Yom Kippur services. Next year in Hawaii, I quipped as I flew home.  This past year, Hawaii came to me.  Someone taught me about a Hawaiian ritual that over time evolved – or perhaps was simplified – into the Ho’oponono prayer. It comes from a Hawaiian healing tradition. It is linked in part to Hala, the Hawaiian concept to miss the thing aimed for, or to err, to disobey. This is similar to the hebrew word het, which rather than sin, means to miss the mark. The prayer also fits beautifully into the process of teshuvah. More to the point, it allows space for forgiveness in all relationships, including with one’s self.

This prayer has the power to work for a broken tool and for self-blame. Assume for a moment that it makes no difference if you waited too long to have children or if you stayed in good enough physical condition to have children. Or whether or not the broken tool really was the result of an accident or not. It simply is the situation and that cannot be changed. What makes a difference is that you are blaming yourself. You feel you have done wrong.

If you are able, bring something to mind that is lingering with you. Then say this prayer in your heart:

I’m sorry
Please forgive me
Thank you
I love you

You may ask, to whom do I direct this? Direct it to whoever you need to say it. Psychologists have written about the power of this prayer, the power of its directness and simplicity (not to be confused with ease). We focus our view of situations around ourselves. We see ourselves as flawed. We see the world or some external force as preventing us from moving forward. Yet, it is okay to have made mistakes. More often it is our own minds that need changed. Our hearts need compassion. Our souls need to be cleansed.

I’m sorry
Please forgive me
Thank you
I love you

Keep saying it. Say it slowly. Say it quickly. Say it directed to another. Say it directed to yourself. Then say it again until you feel movement inside your heart or your body. It is a movement towards healing. And maybe you need to repeat this later today, or tomorrow, or next week and keep releasing it. Returning to ourselves is an ongoing process. Some make a practice of saying it every day.

Starting with yourself prepares you to ask others for forgiveness.  Or God. In your compassion for yourself, you are able to be open with others.  Either way the release will allow you to move forward in your life and your decisions. The change that is needed, the change within you, will happen.

On Yom Kippur, invite in the memories of all the mistakes, perceived or real. Or any time of year when the uninvited guests arrive – self-blame, doubt, guilt or regret – welcome them gently. Invite them on a trip with you. To Hawaii. Acknowledge your guests.

I’m sorry
Please forgive me
Thank you
I love you

Welcome yourself back. You are ready to reach to others and to God from your place of return.

 

https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/yom-kippur-hawaii-and-infertility/

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“Passover” is known by four names – the Festival of Freedom, Passover, the Festival of Matzah and the Spring Holiday. These four names are linked to four spiritual levels. The Feast of Freedom represents our physical freedom. Passover (sacrifice/shank bone) represents the ability to rise above our animal needs and do the right thing. The Festival of Matzah is about our intellectual freedom, our ability to let go and think expansively (think yeast that rises). The last and highest level is Hag HaAviv, the Spring Holiday when the earth comes back to life, which represents our freedom from fear leading to our renewal.

Experience with infertility, like many challenging experiences, can feel like slavery on some levels.  Bodies, minds, and spiritual connections can be tied up and feel out of control in many ways. Passover reminds us that opportunities are always available to free ourselves and ultimately that freedom comes from within.

May this Passover season help elevate you in freedom of body, mind and spirit and lead you away from your fears towards renewal.

Hag Kasher v’Sameach – Happy Passover!

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The COVID19 pandemic came at an interesting time on the Jewish calendar. Something very important can be learned from this.

The period of time between Passover, celebrating the Exodus from Egypt, and Shavuot, celebrating receiving Torah at Mount Sinai, is a time of counting. Bundles of wheat were brought to the Temple. The portion was called an Omer. To count the seven weeks of seven days from Passover to Shavuot was also counting the Omer – the offerings brought as part of the harvest holidays.

Over time these seven weeks gained mystical significance. Each week was identified with a different attribute of God such as strength, beauty and loving-kindness (Hesed – one of our favorites at Hasidah!). We are in the fourth week of this counting and come to a timely attribute: endurance (Netzakh).

The Hebrew word netzakh also implies eternity and fortitude. We are currently experiencing a pandemic and if you are reading this you are likely facing infertility or other family building challenges, which can feel like a marathon of endurance, lasting forever and testing your fortitude.

The Hebrew Prophet Samuel refers to God as Netzakh Yisrael (Eternal of Israel – Samuel 1 15:29) to show that God is one who stands firm, not wavering. Who among us can say that during these times we do not waver? These are challenging times.  With a lot of alone time and the doors temporarily close, the doubts creep in. The sadness and the worry come too. Endurance is tested.

Yet, netzakh is an attribute that is essential to cultivate now. Endurance does not mean an adherence to an unrealistic stringency or standard and it also doesn’t mean to simply accept whatever comes. Endurance is to hold firm and steady to that which is important and essential.

Endurance requires patience. It requires that we can sometimes look past the small stuff and keep our eye on that which is truly important. It also means caring for ourselves to make sure we can continue to endure.

If becoming a parent is truly important, the shelter in place, the closing of clinics, the stopping of treatment might be one of the hardest tests of your patience.  It is time to nurture your endurance. Connect to that which is eternal to you. Connect to the Eternal.

A short meditation. Find a quiet space and sit comfortably:

  • Give yourself a few moments to remember the essential goodness of who you are that will endure no matter what.
  • Take another moment to connect to your body. As long as you are alive, you are in it together with that body and you need to endure together.
  • One more moment to hear your breath. Your source of life. Your source of connection to The Eternal. That connection endures. You can endure.

May we all continue to endure and reach Sinai together.

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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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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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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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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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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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