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The term reproductive rights has too often become synonymous with abortion rights. “Reproductive rights” are not seen as such in Judaism. A more expansive view of reproductive rights is important for understanding Judaism’s stance on the issue. It is also essential because Jewish views include the painfully overlooked population of those facing infertility and other family building challenges.

The first reason to expand beyond reproductive rights is because Judaism has historically focused on obligations above rights. The Jewish approach to the American focus on rights is almost always on how rights protect a Jewish person’s ability to perform their obligations, whether it’s the obligation to pay fair wages, to have access to kosher food, or to care for the earth. These issues are more often aligned with concepts of pursuing justice (economic, food or environmental justice). Justice includes a context and focuses on solutions and actions. Those actions being our obligations.  One of those actions/obligations is having children and having them safely.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has clear language when it discusses reproductive priorities and rights. People ought to have “the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so.” That would be inclusive of pregnancy prevention, abortion, and fertility support. They continue, “These rights rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly on the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means.”  Again, this is the means to have children. It is inclusive of, yet far beyond, abortion.

Similar to the WHO view, Jews have a responsibility to their own health and wellbeing. Put them together and this makes pursuing the whole gamut of reproductive health care an issue of justice. This includes an obligation, yes obligation, to have an abortion when a women’s health is at risk. This also includes treatment for infertility and other family building challenges.

Focusing reproductive rights so heavily on abortion moves the narrative to its most restrictive and narrow view. “Life at conception” is not a Jewish view. Prioritizing an embryo over a woman’s life is not a Jewish view. Not supporting assisted reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination is not a Jewish view. When focused on abortion and life at conception, other important issues are ignored. For example, some forms of contraception can save lives and, of all ironies, are needed for the success of assisted reproductive technologies in order to have a baby.

One cannot be denied the access or means of planning their family and having a child. This is the Jewish view. God created humanity with the divine gift of reproduction. For sure, abortion is necessary and extremely important to fight for. Reproductive rights/freedom/justice also means fighting for people facing infertility and other family building challenges.

On this #ReproShabbat, stand up for reproductive rights. All of them. Prioritize maternal health and reproductive health in general. Create access to the means for all reproductive care. And protect those who want to have children too.

By Rabbi Idit Solomon
Founder, Hasidah

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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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By guest columnist Dr. Karen Wasserstein

What to do with another New Year? Being Jewish, I celebrate two New Years. Is it lucky to have two New Years or is it unlucky?

My family and I fully celebrate Rosh Hashanah as the Jewish New Year. We spend the month ahead of time talking about it, shopping and cooking for it, wishing everyone we see a Happy New Year. We greet each other with hopes for a year of growth, prosperity and blessing and readily accept those blessings in return. We wish each other a Shana Tova Umtukah, that we should have a sweet new year.

And then, about three and a half months later, as January rolls around, we bring in the New Year — again. We wind down the previous year and watch retrospectives on tv of the year in review. We watch as father time becomes an old man (with a sash with last year’s date) and turns into a newborn (with a sash with the new year date). We watch a ball drop in Times Square, get together with friends, wish each other a “Happy New Year!” and hope for a new year of promise, of potential and of hope for all of our dreams.

What both New Years have in common is a looking back on the last year and a look forward into the New Year. How was the last year? Did our dreams and hopes get fulfilled? Did we have a year of health? Of growth? How did our relationships weather last year and are they ready for the next one?

When one is facing fertility challenges, the New Year can powerfully remind us of all that has happened in the last year– and all that has not happened. Has another week, month, year gone by where there was no pregnancy? Was there loss? How many New Years will I face without knowing what my family will look like? How am I (or we) weathering this time? Am I ready to start another New Year plowing ahead on my fertility journey? This is when having two New Years can feel difficult, not so lucky. Another year gone by without having the family I am dreaming of and working so hard to build.

But on the other hand, maybe I have hope, even cautious hope. Maybe as I can turn the page, the last year which had its share of pain and disappointment can come to completion, and I can move into the next year with the potential for more, even as I know that I have no answers and no guarantees. I can take the lessons of last year as I move ahead. Maybe my partner and I have learned how to cope together in a way that we had not had a year ago. Maybe I have developed a network of others, or I attend a support group where I feel held up and able to face another day. This is when having two New Years can feel lucky; two opportunities to turn the page, to start again.

Every year builds on the one before. We are ever changed by the past and still try to live in the present. Overall, new beginnings are important. Some years, I would like to find even more New Years to celebrate– to help me pause and take a breath as I start a new beginning. But for now, I’ll stick with the two I’ve got.

A Happy New Year to all — may it bring you growth and fulfillment in all areas of your life.

Dr. Karen Wasserstein is a psychologist in Maryland and Virginia specializing in the area of fertility and family building. She can be reached at drkwasserstein@gmail.com

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This column originally appeared in The Jewish News of Northern California , November 12, 2019

 

Several months ago, I was asked to speak at an event for Hasidah, a Berkeley-based nonprofit that “raises awareness of infertility, connects people to support resources and reduces financial barriers to [fertility] treatment in the Jewish community,” according to its website.

I so wish my family had known about this agency’s work when we were struggling with these issues.

I care about helping build Jewish families. So many of us take for granted that when we are ready to build a family and have a child, it will happen. I know from my own family’s experience that it doesn’t always work so easily, or economically.

Topics such as infertility were rarely spoken about until recently.

Growing up, I knew our past generations had hard times, but my life and the future seemed simple. College, career, get married, have kids, be a mom, then a grandmother.

Fast forward. It was not so easy.

Seeing one’s children struggle with their health or struggle to create a family — it was not easy at all.

One of my daughter’s struggles began in high school with severe abdominal pain. Today we see commercials on TV about endometriosis, but 20 years ago I had never even heard the word. Many years went by — years of tests and surgeries and different doctors — with no diagnosis. Finally, one doctor was able to give her an experimental drug that took away her fertility for five years (ages 20 to 25) with the hope that it would just “pop back.”

Through all those appointments, shots and bone-density scans, the fear of “what if fertility doesn’t come back” was always looming, And there was no place to talk about it. Yes, her fertility returned, as UCSF had hoped, and she and her husband went on to have a family.

Then my other daughter married and learned she had issues getting pregnant. With her wonderful husband’s firm support, they tried many options, talked over all the possibilities, the what-ifs.

One day a friend of hers who knew the situation asked me, “How are you?” Seeing the dark cloud hanging over me and being a mental-health professional, she shared that the dark feeling isn’t just over the couple but over the whole family.

My husband and I were in a dark place, but we came to understand this was our daughter’s journey, and we were there to support her.

We tried not to show our pain to her when treatments failed and as she felt more and more isolated. Through many very expensive processes, a woman’s enormous generosity and modern technological miracles, we were granted two more beautiful grandchildren.

Every day we thank HaShem for those beautiful children.

I began to see how so many others could use this kind of support.

My daughters were fortunate that our family could help them financially. Not everyone is in a position to afford fertility treatment or to help their own children. There hasn’t been anything in the community to help.

I have since become involved with Hasidah, which provides “financial, spiritual and emotional support for people experiencing infertility or fertility challenges, and build[s] awareness about fertility,” according to its listing in the 2018 Slingshot Guide of outstanding Jewish organizations. Hasidah, which means “stork” in Hebrew, was founded in 2012 by Rabbi Idit Solomon.

Hasidah.org is packed with information, such as the average out-of-pocket cost for one in vitro fertilization treatment being $24,000, with a $61,000 total for “a successful outcome from IVF.”

People need so much support when they are facing infertility, which is why it was so important for me to step up and help. Not only for my own family, but I could help others overcome their fertility struggles, too.

It was imperative for me to help each of my daughters become a mother.  It is imperative upon all of us as a community to help others who are facing infertility and other family building challenges.

We need to replenish those lost during my parent’s generation. We need to support the mitzvah of being fruitful and multiplying. And it is the Jewish way to help others in need.

Jewish children are the future of the Jewish community. I have endless joy from each of my grandchildren. I hope our community can prioritize this issue for our sake, and for our future.

 

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The debate about questions and their stupidity is on-going. Dumb is subjective. Thoughtless or insensitive is a little more precise. Questions about people’s family planning are often in that category. In the Jewish tradition, the Talmud guides a lot of our behavior and provides guidelines for prioritizing situations. However,  Rav Abby, sister of Rabbi Landers, who might have been a cousin of Rabbi Manners have words of wisdom on this topic too.  They had a consistent approach which almost always applied to these questions: you are not required to answer someone else’s question.

How do I answer when someone (fill in the blank question that reflects someone else’s curiosity or possible good intentions but is a raging trigger for you and you are just trying to get your copies made already!)? Or even from a friend, how do I respond when (fill in the blank question that you have no intention whatsoever of answering at that moment regardless of your relationship to the person asking).

A recent NYTimes Social Q’s answer summed it up beautifully. Their fill-in-the-blank-question was a curious friend who wanted to know whose fault was causing the infertility for a couple (!?!). “Rather than bringing a useful talk to a screeching halt because of one dumb question, how about redirecting it (“That’s not what I was talking about”) or brushing it off (“Oh, that doesn’t matter”) and returning to the valuable part of the discussion?”  Besides that this does bring us back to the issue of “dumb questions” (there are two sides to that debate), they further point out that sometimes you are entitled to end a conversation and make others squirm. This is accomplished by one of my favorite responses, and tone is everything in this one, “Why do you ask?” That could be stated with chin downward looking out of the tops of your eyes, or with lips pursed and an icy tone, or a head tilt and furrowed brow and a dramatic forefinger and thumb around the chin for effect. All of these squarely place the issue into the hands of the person asking the question – to whom attention ought to be directed – rather than on you or your partner’s reproductive organs and private life.

The first attempts to redirect or brush off, however, are useful when we know or are hopeful that the other person really does have good intentions or is a good friend and just fumbled the attempt to open a conversation. As noted above, this is still accomplished without answering the question.

So here is your mantra. Repeat after me: “I am not required to answer someone else’s questions.”

And here are your multiple choice stock answers to keep at the ready:

a) “That’s not what I was talking about”

b) “Oh, that doesn’t matter”

c) “Why do you ask?”

d) “Interesting that you ask. What’s really on my mind is…” (To talk about it or to change the subject)

d) “That reminds me, I have always wanted to ask you and I know it’s not really any of my business… ” Silence. Blank stare. (Okay. Maybe not, but I’ve always wanted to do that).

Happy not answering!

 

 

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In honor of Passover  – removing chametz from our lives and leaving the narrow places – Hasidah invited several guest bloggers to provide support for dealing with infertility during the holiday and beyond.
Guest blogger Alissa Hirshfeld-Flores, is a marriage and family therapist in Santa Rosa, CA

Many Jewish holidays can evoke grief for women and couples experiencing infertility. Rosh Hashana brings the Torah stories of the matriarch Sarah, finally learning she’s pregnant in her old age, after struggling with infertility for decades, and of Hannah–who prays so fervently for a child that the priest Eli takes her for a drunkard. Channukah and Purim can evoke the envy of watching friends’ children light up with glee over the fun of the holidays. As one friend recently put it, “Channukah just isn’t fun without little ones around.”

Perhaps no holiday is as replete with themes of fertility and birth as Passover, during the spring season of rebirth. In the Passover story, the Jewish nation is literally ​so​ fertile that pharaoh commands that their baby boys be thrown into the Nile for fear they will grow into a nation that will overpower the Egyptians. The brave midwives, Shifrah and Puah, save these babies, telling pharaoh that the Jewish women give birth so quickly, and in such high numbers, that they cannot possibly gather all their infant boys. Imagine hearing this story year after year, while trying, and failing, to conceive. Jewish culture values the family above all else, except perhaps the Torah or a good brisket. Thus, being childless can feel shameful and isolating.

Passover was my mother’s favorite holiday. Early in my marriage, I looked forward to hosting her at our home in California, where she’d travel from the East Coast, after so many years of enjoying her beautifully prepared family seders. I happily anticipated showing her the lilacs blooming in our backyard–both of our favorite flower–reminiscent of those outside my childhood house. But my excitement over her visit was tempered by the fact that I had not yet been able to give her grandchildren. I’d prepared a beautiful meal and created a spiritually meaningful Haggadah, but there were no little ones present to ask the Four Questions or to excitedly search for the Afikomen. Part of the purpose of the seder is to pass on the story of Jewish survival to the next generation. Would our family have a next generation to continue the faith and lineage? I identified with the Israelites wandering in the desert, as I felt lost in my own desert of barrenness. When we invited in the Prophet Elijah, I prayed to this purveyor of miracles to grant me my wish for a baby.

Raised in a traditional Conservative home, I had long been interested in exploring how Judaism can provide meaning to our modern lives, through the renewal and reinterpretation of ancient teachings and rituals. I began to look to Jewish resources for how to cope with infertility, reading essays and creative prayers by women rabbis about fertility, pregnancy and childbirth. I was grateful that women’s experiences and voices were increasingly a part of our tradition, as I drew from their wisdom. I began to put myself in the shoes of our matriarchs–Sarah, Rachel, and Hannah–and was inspired by their patience and faith. About the same time, I had a woman friend in my synagogue community who experienced a miscarriage. Alone with her disenfranchised grief, she felt that she could not share her pain with many friends, lest she be told, “You can always have another baby.” Friends didn’t understand the unique bond she’d had with ​this​ particular child. Her struggles with infertility afterwards only added to her feeling isolated and excluded. Like many women I’ve counseled through infertility, she felt many conflicted feelings when invited to friends’ baby showers–a churning in her stomach of joy for them, tempered by her own grief, jealousy, longing, and bitterness.

When my friend next became pregnant, she asked that our Jewish renewal community develop a ritual for her to celebrate and pray for her and her baby. Our ​rebbetzin ​at the time, herself in rabbinical school, designed a beautiful ceremony where we women sat in a circle with our friend, as the ​rebbetzin​ dipped her feet in water, in a symbolic mikveh to mark the holiness and transition of this time in her life. We took turns offering her blessings, to comfort her pain over past loss, soothe her worries and fears, and offer hope for new life.

I was inspired by this ritual to develop my own. One Shabbat, during the days in between Passover and Shavuot, when my community was offering each other creative, individualized Priestly Blessings, I asked that a group of my women friends encircle me to send blessings for fruitfulness. As I felt their love surround me, I felt their strength infuse me and I knew that I would be better able both to maintain faith whether or not I bled the next month. I also realized that if it was not my fate to be blessed with my own children, I would find a way to have children in my life, through friends, family and my counseling work.

The practice of developing creative rituals within Judaism has made my faith feel more authentic. I have gone on to co-create rituals marking friends’ hysterectomies and menopausal passages. As more Jewish women leaders and lay leaders add our experiences to Jewish practices, the tradition itself grows, expands, and becomes more life-giving and more fruitful. Eventually, my husband and I were blessed with a beautiful baby girl. I’ve celebrated as she’s chanted the Four Questions at seder, rose to the Torah for her Bat Mitzvah, and has grown into a strong and articulate young woman in her own right. I continue to pray that as a community we will include and support the disenfranchised grief in our own midst, even as we celebrate the joyous miracles of life and rebirth.

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 As part of  Passover preparation – removing chametz from our lives and planning to leave the narrow places – Hasidah invited several guest bloggers to provide support for dealing with Infertility during the holiday and beyond.
Dalia David is co-founder, choreographer and Education Director at Uprooted – A Jewish Communal Response to Fertility Journeys

At the center of the Pesach Hagaddah, embedded in the reply to the ‘child who does not know how to ask’ is the instruction: וְִהַגְּדָתּ ְלִבנְךָ ההוּא ַבּיּוֹםַ (Exodus 8:13) and you shall tell your child on this day. This is the mitzvah of telling one’s child about the journey from slavery to the Promised Land.

But what if you feel as if you never made it to the Promised Land? What if you sit at the seder feeling enslaved, yearning to be free of your fertility struggles and family building challenges? What if you sit at the seder watching those around you tell the Exodus story to their wise, wicked, simple, and quiet children, longing so desperately
for a child of your own? To whom can you tell this story of enslavement?

Perhaps this is the moment to invoke the fifth child. This fifth child is absent from the Hagaddah because this child is not yet wise, wicked, simple or quiet. This child has yet to be born and resides entirely in your heart and in your dreams. The fifth child reaches out to to the heart’s of the seder guests, gently reminding them to be conscious of their fellow guests who can only dream of having a child to ask the Four Questions, or steal the Afikoman, or spill grape juice on the tablecloth. By including the fifth child, perhaps we can break free of some of the isolation experienced by those in the throes of fertility struggles and help them experience the seder as a night
of freedom rather than another night of darkness.

Please consider including the following paragraph to seder:

The Yet to be Born Child – what does s/he say?
“Why is this journey so long? Why does the path seem so obscure and unending?”
With no real words to answer, you of er him/her understanding with a hug, a moment
of quiet and the chance to express thoughts and feelings, for you both hold the truth
that fertility journeys are עבדהָ קשׁהָ –  brutal work.

 

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As part of  Passover preparation – removing chametz from our lives and planning to leave the narrow places – Hasidah invited several guest bloggers to provide support for dealing with Infertility during the holiday and beyond.
Erin Schlozman is a licensed professional counselor specializing in women’s reproductive health at Mama Wellness Co. in Colorado

In Judaism, we are told to “be fruitful and multiply.” We come from a tradition steeped heavily in a narrative filled with the promise of creating new life. How many of you were asked as soon as you broke the glass under the Chuppah: when are you going to start trying for a baby? This question seems earnest and innocent, however the reality is that 1 in 8 couples will have a difficult time getting or staying pregnant. For couples that are facing infertility questions like “are you trying to get pregnant?” and “what are you waiting for?” can feel intensely personal and also crushing. Below are ways you can empower yourself, or help support the people you love once a person or couple has been referred to a fertility specialist.

Most fertility specialists will begin with a detailed intake that will gather you and your partner’s information including medical history, social history and the history of your reproductive health. Additionally, ultrasounds and labs may be ordered for the medical team to get an idea of a baseline and to begin identifying the source of what is going on. I always suggest bringing a list of questions to this first appointment that touch on the concerns you have. Suggestions for things you may want to ask:

  1. What is the process for identifying my diagnosis and how will this diagnosis inform my treatment?
  2. How long do you think the initial workup will take and when do you estimate we will be able to move forward with treatment?
  3. What courses of treatment do you recommend/are most commonly successful in your practice? Additionally, what are my treatment options?
  4. How long do we focus on each treatment and at what point do we move to a new treatment? For example: if we start with IUI how long before we discuss IVF.
  5. Is there anything I can do to improve my chances of becoming and staying pregnant during the course of treatment?
  6. Are there any lifestyle changes you recommend?

Infertility brings a landslide of emotions including immense vulnerability, feelings that you have no control and moments of intense sadness. When we think about growing our families we think about future homes, communities, holidays, birthdays and milestones. Experiencing infertility can feel like the biggest threat to those things. When you take your journey to have a baby from the bedroom to a doctor’s office it’s only natural that floods of emotion will come with you. Stress, sadness, excitement, grief and fear all bundled together. Here are a few tips on how to provide yourself self-care during this time.

  1. Educate yourself on the medical components of infertility. ​Gathering information and education can help you feel empowered and whittle away at the feelings of powerlessness that come with the process.
  2. Identify your support system, both individually and as a couple. ​Finding a therapist that specializes in infertility or a group for families going through fertility treatments will help you build your tribe and a support system that knows exactly what you are going through. Also, social media outlets have support groups that many women find helpful.
  3. Try your best to focus in the moment. ​Be your own best advocate and don’t get caught up in future worries and anxieties: what if this happens, what if this doesn’t work, what if what if what if. Do your best to live in the moment and don’t give too much power to the what if’s.
  4. Feel your feelings. ​You may wake up feeling great one morning and incredibly sad the next. You may feel you don’t recognize yourself, like you have changed forever and wonder if you’ll ever return to the person you were before you started trying to get pregnant. This is ok. Allow yourself the moment to honor however you are feeling and remember that all feelings pass.
  5. Engage in regular check-ins with your partner. ​Infertility is a partners experience. Make sure you keep up your communication, try to make time for fun and to connect to one another in some way. Given the stringent requirements surrounding treatment, sex may be off the table at certain times- practice other ways of sharing intimate moments outside of intercourse.

As the primary focus of fertility treatments is medical, I can’t stress enough the importance of tapping into your community to help support your emotional, spiritual and physical needs. While you work toward parenthood, know that your tradition and community stand behind you with great force, fierce love and an intense commitment to support you. Whether you yourself are going through fertility treatments, or someone you know and love is, it is important to always remember that no two journeys are the same and that a foundation of loving support and community can help ease the silence and pain of the experience of infertility.

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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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