On Erev Rosh Hashanah, I had the opportunity to speak from the bimah about a personal challenge I faced from the previous year. I spoke about how our son arrived six weeks early and the challenges and joys that I experienced after his birth. As I was writing that sermon, I thought about how it might be received by those with personal connections to the subject matter. While some people in our congregation could probably relate, there would likely be others whose struggles with pregnancy and fertility have been far more challenging, complicated, and wrought. I am highly aware of couples in our congregation who are struggling or have struggled for many years to even reach the point of having a child.
A few months ago, I participated in a clergy training session with an organization called Hasidah. Hasidah is the Hebrew word for stork, and its grammatical root ( ח-ס-ד chet-samekh-dalet) is related to the idea of “loving-kindness.” Of course, storks have a long history of being associated with fertility, families, and the arrival of babies. Hasidah was founded on the belief that helping couples struggling with infertility to become parents is a great gift of chesed, loving-kindness.
At the session, Rabbi Idit Solomon, the founder of the organization, guided a group of rabbis and Jewish professionals through an explanation of terminology, a briefing on the social/emotional factors related to infertility, and an exploration of real-life stories of people facing these challenges. Hasidah’s mission is to serve as “the voice of hope and compassion that raises awareness of infertility, connects people to support, and reduces financial barriers to treatment in the Jewish community.”
In other words, Rabbi Solomon is committed to helping to create Jewish families.
As someone who struggled to have her own children, she is helping by teaching others about the many aspects of infertility rarely discussed outside of doctors’ offices and clinics, from theological concerns to the immense financial burden that expensive infertility treatments can place on a family.
“We do all of this so that the shroud of infertility is removed,” she says, “so that infertility is on the communal agenda, so that Jews are empowered to seek infertility treatment, and so that Jewish babies are born.”
In the training session, we learned that more and more couples and individuals are seeking medical assistance when trying to conceive and carry healthy pregnancies to full-term. This is especially an issue for Jewish couples because, according to available data, Jewish adults tend to put childbearing off for later in life as they complete advanced levels of higher education and pursue career success.
One major takeaway for me: Infertility is an extremely difficult subject to discuss in synagogues. It is an isolating experience when it seems like everyone else is able to become pregnant. And it involves so many things that are “taboo” in polite conversation. Though money, sex and medical histories are not often the sort of topics discussed openly in a synagogue setting, they are all part of regular conversations for anyone undergoing (or considering) fertility treatment. We learned that for couples and individuals yearning for children, it can be immensely helpful to have the ongoing support of a spiritual home where rabbis and Jewish professionals not only care, but have developed some understanding of these challenges and have access to good information.
I am so thankful to have participated in Hasidah’s training program because it is important to me — and all of us who serve here — that our synagogue is just that kind of place.
As you have probably observed, here at PTS we are always so excited to speak about our amazing preschool and all of the children that fill it. As rightfully proud as we are of our programs for youth and families, we must also recognize and support our congregants who wish to be — but are not yet — at the stage of raising children. Inspired by Rabbi Solomon, I am raising this issue in our community in hopes that anyone struggling with infertility (and related challenges) feels comfortable sharing their journey with me or our other clergy. And even if you haven’t personally struggled with infertility, I hope you will share with friends and family grappling with these issues: We are here to walk with you on this path, and to offer other resources to help you on your way, including helping to make connections to Hasidah, a Bay Area organization I am grateful to have as a partner.