Saturday, March 17, 2018

Emotional and honest drawings accurately highlight the struggle of a person going through the world of infertility and some of both the medical and emotional challenges they encounter.

Though only a few years old, Yesh Tikva has already made a name for itself in the Jewish infertility community. It was founded by Elie Haller Salomon and Gila Muskin Block at a time when they were each looking for support in the lonely maze of fertility treatments. Together they have built an organization recognized internationally and sought after for its unique approach to normalizing the conversations surrounding fertility struggles, and making the Jewish community an environment that centralizes the role of the family, sensitive and welcoming to families at any stage of growth.

On Shabbat, March 17, synagogues across the world will partner with Yesh Tikva in an effort to spread awareness through divrei Torah, education or a message in creating a more sensitive environment for those families not yet blessed with children or struggling to expand their family. “We chose the week close to Pesach because of all holidays, Pesach places increased emphasis on the role of the parent-child relationship,” explained Salomon. “Even the mitzvah of the seder itself is written, ‘And you should tell your children,’ but what about those who do not have children at the seder? The absence of the family structure expected in the Jewish community is felt so much stronger at times such as these,” she said.

Over the past year Salomon, Block and the volunteer staff running Yesh Tikva have been working to make this organization as strong and supportive as possible and their efforts have brought a wealth of new materials. What started as an initiative to provide peer-to-peer support spiraled into an effort to educate communities and increase sensitivity.

Yesh Tikva is excited to unveil two powerful resources that will be made available to the shuls. The first is a book titled, “My Not A Parent Thoughts.” In it, the author captures the struggle a young woman in the Orthodox community experiences as she faces one month after the next without a pregnancy. “This is an amazing resource in that it allows people who have gone through infertility to feel validated by it, since many of the experiences will be relatable to others” said Salomon. “At the same time, many people often ask us what to say to someone seemingly experiencing infertility. This book provides the reader with a look into the struggles and emotions without putting someone in a sensitive place on the spot.”

Yesh Tikva has a number of exciting partnerships that have been formed across the world. Most recently, they partnered with the Eden Center in Yerushalayim, an organization that looks to make the mikvah experience more meaningful for women. Having previously partnered with Sharsheret, Dr. Naomi Grumet, head of the Eden Center, approached Yesh Tikva. “The mikvah can be a depressing time for a woman trying to conceive. It is an indication that her cycle failed,” said Salomon. She explained how finding special tefillot or chapters of tehillim for women to say at the mikvah adds an added level of spirituality, as well as a feeling of control when everything about life and her body feels out of her own control. Together, The Eden Center and Yesh Tikva put together a booklet for women. Titled “Birkat Emunah,” it is meant to be used as a resource for women feeling despondent because of a miscarriage or difficulty conceiving. In it are special tefillot and chapters of tehillim, as well as a mikvah bill of rights for women, again, allowing them to own the mikvah experience in a way that is more comfortable for them. Many mikvaot even have cards in the preparation rooms with the contact information for Yesh Tikva to allow patrons to access the information and support should they need it.

In addition to the partnership with the Eden Center, Yesh Tikva now partners with AJFN in Australia, Hasida in the Bay Area, Jewish Fertility Foundation in Atlanta and other organizations across the globe. They also have a schedule of dial-in phone conferences that help educate those navigating the somewhat isolating and overwhelming experience of both medical and legal information thrown at a couple. This year they added a workshop for men titled, “What Your Wife Wants You to Know.” “One of the goals of Yesh Tikva is to provide people with tools to be their own best advocate and to provide people with support at their own comfort level,” said Salomon.

What makes an organization like Yesh Tikva unique is that it not only reaches out to the families dealing with infertility, but it looks to expand information to the greater community and build a stronger sensitivity to others. “People don’t realize how the holidays are tied into the family structure so strongly, and how everything can be a painful reminder to someone,” Salomon said. “Even an offhand complaint about not being able to clean with kids underfoot, or finding chametz the children stashed in the hidden spots is yet another reminder of what someone else has that a person trying to get pregnant does not have.”

Earlier in the year Yesh Tikva sent out a “Fertility Prayer” that it created for the congregation to say on behalf of those trying to conceive. The feedback they received on when shuls chose to say it was positive and inspiring. Some shuls inserted it after Tefillat Chana, since Chana herself begged to be a mother. One shul chose to say it prior to yizkor, a tefillah predominantly said by a child for a parent, and another shul said the tefillah before neilah on Yom Kippur, a time when the rabbis say the gates of Heaven are open and waiting for our prayers. The majority of shuls added it before Kol HaNearim, a time that is heart wrenchingly painful for someone without a child to participate in the custom. Salomon said that one of the shuls informed her that they continue to say this tefillah on a monthly basis before the blessing on the new month.

With raw, open and emotional blog posts; educational seminars; mailings; and partnerships, the upcoming shabbaton is part of a larger goal. “There is no reason why anyone should be left out,” said Salomon. “We are being invited to speak at bikur cholim events and recently to the YU rebbetzin’s conference about ways to sensitize people and normalize the conversation about infertility so that it is no longer taboo.”

Yesh Tikva invites everyone to encourage their shul to join in the third annual Infertility Awareness Shabbat on March 17, Rosh Chodesh Nissan. To register your shul, or to see if your shul is already participating, visit www.yeshtikva.org.

By Jenny Gans