|Anna Olswanger’s site, yerusha.com, has already had nearly 1,000 hits. Courtesy Anna Olswanger|
Almost exactly a year ago, Fair Lawn resident Anna Olswanger was watching the movie “Julie & Julia” when a scene from the film hit so close to home it took her aback.
Olswanger – author, literary agent, and creator of the new website Yerusha, inheritance – described her feelings as she watched actress Meryl Streep, playing Julia Child, read a letter from her sister.
“When she came to the part where her sister said she was pregnant, Julia began to cry, painfully,” Olswanger recalled. “Her husband moved over to her. Julia, through her crying, said, ‘I’m so happy,’ and her husband answered, ‘I know.’ Of course,” said Olswanger, “both he and the audience knew that she was not crying from happiness for her sister, but from her own grief of not having children.”
As she watched, Olswanger came up with a way to reach out to others in her position, envisioning “a worldwide organization for Jewish women like myself, and Jewish men, past normal child-bearing age, who believe they may never have children, either biologically or by adoption.”
“I envisioned Yerusha as a way to bring these Jews together, both online and in the real world, to explore the meaning and experience of being a childless Jewish adult,” she said.
While the site, Yerusha.com, offers a forum for people to share their own stories, so far no one has done so. However, Olswanger has received e-mails following up on her suggestion that there are ways, in addition to having children, that Jews can create an inheritance for future generations.
One writer, perhaps an attorney, she said, noted that “we need to have information on what to do about wills. I’ve taught workshops on writing ethical wills and may offer that information as a future resource on the site.”
Another writer suggested that childless individuals might leave funds to reprint old Jewish documents “as a gift to the Jewish people.”
“We’ve already had 896 hits,” she told The Jewish Standard last week, only one week after launching the site. The website, which she advertised through synagogue listserves and other electronic venues, was designed with the technical assistance of Fair Lawn resident Cheryl Koppel.
“It’s such a sensitive subject,” she said, adding that for some people, “it’s shameful, embarrassing, or too private” to discuss.
Her site, she said, suggests steps people can take in exploring what it means to be childless. For example, they can acknowledge their emotions, make peace with where they are, learn what halacha says about Jews having children, and consider their legacies.
“The whole point is not to dwell on childlessness but on what we can leave to the Jewish people. What’s the inheritance we’re leaving?”
Noting that this is a human concern, rather than just the concern of childless individuals, Olswanger, who married last year and whose husband has three children from a previous marriage, said some childless Jews feel that, in some way, “we didn’t do our part,’ we didn’t step up to the plate. It’s a constant struggle,” she said, “and I have been thinking for a long time about finding ways to leave something.”
Her website targets others on that same journey, offering not only a section on relevant halachic teachings but featuring a list of “some admirable Jews who were childless, role models who did leave something to the Jewish people.”
Included are such notable personalities as Deborah the Prophetess, Rabbi Akiva ben Joseph, Henrietta Szold, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and Nechama Leibowitz.
Olswanger said that most of her friends are mothers. At least one, she said, is sometimes cautious in sharing news about her own children, afraid it will somehow hurt her.
“But it doesn’t,” she said. “I enjoy hearing the news,” she added, suggesting that perhaps a future part of her site will explore how to behave around those who are childless.
Olswanger said she hopes people will be encouraged to start local groups, or that an umbrella group such as Jewish Family Service may want to take on such a project.
“I just wanted to start it and see where it would lead,” she said. “I would be happy for others to have a vision” of where they want to take it, she said.