On Sunday morning, Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck will host the first of eight sessions of a professionally facilitated support group for Jewish families who have experienced infant and pregnancy loss at any time in their lives.
Nechama Inc., which began in January 2009 with sessions at Englewood Hospital & Medical Center, was founded by Reva Judas of Teaneck. She knows the pain of those she seeks to help, as her first child lived for only 12 hours and she suffered several miscarriages between the births of her four healthy children.
Judas, a kindergarten teacher at The Moriah School in Englewood, is a certified hospital chaplain. She named her support venture Nechama – “comfort” in Hebrew – and recently received 501(c) non-profit status for the organization.
|Reva Judas is the founder of a support group for Jewish families who have experienced infant or pregnancy loss. Courtesy Reva Judas|
“The main point of this group is for people – mothers and fathers, grandparents, siblings – to be able to deal with this publicly. Even a miscarriage will affect your life forever,” she said. “For example, I worked with two grandmothers this past year to guide them in helping their bereaved children and in working through their own grief.”
The timing for the new group meshes with International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, highlighted by a national “walk to remember” taking place Oct 24 at Holy Name. This non-denominational memorial day will feature readings by several clergy members, including Judas’ father, a rabbi visiting from California for his grandson’s bar mitzvah the day before.
Nechama was modeled on Johanna Gorab’s existing pregnancy and infancy loss support group at Holy Name. Judas borrowed some of her mentor’s ideas, such as memory boxes including photographs, a hospital bracelet, and other memorabilia from the deceased infant. She assures parents that it’s fine to include Jewish prayers or psalms and even a lock of hair, because that does not violate Judaism’s guidelines on burying a body intact.
She also tells families that even without a seven-day shiva period, which does not apply for miscarriage or stillbirth, there are specifically Jewish ways to mourn the loss.
On Nov. 15, she will address rabbis’ wives from around the country at a conference sponsored by Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future at Cong. Keter Torah in Teaneck.
“My goals now are to start one-on-one counseling and to train social workers and clergy to man a hotline. Certain things have to be decided so quickly when there is a loss,” said Judas, who recently started phone counseling for New York-based clients of Chai Lifeline, an organization for families of children with cancer and genetic diseases.
“We’re training the hospitals in what they’re allowed to do for Jewish families, and also trying to establish guidelines for all Jewish communities for handling these situations regardless of their different philosophies. We want to get across the idea of how important the grieving process is.”
This summer, a rabbi in Passaic called Judas for advice concerning a congregant who had just experienced a miscarriage late in her pregnancy. She worked with the rabbi and directly with the family to answer questions and offer suggestions. The family later traveled to Israel and planted a tree in memory of the baby, Judas said.
She hopes to set up Nechama chapters around the country with the help of grants and donations (a website is in the works). She would like to establish a national office and grief center as well.
The Holy Name group will meet from 10 to 11:30 a.m. for eight consecutive weeks. If there is need and interest, Judas said, a monthly support group will be considered. Call Judas at (201) 692-9302 for further information.