Just One Life, started by Teaneck man, growing in Israel

Just One Life, started by Teaneck man, growing in Israel

Just One Life was sparked more than two decades ago, when businessman Jack Forgash read a newspaper article reporting on abortions in Israel. The Teaneck resident recalls reading the article in shock. According to the story, roughly 20,000 pregnancies a year in Israel were being terminated, he said.

This could not go on, Forgash felt.

He started working the phones. Within a few months, he had a network of rabbis, doctors, and benefactors who were prepared to provide help to Israeli women who were about to choose abortion as their last resort.

In 1989, Just One Life was born. “Israel’s main resource is its children,” Forgash said. “Each child our organization helps bring into the world multiplies our people a hundredfold.”

Jack Forgash of Teaneck helped found Just One Life , top, Rabbi Etan Tokayer is the organization’s executive vice president. PHOTOS Courtesy Just One Life

The group’s name was derived from the famous talmudic passage, “He who saves just one life in Israel is one who has saved an entire world” (Sanhedrin 37a).

At the Jerusalem office of Just One Life, veteran social worker Madelaine Gitelman, the group’s director, said that she tries to reassure anxious couples that they can get help to continue a pregnancy if they wish. Many couples consider termination because of financial difficulties. Others turn to it as a last resort because they lack necessary emotional support, she said.

Gitelman said she doesn’t pressure couples but urges them to think through their possibilities. The organization’s aim is to make it possible for every couple to continue a pregnancy, even if they face enormous obstacles, said Gitelman.

“Because they are not equipped with financial resources, a natural support system, or if their daily lives are so fraught with stress, their ability to raise a family is severely compromised,” Gitelman said about her clients. “We have innumerable examples of women who are faced with difficult choices that have no easy solutions. Helping women cope with their choices and rallying their strengths has been the goal of our intervention.”

The roughly 1,000 women Gitelman and her small team of social workers help every year hail from more than 150 cities, villages, and settlements across Israel, she said. They also come from a broad range of backgrounds, including religious and secular, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, recent immigrants and veteran Israelis.

The demand for the organization’s services appears to be rising. The client base is growing at a rate of 10 percent each year, according to organizers.

Most of the women find their way to Gitelman’s office through referrals from social workers, nurses, or professionals in local welfare offices, baby clinics, and hospitals.

What the women have in common is that all face limited income, difficult family pressures, or health issues – and have few outside sources of help. A pregnancy just adds to their fears that they will drown in a sea of problems, Gitelman said.

When they arrive at Just One Life, couples don’t encounter any anti-abortion propaganda, said organizers. Instead, they are asked what the family needs in order to feel comfortable raising a new baby. Sometimes it’s just a matter of money. Other times, they need services, counseling, or other kinds of help, said Rabbi Martin Katz, the group’s New York-based director.

For many young Israeli mothers living on the fringe of poverty, the prospect of another baby can often seem like too much to bear, he said. “Just One Life helps mothers choose life for their children by helping them through the economic and psychological problems that often accompany what might have been unanticipated,” he added.

Just One Life is responsible for helping women give birth to 13,000 children since it was began 20 years ago, according to Rabbi Etan Tokayer, the organization’s executive vice president.

“In America, a good number of pregnancies are terminated out of choice. In Israel, they are terminated because of lack of choice,” said Tokayer. “Many of these women feel they have no other choice. But if their issues are dealt with, they’d want to have their child. We try to bring down the crisis level and give them tools to help them arrange their lives.”

“The goal is not just to throw money at the problem,” Tokayer added, “but rather to empower the mother and give her the skills she needs to manage her life better, to help the whole person, not just to help her have the baby.”

He pointed out that the children born at the organization’s inception are approaching their 20s. They are going into the Israeli army, he said, as well as learning in Torah institutions and universities, and they are taking their rightful place in society.

“We’re not just saving a baby,” he said, “we’re saving a whole life. We’re giving a child the opportunity to live a life and give back. In Israel, 15,000 people can be a city. We’ve nearly created a city because we’ve saved 13,000 people.”

Just One Life provides roughly $1,800 to each mother to cover financial and psychological services, said Tokayer. It also provides assistance to women who have at-risk pregnancies or suffer from health problems.

In the 20 years since the organization has been helping women have their babies, Tokayer said, “we’ve never had a woman come back to us and complain. But we’ve had many come back to us years later and say, ‘I can’t imagine what my life would be like without my kids.’ They can’t thank us enough.”

For more information, go to www.justonelife.org.

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