During Passover 1987, a baby with a serious congenital heart defect died 12 hours after birth. His parents, Reva and Danny Judas of Teaneck, went on to have four healthy children, but Reva Judas suffered several miscarriages between each birth.
On Jan. 28, Judas will start fulfilling her goal of helping other Jewish parents cope with pregnancy and infancy loss as founder of Nechama (Comfort), a new support group at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center.
“A lot of people tell me now that they didn’t know what to say to me afterward, so sometimes they’d even avoid me,” said Judas, a kindergarten teacher at The Moriah School in Englewood and a certified chaplain at Hackensack University Medical Center. “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.”
Although the hospital already offers a prenatal/perinatal support group, its administrators were receptive to the idea of an exclusively Jewish group, said Rachel Dube, Jewish community liaison for the hospital.
“In grief, one’s relationship with God comes to the forefront, whether that manifests itself in anger or in stronger faith,” said Dube, who took a bereavement facilitator certification course with Judas in order to help lead the group.
“For Jews, there are a lot of specific aspects to loss such as yizkor, kaddish, shiva, and many other logistical issues that don’t come into play for non-Jews. That’s why having a Jewish bereavement group is so important.”
She and Judas received help in developing the initial eight-week program from The Living Room: A Health, Wellness and Healing Center at Jewish Family Service of Bergen County. Judas also drew on ideas from Johanna Gorab’s pregnancy and infancy loss support group at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck. For example, Gorab’s group made memory boxes including items such as a lock of the deceased baby’s hair. Judas plans to do similar boxes but with a Jewish theme.
Guest speakers are lined up to address both psychological and religious aspects. A yoetzet halacha (female halachic adviser) will talk about Jewish law’s approach to intimacy following miscarriage. Rabbi Yamin Levy will discuss ideas from his book “Confronting the Loss of a Baby: A Personal and Jewish Perspective.” Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future, is slated to talk about his personal experience with newborn loss.
In addition, said Dube, there will be an emphasis on turning grief into something positive.
“Perhaps we will raise money to dedicate a rocking chair in the newborn intensive care unit or to purchase special transport boxes for expired babies. Participants might feel good about dedicating these kinds of items in memory of their child.”
Dube and Judas say that response to the eight-week session will determine if it will spin off into a permanent monthly support group, or perhaps separate ones for prenatal and perinatal loss. “We would also like to see Nechama groups forming in Jewish communities all over the area,” said Dube.
Nechama will meet Wednesday nights through March 18 from 8 to 9:30 at the hospital at a cost of $54. Information and registration: (201) 894-3911 or Rachel.Dube@ehmc.com.