Seemingly happy holiday rituals — Chanukah parties, Purim costumes, and especially Passover Seders — can be unbearably sad for Jewish couples experiencing infertility, says Teaneck native Elie Haller Salomon.
“The words of the Haggadah, “And you shall tell your children,” along with the Seder’s focus on children, “can pierce like a dagger through the hearts of those who struggle with infertility,” Ms. Salomon, who now lives in Edison, said. “The holiday serves as a direct and painful reminder of what these individuals desperately desire — a family.”
And so the mother of four — three sons and a daughter, all conceived through the miracle of assisted reproductive technologies — has launched the “100 Shuls Project,” targeting April 9 (the beginning of the Hebrew month of Nissan) as an apt time for North American rabbis and congregants to learn more about infertility, its emotional impact, and how they can support people affected by it.
“The goal is to ensure that individuals facing infertility do not feel alone and excluded during the approaching Passover holiday, a time in which we are constantly reminded about the integral role children play in Judaism,” Ms. Salomon said.
As of late February, 61 congregations had registered, including Ahavath Torah of Englewood, Bais Medrash of Bergenfield, Darchei Noam of Fair Lawn, Young Israel of Fort Lee, and Teaneck synagogues Ahavat Shalom, Beth Aaron, Bnai Yeshurun, Chabad, Keter Torah, Netivot Shalom, Rinat Yisrael, Shaare Tefillah, and Kehillas Zichron Mordechai. Ms. Salomon hopes to reach 100 shuls in the next few weeks.
The 100 Shuls Project is sponsored by Yesh Tikva (There is Hope), a web-based Jewish fertility community that Ms. Salomon helped establish last year. The nonprofit site is run by peers with guidance from healthcare professionals and experts in specific Jewish issues related to fertility. For instance, it considers whether a women undergoing fertility treatment may do self-injections on Shabbat, or how various procedures impact her ability to immerse in the mikvah.
“It’s for those who want to ask questions, join forums, and get support anonymously, since so many people struggling with infertility do not want others to know what they are going through,” Ms. Salomon said.
Ms. Salomon respects those wishing to remain anonymous. But she is a former TV producer who worked for Martha Stewart, and that is not her style. “I have a big mouth, and it can be used for bad or for good,” she said. “I believe if you don’t open your mouth you’ll be struggling alone with infertility and it will take you longer.”
She relates specific incidents when speaking up led to a successful pregnancy. For example, in her shul she once approached a mother of a young child who, she was told by a mutual friend, was experiencing secondary infertility. Ms. Salomon thought she could offer helpful advice gleaned during her own long and painful road to motherhood. After engaging the woman in conversation, Ms. Salomon made a suggestion that the woman then discussed with her physician, and as a direct result she later gave birth to twins.
“If we’re too ashamed to talk about it we won’t get any information,” she said. “We can learn so much from each other.”
Yesh Tikva provides a range of support services geared to Jewish couples in the modern Orthodox and other streams. Resources available from the Brooklyn-based organizations A TIME (A Torah Infertility Medium of Exchange) and Bonei Olam are directed more toward ultra-Orthodox couples, Ms. Salomon said.
“For the 100 Shuls Project we reached out to clergy members and administrators of different kinds of congregations,” she added. “We feel there is a lack in the Jewish world and we don’t care what kind of Jew you are. We don’t want you to feel alone.”
Yesh Tikva leaders were invited to speak at the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America’s convention last summer. “A lot of rabbis told us, ‘We have congregants without children and we don’t know how to approach them,’” Ms. Salomon said.
The organization offers informational posters for ritual baths as part of its Mikvah Infertility Awareness Campaign. (Religiously observant women immerse in a mikvah after their monthly menses.)
“When you have to go to the mikvah it’s a reminder that you failed to conceive, and we put our signs in the prep room so women wouldn’t feel alone and can reach out to us if they want to,” said Ms. Salomon, a graduate of Frisch High School in Paramus. When the leader of a Reform congregation in her area said that their members do not use the local mikvah, she suggested hanging the poster in the synagogue ladies’ room, and the idea was enthusiastically accepted.
To raise money for future Yesh Tikva initiatives — including the production of educational videos — Ms. Salomon decided to celebrate her 40th birthday in March by running in the Disney Princess Half Marathon in Florida on February 21. Her two older children, Jack, 6, and Gabriel, 3, participated in the runDisney Kids Races that weekend.
“I wanted it to be a lesson for my kids and to get publicity for Yesh Tikva, so I created a fundraising page and launched it on Giving Tuesday after Thanksgiving. By the time Chanukah was over we’d raised $3,000,” Ms. Salomon said. “My goal was $5,000, and we’re close to $8,500 right now. My children know we are raising money for an important tzedaka.”
In addition to Jack and Gabriel, Ms. Salomon and her husband, Awi, are parents to a set of twins, Nathan and Adela, who turn 2 in April. Despite her busy household, she makes time to speak about her journey to motherhood to Jewish groups throughout the tristate area.
For more information, go to www.yeshtikva.org or email email@example.com.