So, how many children do you have?” “Do you have kids?”
Those seemingly innocuous questions are enough to make me crumble to the floor. I don’t know how to answer them. Over the years, I have tried the following responses: “God has other plans for me” or, “I have tried, but never been able to go the distance.” The truth is, I don’t have any children. Every time I have conceived, I have had a disastrous miscarriage. But if I simply respond, “no,” I am not answering the question honestly.
I am a congregational rabbi — and a public person in New York City — whose synagogue actively tries to attract and engage children in our community. And, when queried about offspring, I often feel inadequate. It is so much more complicated than simply answering “no” when asked if I have children. I want people to know that I am trying my best. It is just not working. It is not my fault.
I know it is a mitzvah to have and raise children. In fact, the very first mitzvah in the Torah is, “Be fruitful and multiply.” (Genesis 1:28) Awareness of that verse makes me feel somehow fraudulent as a rabbi and as a Jewish educator. How can I encourage others to raise nice Jewish mensches if I can’t even do it myself? On those bad days, I feel judged and I judge myself.
While I’m consoled by the thought that I help to raise other people’s children, it is not enough for me. I want one or more of my own. I am sad to say that biology and finances have thus far prevented me from participating in this mitzvah. Only last year, after six years of marriage and nine years in the rabbinate, did I decide to go public about my infertility problem. And that was only because I don’t want to be judged. I do plenty of that myself.
The sadness and frustration have many fronts. For example, during kiddush, when congregants my age discuss Little League games, summer camps, and growth spurts, I feel alienated from and envious of their lives. I often feel as though I have more in common with my senior citizen members than my contemporaries.
For those who desire children, infertility tears at the soul. I try to believe the words in “Hatikvah,” “od lo avda tikvateinu,” “we still have not lost hope” — but sometimes, I feel hopeless. I know that God created miracle children for the biblical characters Sarah and Rachel and Hannah. Maybe, just maybe, God has one miracle left for me.email print