Abandon Hope? A Polemic and a Plea

Caryn Aviv
March 3, 2014
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Dear officials from the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life, Koret Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network, Nathan Cummings Foundation, and other major donors in the Jewish community;

Thank you for your deep and sustained commitment to your vision of Jewish life.  Your support has helped thousands of Jews thrive, learn, and improve the planet.

But, there’s another way you can help.  If you are committed to the future of a vibrant Jewish community, won’t you help Jewish women make Jewish babies?

Yes, you read that right. What I am calling for is a Jewish National Reproductive Fund.

At this very moment across the United States, I know many successful, smart, amazing, committed and passionate Jewish women who really, really want to have children. They have earned graduate degrees, they have become leaders in their communities, they have positively influenced Jewish life, and they have changed the world for the better.

These brave, amazing, powerful women have also paid thousands upon thousands of dollars to enlist reproductive technology in service of a deep desire to have and raise Jewish children. They have suffered the devastating loss of miscarriages. They have lived with the pain of infertility in isolation and without the financial support of the American Jewish community. They have even considered making aliyah, just for the sake of having access to state-subsidized in-vitro fertilization.

Yet, despite all the terrible setbacks, the stress, the financial strain, and the rollercoaster of uncertainty in their lives, they refuse to abandon hope. These women have plumbed the depths of their hearts to discern what they want to do with their lives. One of those life aspirations is to pru u’rvu: to be fruitful and multiply, to create life and sustain it with love and joy, compassion and empathy, and with Jewish wisdom to guide their parenting journey.

 Yes, difficulty and suffering are undeniable facets of life. The women I know who struggle with infertility have touched a deep, heartbreaking well of sadness and yearning. We all know that we don’t always get what we want.  We know that opening up to life as it is can be an excruciating, and necessary, exercise in acceptance.  But why should Jewish women facing infertility abandon their hopes of becoming parents, when our community clearly has the resources to address this situation and help change it?

So please – would you consider supporting a Jewish National Reproductive Fund as an act of Jewish vision and courage?  Would you be willing to come together and help fund the next generation of Jewish life for those who face challenges in becoming parents?

We can do this, right now.  If you will it, it is no dream.  And if not now, when?

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Caryn Aviv is Associate Director/Jewish Educator with Judaism Your Way in Denver, CO. Caryn taught Jewish Studies at various universities for ten years, and has published widely in the areas of contemporary Jewish culture, gender and sexuality in Judaism, and Israel Studies. In her voluminous spare time, she's an aspirational vegan yogini and is studying for rabbinical ordination through ALEPH: The Alliance for Jewish Renewal.


  1. For some of us it is too late and we have given up hope.
    After several years of trying first to have a baby through medical means and then learning that we could not afford to adaopt (because we’d spent all the money we’d had on medical means), we had to stop trying. Then it was time to face the social isolation that comes from being a childless couple in Jewish community.
    So while you plead with philanthropic organizations about raising money to help women have more Jewish babies, here’s another plea.
    Stop looking at me as though I’ve let down the side by not having a Jewish baby. We tried, my partner and I, harder than you can imagine. It was an overwhelming process, fucking expensive and exhausting and isolating and lonely as hell. When we announced after several years that we had run out of resources and that we had to stop trying, that we were at the end of everything, family and friends had the nerve to tell us we hadn’t tried hard enough. (If we had lost our house and ended up living in my partner’s car as a result of trying harder, would our Jewish community have come to our aid? Or would they have judged us equally harshly for not entering higher-paying careers at the start? I am glad I don’t have to know the answer to those questions.)
    We are moving on. We are beginning to make older friends, friends without kids or whose kids have long grown and gone. Bcause the friends our age who had kids got sucked down the rabbit hole of proud parenthood and discussions about diapers and private schools and trips to the zoo, and frankly we can’t go there with them. We can’t go to baby showers or brises. I took three years off from tutoring B’nei Mitzvah students because for awhile it just hurt too damned much to give the gift of Torah to someone else’s child.
    Today I am fifty-one and will never have a child of my own. Nearly five years after we were forced by our circumstances to stop trying, my partner and I still struggle periodically with depression and sorrow, especially every couple of years when another round of our friends starts showing up with swollen bellies at communal gatherings and everyone fusses and fawns. We stand on the outside, unable to relate or to really congratulate either. We struggle on, trying to put on the brave face and trying to stay involved in our Jewish community, but some days it is still insanely hard.
    That is what life has given to me. I stand in an odd place where I am not always sure who my peer group is, who my community is, because women around me in their mid to late forties with the means and the good luck are popping out babies right and left, or spending thousands to adopt.
    So while we are asking for more money to help Jewish women have more Jewish babies, let’s take the longer look — and frankly, the much harder one — at what it means to have a child at any cost, and whether or not it makes sense for everyone. Let’s take the longer and harder look at how childlessness, whether by default or by choice, isolates and damns Jewish women who find themselves on the outside — and then let’s have the courage to talk about it and put an end to such isolation. Let’s make sure than when we try to help Jewish women, we try to help ALL Jewish women, even those without children, to feel more fully embraced and accepted in Jewish communal life.

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  2. Thank you, Caryn, for this call out and call to action.

    Infertility has touched everyone. There is not one person I know who has come out unscathed either themselves or someone they love by infertility issues.

    In the Jewish community, there are almost NO, i repeat, NO free financial resources to help offset costs of infertility treatments. (I know of two funds with very very limited capacity - one in Dallas started by a Rabbi and his wife after their own struggles, and Bonei Olam, who, by the way, asks who your “halachic advisor” is…hmmm). The rest are loans, and speaking for myself, after $35,000 plus I have spent on treatments, I just can’t go into hock.

    For many with Blue Cross Blue Shield their IUI and IVF treatments are partially or fully covered - but that’s a hefty plan not accessible to everyone. But if you are not a candidate for IUI and IVF - let’s say you need egg donations or to adopt - well, then you are looking at upwards of $23,000-$60,000. And its not a guarantee - so what if you are able to raise funds for that and it doesn’t work…then what?

    We, the Jewish folk who want to raise Jewish children and are having trouble procreating, call upon the Jewish community to help create a BirthRATE program.

    I invite the readers to witness one person’s struggle - read this crosspost - it’s by yours truly.

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