Elie Salomon, who struggled for years with fertility issues, wants to give a voice — and a helping hand — to others grappling with childlessness.
The Edison resident and her husband, Awi, are now the parents of four small children — including a set of twins — all conceived with the help of assisted reproductive technologies. To provide support and resources for other Jewish couples facing infertility, last year Salomon helped launch Yesh Tikva.
The organization, she said, “is for people who feel isolated or alone. The Jewish community needs to know what people go through, often suffering in silence.”
To enlist synagogues across the country in those efforts, she has hatched the 100 Shuls campaign, asking congregations to provide information on infertility and rabbis to discuss the issue from the pulpit on Shabbat, April 9 — which is also Rosh Hodesh Nisan.
The timing is not accidental. The beginning of the month of Nisan “is just past Purim, when everyone’s kids are running around in costumes,” Salomon said. “And when people think of Nisan, they think of Pesach, when children ask the Four Questions and people are told, ‘You should tell it to your children.’ But for people struggling to have children, it’s like a dagger in their hearts.”
The campaign’s aim is also to remind others that those who are childless or who may be trying to get pregnant “are still part of the Jewish community,” she said.
Salomon believes Maimonides would have approved of the undertaking. “If the Rambam says we should include those without children, so should our synagogues. We don’t care if you’re unaffiliated, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, or Reconstructionist. We don’t care what you are; if you’re Jewish, we don’t want you to be alone.”
Salomon said that Yesh Tikva has surpassed its goal of 100 synagogues by five, to date, even bringing on board congregations in Australia and Israel. Among the 36 participants in New Jersey is Salomon’s shul, the Modern Orthodox Congregation Ohr Torah in Edison.
The organization, whose name means “There is hope,” was founded by Gila Muskin Block, a Queens woman who was also struggling with infertility. She was put in touch with Salomon, a former TV producer for Martha Stewart.
Salomon was hesitant at first, thinking she didn’t need peer-to-peer support, given the “thousands and thousands” of on-line groups with threads linked to all sorts of infertility issues — from using frozen embryos to secondary infertility and a range of treatments.
However, she signed on when she realized there were no outlets to address questions or share experiences from a Jewish perspective.
Yesh Tikva’s Mikvah Infertility Awareness Campaign places posters in ritual baths; for many observant women, performing the monthly immersion is a repeated painful reminder of their failure to become pregnant, said Salomon.
The group also provides resources to increase sensitivity among those who haven’t struggled with infertility and equip them to help others who have.
Its website, yeshtikva.org, includes information on developments in reproductive medicine, medical advice, postings from experts on halachic issues, and stories of personal experiences. The site notes that observant people are often stricter than required according to Halacha, or Jewish law, because they have nobody to consult with or are too embarrassed.
Two certified yoatzot Halacha, female advisers in Jewish law, as well as rabbis and doctors are available for consultation through the Yesh Tikva website.
Salomon is open about her own journey. She married at age 31, late by Orthodox standards.
“Since God made me wait until 31 to get married, I thought getting pregnant would be easy,” she said. “But after six months of trying, I got nervous and said to my husband we should get tested.”
Next followed a series of failed tries and miscarriages and the use of reproductive technologies. Jack, now six, was finally born. After spending thousands of dollars more on various procedures, more failures, and heartache, they welcomed Gabriel, now three. When he was seven months old, the couple decided to have two of their frozen embryos implanted, resulting in the birth of their twins, Adela and Nathan, who turn two in April.
“When someone looks at my kids and says, ‘Wow, they’re so close in age,’ I immediately tell them about my infertility and treatment,” said Salomon. “Sometimes it catches people off guard because I’m so open about it. But I feel it’s important because sometimes people say, ‘Oh, I have a friend going through that.’”
To celebrate her 40th birthday in March and raise money for Yesh Tikva, Salomon ran in the Disney Princess Half Marathon in Disney World on Feb. 21, bringing in $8,818, while her older sons ran the Mickey Mile and the 100-meter Kids Dash “so we would all come home with medals.”
She and other Yesh Tikva leaders have been invited to speak before many Jewish groups, including the Orthodox rabbis of the Rabbinical Council of America, where she was warmly greeted by religious leaders. Some of them acknowledged that they often don’t know how to speak to those suffering from infertility.
“Every time I speak, more and more people come forward,” said Salomon. For many suffering with infertility, she said, “I turn on a light switch” of hope for support and success.