Every year, history teacher Joel Glazer has his juniors at Bruriah High School for Girls create a “museum” commemorating the Holocaust. This year, that display focusing on death and destruction ends with a totally different focus — on helping new mothers bring forth life.
For much of February, the hallways of the Jewish Educational Center school in Elizabeth were adorned with vivid, grim artworks created by the girls, wartime photos and original “news reports,” maps, and charts, sharing the students’ newly acquired knowledge. The display included what came after the war — the establishment of the State of Israel, life in the Diaspora, and, this year, the most recent conflicts threatening Israel.
It ended with posters and information on Crib Efrat, an organization that seeks to cut the number of abortions in Israel. According to the organization, there are 50,000 abortions a year in the country, most of them due to economic hardship. The organization’s website says it “saves the lives of over 3,000 children in Israel each year by providing financial and social support to pregnant women in distress.”
“I said to the girls, ‘You weren’t around to help save lives in the 1930s or ’40s, but you are now,’” Glazer said. With one girl from each of the three junior classes chosen to lead the effort, he challenged them to raise the $1,200 Efrat asks for each baby, by May 22.
If a mother meets its requirements proving financial hardship, Efrat provides her with food and baby supplies for a year, delivered every month to her door. That includes $850 worth of diapers, formula, and canned and dry foods. It also provides equipment like a crib, stroller, baby bath, clothes, and bottles worth $350. In cases of ongoing need, Efrat continues to give help for a second year.
Glazer said the girls can do whatever outreach and fund-raisers they choose. So far, they have lined up bake sales and outreach to family and friends. It’s up to the students, he said. “Once I hand a project like this over to them, they have carte blanche. If the girls raise more $1,200, they can ‘leave it in the bank’ and continue to raise funds for another child.”
Nurit Esral, a Bruriah student from Teaneck, has been coordinating the project. She said, “I get the shivers every time I think how much Crib Efrat does. It is truly amazing and inspiring.”
The organization has had its share of controversy, accused by some of depicting abortion as murder and ignoring rabbinic teaching that permits abortion in cases where the mother’s physical or emotional well-being is at stake. “The statement ‘Abortion is murder’ is not legitimate,” one of its most vocal critics, Rabbi Benny Lau of Jerusalem’s Ramban Congregation, told Ha’aretz in 2013. “I understand the motivation to fight against extreme liberalism, but a lack of balance is very dangerous to the social structure. A religious society is obligated to take things in a balanced way. The Efrat association does not have this balance.”
Crib Efrat founder and director Dr. Eli Schussheim insists the organization has never made the claim that abortion is tantamount to murder, and insists that it is “pro-choice,” giving options to those who feel limited by their poverty. In January, the organization even joined feminists in supporting a proposal to allow women to undergo abortions without first appearing before a state committee, as Israel’s otherwise liberal abortion law currently requires.
Glazer, who has been teaching for 53 years, said he started the Holocaust display idea “about 10 years ago, and it just took on a life of its own. Each class takes it on as a challenge, and they go all out on it. The girls responded the same way to the introduction of Efrat.”
Rochel Hirsch of Passaic, one of the docents taking fellow students and visitors around the museum, said the whole experience has been fascinating. “I knew very little about the war. Now I feel as if I’ve got a much better idea of what happened. And I love the fact that we ended with this part about saving new lives.”