It was Rosh Hashanah and Lauren Hendeles sat inside Congregation Beth Israel sobbing. “God, please hear my prayer. Please bless me with a child,” she prayed. It was 2017 and Hendeles was overcome with the physical, emotional and spiritual toll of unexplained infertility.
She later shared her story publicly in the spring of 2019 from the bima at CBI. “A staggering one in eight couples struggle to get pregnant,” she told her congregation. “How did I not know this before? Why was no one talking about this? So now I am.”
She and CBI Rabbi Stephen Kahn started the Mishpacha Project shortly after. The fund offers help to CBI members and their immediate families who may be struggling to build their families. The fund has around $40,000 and Kahn hopes to grow it to a point that the project can be a resource beyond CBI — for all Jewish community members of Greater Phoenix. Delayed by COVID, the project officially launched this year and a CBI couple received the first grant money of $4,000 in March.
“We need to be in the business of doing whatever we can to build Jewish families,” Kahn said.
According to The American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the average cost of an in vitro fertilization cycle in the United States is $12,400. And with medication, the cost can be closer to $25,000.
“Most of this is not covered by insurance, if any,” Kahn said. “And I think people have a misconception of, ‘Oh, I have infertility and so I go do this $30,000 procedure to make a baby.’ But there are so many preliminary steps before you even get to that.”
Hendeles and her husband now have two children: Max, 3, and Eli, 1. They were both conceived “with a little help from science,” Hendeles joked. And that help came with a hefty price tag.
Hendeles and her husband didn’t need financial help, but feels “money should never prohibit someone from having a baby.”
She hopes the project will remind people who are struggling with infertility that they are not alone.
“It’s an emotionally, physically and financially draining journey. Our grants can be used to cover any expense associated with assisted reproduction such as IUI, IVF, egg and sperm donation and surrogacy,” she said. “Infertility is real, it’s painful, and unfortunately it’s very common.”
The seeds for the Mishpacha Project were planted in April 2019, when Hendeles approached Kahn about having CBI participate in the Infertility Awareness Shabbat. Founded by California-based Yesh Tikva, Infertility Awareness Shabbat is an annual global campaign to raise awareness and sensitivity regarding infertility.
CBI participated in IAS again earlier this year, with Hendeles again speaking from the bima.
“All of Israel is responsible for one another,” she told congregants. “Let us demonstrate to those in struggle that they are not alone, not this Shabbat or ever.”
Mishpacha Project joins a growing list of resources available to Jewish couples experiencing infertility. Twelve Jewish organizations participated in a virtual Jewish fertility support summit earlier this year.
“Chances are, everybody knows somebody going through [infertility] because the statistics are one in eight couples, which is quite high. It’s time for us to come together as a community and really support our loved ones,” said Chani Levertov, who launched Phoenix-based Fruitful, a support group for those navigating infertility, in 2018. JN
To learn more about the Mishpacha Project or to donate, visit cbiaz.org/mishpacha-project-fertility-assistance-grants/.