After moving to Santa Barbara in the summer of 2021, my youngest son, Reece attended his final year of preschool at Beit HaYeladim, and as we made acquaintances with some of the other BHY parents we started to hear rumors about Family Camp. I have to admit, maybe because we were brand new to the community and still feeling slightly overwhelmed after our recent move, we decided not to attend that first fall.
However, it seemed as soon as the summer came around the talk of CBB’s Family Camp arose again, and we often heard comments like “You have to attend!” “It’s so much fun!” and “just dress warm.” So at this point it seemed we were really missing out on something special if we let another year go without seeing what all the talk was about. And after attending, I’m happy to say I think our family has found a new fall tradition.
On Friday afternoon, November 11, we packed up the car and enjoyed the scenic drive up to beautiful Ojai Valley, where a short caravan of other cars was pulling into Camp Ramah. Greeting a few familiar faces and meeting a lot of new ones, we unpacked while the kids jumped on their bikes and went off to play with friends. And there were plenty of them, as I’m pretty sure there were just as many kids (if not more) than adults. The activities soon began with an outdoor Shabbat service, where we were “transported to Israel,” followed by dinner. And no sooner after that, we dropped the boys off at “Jen’s Nightclub” so all the moms and dads could relax with other parents and unwind with a drink. Now I love my boys, but they are in fierce competition with my love for childcare.
The rest of the weekend was filled with activities, learning about Israel, racing paper boats, picking oranges, a picnic lunch, learning a new (yet familiar) dance and getting a lot of time just enjoying our time together as a family. And we did this without a device anywhere in sight. Yes, no devices, no WI-FI, and barely a signal to make a call. At first, there could be the tendency to reach for your phone, but eventually you’ll forget it’s there along with all the other anxieties of being digitally connected.
That afternoon, it was time for the kids to do their own activities. Some people played tennis, some went for a hike, and I’m sure a few just napped, but my wife Lindsay and I were able to sit down with Rabbi Daniel and a few others to discuss Israel. I have to admit there is a lot I could learn about Israel, but listening to the discussion about the current politics and the importance of cultivating a love for the state in our children was fascinating. Now you’d think the evening adult parties would have taken the cake, but for me this was actually the highlight of the weekend. Yes, a discussion with the rabbi. I know, I’m kind of shocked myself. But it was so nice to have an adult conversation (usually home conversations are overtaken by kids), and hear different perspectives on a very important matter. I swear, I think I’d make a much better student now than I did 20+ years ago.
Finally, that evening we had Havdalah by the fire, s’mores and lots of song. Sitting under the brilliant stars and watching the embers dance into the night sky, and getting to join in with Cantor Mark’s guitar was a great way to bring it all to an end. And I’m so glad I listened to whomever said “just dress warm” because it was cold! But the warmth of the fire and service kept us snug. The kids went off to do activities, the parents got their time too, but after a few rounds of pool, Lindsay and I decided to call it a wrap. It was a wonderful day, but one that required a good night’s rest when it all came to a close.
The next day after the closing circle and saying our goodbyes, it was a rush back to little league, catching up on calls/emails, and we all felt the natural surge of rejoining the world. But we were able to do it a little more refreshed. Reflecting back, I felt so welcomed. The warmth and friendliness of the CBB community is one I am so happy to have joined, and I know it will be one we’ll be a part of for the years to come. And I have a feeling as summer comes around, we’ll be the ones saying, “You have to attend!” “It’s so much fun!” and… “just dress warm.”
A Note: I’ll be starting my maternity leave at the end of this week, on November 4th. I’m currently 38 weeks’ pregnant, but started writing this essay a bit before my 20th week of pregnancy.
In my 20s, the “do not get pregnant” advice translated in my mind like a neon sign screaming at me everywhere. So, I did my best to not get pregnant. However, when in my 40s I decided that I was ready to start a family of my own, I never in my wildest dreams thought that I’ll quickly become a statistic.
And truthfully, nobody prepared me for that either.
According to the CDC, between 48 million couples and 186 million individuals have infertility globally. In the United States, about 9% of men and 10% of women aged 15 to 44 reported infertility problems; 1 in 5 couples either have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy. 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage.
The CDC reports that 1 in 8 women aged 15-44 years in the US have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term. I’m 1 in 8.
As I was going through my own family building journey (I like to call it journey, but this might not be a journey for everybody) I will repeatedly find myself in shock of how little I knew – and I had acquired vast information already – and how ridiculously unrealistically some movies and tv shows were portraying infertility.
These entertainment shows do not take into account the insane amount of variations infertility has, what an individual experience it is, how crazy expensive each procedure is, and how much silence, shame, guilt, frustration, and ignorance there is around it.
You read it right — I said “guilt.” And not because I’m a Jewish stereotype and practicing becoming a mom, but for me – and many others I have spoken with – there is a lot of guilt associated with it.
How is it possible, that I was SO good at NOT getting pregnant, as if, getting pregnant was one of the easiest things to happen to you if you didn’t pay attention to the “neon signs”; however, when I intentionally wanted to get pregnant it wasn’t happening? You bet I was asking myself, what’s wrong with me?! And I was asking it every month, as another fail round left me empty physically and emotionally.
We are so conditioned by society that pregnancy happens, and because people don’t necessarily announce to the world every time they are intimate with their spouses (and thank you for that!), or visit the fertility clinic, we “come across” pregnant women, and of course we assume that they got it easy.
But, lo and behold! It ain’t easy for everybody! That cruel assumption and social conditioning we are all subject to, is probably the one to blame for the guilt. The anxiety, silence, shame, frustration, and other “spices”, well… those are more complex. You wouldn’t believe the number, variety and kinds of thoughts I had during those two long years (as I’m writing “two years” I’m painfully aware that as much as it felt like eternity to me, so many others go through it for much longer):
Why is it happening to me?; Did I do something wrong?; Maybe I’m not meant to be a mother; How is it possible that I have to indebt myself in order to do something so basic like building a family?; I wish people will stop asking me “why don’t you adopt?” as if adopting was the easiest thing to do in this country (read the note about adoption at the end of the article*); I’m helping educate hundreds of Jewish children, how come I can’t educate my own?; one of the first Jewish commandments is to “be fruitful and multiply” and I can’t even paying, make it happen?; if one more person asks me if I ever want be a mom, I might eventually lose it.
It can get wild inside someone’s mind, you can get lost in so many thoughts, and as much as you can understand that people inherently do not have bad intentions, the emotional bandwidth wears thin, and it gets harder to be understanding.
So if there is one little piece of advice I can offer is, never, and I truly mean never, ask anyone “when are they planning to have kids.” Not only because they might not want to have kids, or let’s face it, if they are not sharing with you their plans, is also, with all due respect, none of your business, but moreover because you might be pressing on the sore wound.
I’m all about transparency and creating awareness – hence me writing this piece – and it amazes me how much silence there is around the subject. I get it though, some of the thoughts and feelings are so unique to the experience you’re having, I was unsure that anyone else would ever understand. It’s a very lonely path, regardless of whether you’re going through it alone or as part of a partnership, if you have an amazing support system like I did, or not.
I can easily relate to biblical character, Hannah – we read this haftarah on Rosh Hashana – when she will silently and devotedly pray for a child, so deep and intentional was her prayer that from the outside it will look like “she was either drunk or losing it”. We know that her prayers were answered, but we also know that not all prayers are answered.
There are so many ways to build your own family, way more than you’re aware of. Finding the right way for you is hard, and I hope that if you’re reading this you know that you don’t have to go through it alone, that there are many resources out there – including the clergy, me and others who walked similar paths before you – to help.
Personally, I’m incredibly grateful to Rabbi Idit Solomon, founder of Hasidah*, an outstanding Jewish national organization, who provided a safe space for me to share my fears, thoughts, and doubts. Hasidah enabled me to cope through the pain with other women dealing with the same challenges, feeling heard, virtually held, and giving my own infertility journey a Jewish frame through Jewish sources.
As much as I had a wonderful support system, the women I’ve met at Hasidah were my strongest net of support, because I knew there was no judgment. They could hear everything I felt and thought, and they understood because they were going through it too.
As much as I believe in transparency, I wasn’t ready to share my story with the whole community until I felt confident to be open about it. At 20 weeks pregnant (when I wrote the first draft of this column) and with a big belly, I felt that Pixie (my baby’s in-utero name) and I were ready.
I’m sharing this as a proud member of the Mental Wellness Committee at CBB. These amazing women take the time to educate themselves constantly to be a source of support to the members. When I mentioned the idea of exploring perspectives on “the challenges in family building,” they were eager to connect with Rabbi Idit Solomon and learn.
I’m so grateful that the wonderful group of women leading the Mental Wellness Committee keeps working on creating visibility for all, unpacking hard things to talk about, and being an available resource to our entire community,
Infertility doesn’t discriminate, age, gender, race, faith, marital status – ironically, it’s very inclusive in that way! And we are too, with kindness and open arms. Please know that you can always reach out to me, to clergy or to someone on our mental wellness committee, if you ever want to talk. No one needs to go through this alone – community as well as single individuals can make a difference. CBB wants to help, in whatever way we can.
As I feel blessed today with my sinuous path to building my own Jewish family I am reminded of all those who are still walking this path, I pray that you find at least one person that can hold you tight, that you know to ask for help, and that you find your own way to build your Jewish family. Meanwhile, I’ll keep you in my prayers with generations before us that like Hannah, pray with love and kavana.
* A note about adoption: Adoption is a very complex subject in the U.S. I, personally, explored it and understood that, in my case, I had two options:
foster to adoption: Foster to adopt can be more challenging for single parent households, and after having serious and long conversations with two different families who adopted through foster care, I understood that I wasn’t quite emotionally ready for that.
domestic adoption: I cannot adopt outside of the US because I’m not a U.S citizen. I am a green card holder, and a citizen of Israel.
A domestic adoption can cost more than $50,000 and there are no guarantees of a child at the end of that process.
And to be clear, this does not imply that people struggling with infertility should be the ones solely responsible for the foster care crisis. Adoption is a different path to parenthood, it was simply not right for my personal circumstances.
If you, or someone you know and love, are struggling with the challenges of family building, please contact Hasidah at 415-323-3226/ https://hasidah.org/contact-us/. Hasidah also offers grants to people struggling with infertility.
The Jewish Fertility Foundation out of Atlanta is another resource for information, support, and grants. I did not personally use their services, but I know others who have, and are grateful for their services. https://jewishfertilityfoundation.org/
As you may know, Santa Barbara Unified School District closed school for the first time, on Yom Kippur, this year. It required quite a bit of effort and negotiation (especially on the part of JLP Parent, Holly Goldberg). I think it is really important that we, as a community, acknowledge the efforts of the school board and let them know how much we appreciate the ability for our children to attend services and honor this most important Jewish Holy Day, without missing school.
Please take a few minutes and write a quick email to the Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent and School Board Members (all email addresses noted below) to let them know that we noticed and that we are grateful.
I truly believe that it would make a significant difference and would encourage them to continue to close school in honor of Jewish Holy Days, in the years ahead.
We were not yet members of CBB when it was time to find a preschool for our daughter Alex, but BHY was the natural and pragmatic choice. My husband Dan grew up at the synagogue, and a number of our good friends were part of the community, giving us a built-in sense of comfort and trust. Add in the fact that we live just a few minutes away, and it was really a no-brainer. We didn’t even look at any other schools.
What I didn’t anticipate was how much more we were stepping into when we enrolled Alex at BHY. From the first day, we were welcomed by the ‘veteran’ parents whose younger kids were in her class. Stacie and Linda reassured us that before we knew it, we’d all be able to make it through drop-off without tears. We joined in the holiday events and the Tot Shabbat dinners. Alex soon settled in and made lots of friends as her class filled up over the next few months. So did we.
My family is not religious, and though we did have a small social circle, I had no experience of being part of this kind of a community when I was growing up. It has been wonderful to watch Alex grow and flourish at BHY, and to see how much she considers CBB to be a second home. From her earliest days there, she has known the names of all the clergy and staff, as well as her classmates, and they all know her. She already has deep bonds with her friends, and I hope and trust that those are going to continue for many years to come.
Over time, I have come to realize that it isn’t just Alex who feels at home here. While I don’t share the Jewish faith, the values of tikkun olam, social justice, tolerance, and community are very close to my heart and a natural fit. From the first, I have been received with warmth, openness and kindness as I built my knowledge of the rhythms and traditions of the Jewish year. (The fact that I can bake a decent challah probably didn’t hurt.) I’m very grateful for the fellow parents who have become friends, and all of the teachers and staff at BHY who create such a nurturing and loving space for our children. I appreciate the opportunities to support others in our community, and to ask for advice and help when I am in need.
Alex graduated this summer after four happy years at BHY, and she is missing her friends dearly. And I am missing the friendly waves and parking lot chats that were part of my own daily routine. We are all looking forward to the start of Netivot this weekend that will bring its own weekly routine and connections. And from there, on to the family Shabbats and holiday celebrations that will sketch out the shape of our years, and the shared milestones, laughter and memories that will fill them in.
First mentioned in 1238, one of the oldest Jewish settlements in the Czech lands.
In 1568 the Jews were expelled from the town. Historical sources refer to their number at the time as “sizeable.”
In 1853 the first Jewish family moved back, in 1880 there were 332 Jewish citizens, in 1900 there were 415 and in 1930, 215 people claimed their Jewish heritage.
The Jews in Pribram enjoyed a rich social life; there was a chevra kadisha, a Sisterhood, and charity and youth organizations. Before WWI there was even a kosher restaurant.
During the Nazi occupation, 171 Pribram Jews were killed in the camps, including 18 children under 15. The youngest was Pavel Schling, he was four years old.
In 1873 the building of the synagogue (in the then-popular Moorish style) began and in 1875 it was finished and the first Torah scroll was placed in the synagogue.
In the 1960s many Torah scrolls were sold to Western Jewish organizations all over the world.
The last Pribram rabbi, Dr. Emil Friedman, was killed in Auschwitz in 1943, along with 543 Jewish people from Pribram and the surrounding area.
During WWII, the synagogue was used as a warehouse and from 1946 to 1957 it housed collections of the town museum.
In 1966, due to only a very small number of Jewish people in Pribram, the congregation donated the synagogue to the town of Pribram.
The magistrate accepted the donation, only to tear the synagogue down in 1969.
The location of the medieval Jewish cemetery in unknown.
The new Jewish cemetery was founded in 1879. There are currently 150 beautifully preserved grave stones and a monument to the 543 Nazi victims, unveiled in 1954. The last Jewish burial took place in 1958. The cemetery is very well preserved and taken care of.