Rabbi Appel on Parashat Vayera

(The Blue Diamond Gallery photo)

In this week’s Torah portion, God comes to Abraham and Sarah to tell them that they will conceive a child, even though they are, respectively, 100 and 90 years old. When Sarah overhears God sharing this news with Abraham, she laughs.

For those of us experiencing infertility, we may have lost our laughter altogether. A hope for a child can become a long, emotionally draining journey with no certain end. In the Jewish community, with such a focus on family and producing a next generation, those experiencing infertility can feel doubly isolated. And yet, one in six Jews experiences infertility.

In our community settings, we should remember how prevalent difficulty conceiving really is. At baby welcoming ceremonies, express blessings for those trying to conceive. Don’t ask newly married couples about family planning or joke about how long it’s taking. Address the stigma that still surrounds infertility by talking more about it, as an article in these pages did last month. And whenever discussing “Jewish continuity,” acknowledge that there are many ways of sustaining the Jewish community, not just biologically.

For those on fertility journeys, there is support in the Jewish community. There are increasing numbers of community organizations dedicated to supporting Jews experiencing infertility, including in Canada. New rituals and prayers have been created – for example, Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin’s collection Tears of Sorrow, Seeds of Hope and infertility mikveh rituals by Boston’s community mikveh, Mayyim Hayyim.

A midrash teaches that when God remembered Sarah and she gave birth, people of all kinds experienced miracles, including many other barren women. My hope for our community is that one person or couple’s miracle can spread, through information, support and connection. For all on the journey of fertility, I hope that tears be replaced soon with laughter – of relief and true joy.