COVID Struggles at Just One Life/ Nefesh Achat B’Yisrael
News From our Israel Team
With the support of our generous donors, Just One Life/ Nefesh Achat B’Yisrael has always been at the forefront of supporting pregnant women in Israel during their time of need. But this year, that definition grew to include more women and more needs than we ever could have anticipated…
Being laid off from work while expecting a new baby can be extremely anxiety-provoking, especially for someone who already was not covering their monthly expenses. Lockdowns and kids off from school mean expectant mothers on bedrest or postpartum women recovering from labor are not being granted the precious hours of respite that school usually provides. We’ve seen an increase in pre-term labor and birth-related complications as mothers find it impossible to care for themselves properly when their other children are home and requiring care.
Many pregnant women were forced to labor alone or were separated from their infant moments after birth when a spouse or child of the woman tested positive. Many new mothers did not receive adequate postpartum care as they were placed in COVID wards. Left alone, weak, and tired after labor, many mothers did not have the energy to advocate for themselves or their newborn child. These traumatic separations and conditions left many mothers with lingering trauma and attachment challenges.
Many clients were left without basic supplies for their babies when forced to quarantine after giving birth. We received countless calls asking if we can provide basic supplies such as formula, baby clothing, diapers, and pacifiers.
Women who typically have strong support systems and social interactions were left isolated and alone due to quarantines and lockdowns. We have seen an increase in peripartum and postpartum depression (PPD) as isolation and lack of familial support is a direct risk factor for PPD.
We are so thankful for the help that we have been able to provide to these expectant mothers and their families at their greatest time of need. At a time when the whole world is struggling, it has been our greatest honor and privilege to join with our supporters in offering a small beacon of light and hope to each and every expectant mother and family who is referred to us.
However, with all the success we have seen, we cannot help but think ahead to all the work that still needs to be done. We would love to be able to offer more support for women whose pregnancies and births have been affected by COVID-19. We would love to send them care packages that can help these mothers better care for themselves and their babies. With the upcoming holidays, we would like to be able to provide more financial and support to help our families make it through
We thank you for your loyal support and hope that we can count on your continued partnership.
כמה יבראון Israel’s Most Precious Resource is Its Children
When Miriam learned she was pregnant with her third child, she was ambivalent about her preg- nancy. She and her two young children were feeling unwell and she had recently been laid off from her part-time job, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Without his wife’s paycheck to supplement the family income, Miriam’s husband was afraid they wouldn’t be able to both feed the family and pay their rent.
Then Miriam tested positive for COVID-19.
Due to her high-risk pregnancy, she was rushed into isolation in the corona ward at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. Miriam felt helpless, as though her entire life was crumbling around her, and she was left to deal with it all on her own, without even the sup- port of her close family.
When a Shaare Zedek social worker suggested she contact Nefesh Achat B’Yis- rael, Miriam jumped at the chance.
For many women suffering from financial and emotional distress, or experiencing medical complica- tions or high-risk pregnancies, the preg- nancy is often too much to cope with.
That’s where Nefesh Achat B’Yisrael steps in.
Nefesh Achat B’Yisrael (with the financial backing of Just One Life, USA) was formed in 1988 by concerned individu- als who recognized the need to provide support for expect- ant mothers in Israel, where financial hardship and social and medical issues can lead to difficult pregnancies.
The founders of the organization were Rabbi Solomon J. Sharfman a”h, Dr. Shimon Glick, who was then the Dean of Ben-Gurion University Soroka Hospital, Jack Forgash, a businessman from the USA and a friend of Dr. Glick and Rabbi Sharfman, and Madelaine Gitelman from Jerusalem, who became the organization’s Director and Head of Social Workers in 1989. The organization’s name was derived from the Talmudic passage in Sanhedrin that states, “One who saves a single Jewish life has saved an entire world.”
The key to the organization’s success is that “we provide stability to families who are experiencing turbulence in their lives,” said Rabbi Martin Katz, who has served as the USA Executive Vice President of Just One Life since its founding. “By providing pro- fessional counseling, emotional support and financial assis- tance, Just One Life empowers mothers to bring their preg- nancy to full term, thus preserving Israel’s most precious resource – its children.”
Veteran social worker Chaya Katzin, the current Israel Director and Head of Social Workers, and her team of social workers and therapists, help expectant women speak about their challenges at the welcoming Nefesh Achat B’Yisrael/Just One Life office on Jerusalem’s King George Street.
“Helping women process their choices and empowering them to understand their strengths is the goal of our inter- vention. We try to bring down the crisis level and arm women with the skills they need to more easily manage their lives,” says Katzin. “Through various workshops and meth- ods of individual and group therapy, we help women develop an empowered approach to parenting and provide their chil- dren with a healthy and supportive environment.”
For example, Nefesh Achat B’Yisrael’s team of social workers provided Miriam with emotional and financial support, and empowered her to cope with her difficult pregnancy and give birth to a healthy son. The brit was in their home, the baby is starting off his new life with a layette provided by Just One Life, and Miriam is in a much stronger mental and physical position to be a happy healthy mother to her children.
The social workers and therapists at Nefesh Achat B’Yisrael aid approximately 500 families every year, which has resulted in over 18,500 babies over the last three decades. The cou- ples come from all over Israel and from a broad range of backgrounds: religious and secular, Ashkenazi and Sephardi and new immigrants as well as longtime Israelis. But what the women share in common are limited incomes, stressful family situations or health issues. A pregnancy only adds to their long roster of challenges.
Jack Forgash, the Chairman and Co-Founder of JOL and Nefesh Achat for 31 years, said, “I would be remiss if I did not give praise, recognition and todah to the manner in which the professional social workers for 31 years have given care and compassion to the mothers and the 18,500 plus children born in Israel. To Madelaine Gitelman, who served as Director for 27 years, current Director, Chaya Katzin, and the professional staff – Shira Keyak, Sara Gordon, Atara Block and Eliana Rubinstein. Just One Life in the USA provides the resources and the Nefesh Achat organization in Israel provides the loving care.”
Women often find their way to the Nefesh Achat B’Yisrael office through referrals from doctors, social workers, nurses and welfare offices. Even now during this pandemic, over- whelmed hospital nurses and social workers are calling upon Nefesh Achat to take on additional cases.
The organization also receives referrals from major hospitals across Israel. For example, Nefesh Achat B’Yisrael maintains a strong relationship with Shaare Zedek in Jerusalem. Shaare Zedek’s high-risk pregnancy clinic, led by Dr. Ori Shen and Mrs. Yehudit Ackerman, refers patients who require addi- tional emotional or financial support to Nefesh Achat B’Yis- rael. Dr. Shen has praised the organization’s important work: “There is no doubt Nefesh Achat B’Yisrael’s assistance has created circumstances optimal for helping the couples and has brought about beneficial outcomes.”
The vast majority of the women that turn to Nefesh Achat B’Yisrael have very limited income. Currently, 1.7 million people in Israel are living below the poverty level. Just One Life provides nearly $1,800 to each mother for financial and psychological services.
Just One Life has earned praise from many leading politi- cians and medical professionals, including Danny Danon, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, who recently rec- ognized the organization’s three decades of success in bring- ing Jewish life into the world: “Your work for Jewish families is fundamental to the future and well-being of the Jewish people. Bringing Just One Life to Israel was an important development, and brought the issue of raising Jewish chil- dren straight to the heart of the Jewish world.”
The children who have been born with the support of Just One Life are now taking their rightful places in society. Many have grown up to serve in the Israel Defense Forces, attend Torah institutions and universities and have families of their own.
“In the 31 years since the organization has been helping women have their babies, nobody has ever come back to complain,” recounts Katz. “But many have returned to give thanks. They say, ‘I can’t imagine what my life would be like without my children.’”
Hamizrachi Magazine September 2020
My Rebbe, Rav Dovid Feinstein, Zt”l
Rav Dovid Feinstein, was the rosh yeshiva of Mesivta Tiferes Jerusalem on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. He was a renowned Torah scholar and halachic authority for Jews around the world. He passed away last week at the age of 91. What follows is personal reflections from one of his many talmidim.
I was a student in MTJ in 1960. After high school my father sent me there to learn because of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. There, I learned Talmud, but I also learned how to deal with people. I met Rav Moshe at my interview and was put into Rav Dovid’s shiur, who was first starting to teach classes in the beis midrash. I was in his shiur for two years.
There were 20 of us, and our interactions were that of a rebbe and talmid, but also like a friendship, with all the chavrutot and learning together.
When I went to college I continued at MTJ in between classes. Sometimes I would drive Rav Moshe home for lunch because I was the only one with a car.
I formed Just One Life in 1988, an organization that supports pregnant women in Israel who are in crisis, such as single mothers, women getting divorced while pregnant or who got pregnant while in the army. There are many halachic questions that come up when dealing with these is sues, and I would call Rav Dovid when I had a question. He became the rabbinical authority for Just One Life, along with Rav Pam.
I would bring photos of the babies and their mothers to show Rav Dovid when I would visit the yeshiva and he would smile and ask questions about the mother’s situation. He would ask me to show the photos to Rebbetzin Malka and would tell me later that she enjoyed seeing them.
Ten years ago, Rav Dovid asked me to join the MTJ board. I asked him, “Rebbe, it’s 50 years later! Why are you asking me now?” He answered me, “You’re family and family should stick together.” So I joined, and sometimes at board meetings, when I would contribute an idea, he would say, “I like that.”
Rav Dovid Feinstein, zt”l
The main lesson I learned from Rav Moshe and Rav Dovid was chesed. The way they would greet everyone at the yeshiva—there was an open door. People came from all walks of life, every type of Jew—and even non-Jews! Rabbis from the OU, Agudah, Young Israel, Torah uMesorah, all came to the yeshiva to ask questions to Rav Moshe and lat er to Rav Dovid. He was always humble, inviting and interested in other people.
A lot of poor Jews would come to collect tzedakah from the students in the beis mid rash, and one day when Rav Moshe was giving shiur a lady came in collecting and was chased out by a bachur. Rav Moshe stopped the shiur, ex cused himself and went out to give the woman tzedakah from his own pocket. Then he went over to the bachur and gave him tzedakah to give her as well.
We used to go across the street to Sam’s Deli for lunch, and Rav Dovid would come in, sit and eat with us. He was my posek, my rebbe and my friend. I looked up to him tremendously.
The Feinstein family, Rav Moshe and Rav Dovid, emu lated the avos in the way they built up Jewish values and the Jewish way of life to where it was before the Holocaust.
Like Avra ham, their chesed was unbelieva ble. Like Yitzchak, they had gevurah. Rav Dovid had the strength to carry on his father’s mis sion and togeth er they carried the world Jewish com munity on their backs. They wer en’t just roshei ye shiva, but roshei klal Yisrael.
And like Yaakov, their To rah was known throughout the world and it uplifted the Jewish poeple after the Hol ocaust and continues to this day. [Artscroll, the household name that disseminates To rah throughout the world, was born in MTJ, with Rav Dovid encouraging his great friend, Artscroll founder Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, and giving his haskama on many sefarim.]
Rabbi Feinstein, center, with Jack Forgash, left, and his son Elliot Forgash, at Elliot's wedding.
After watching the funeral on Zoom on Sunday, I went to the airport to say goodbye to Rav Dovid: my rebbe, my adviser, my friend. Rabbi Feinstein and Jack Forgash shaking hands. Rabbi Feinstein, center, with Jack Forgash, left, and his son Elliot Forgash, at Elliot's wedding.
By Jack Forgash, as told to Michal Rosenberg