Naomi Less discusses fertility challenges in the Jewish community.

Photo courtesy of ELI Talks

At 36, Naomi Less, a singer-songwriter and associate director of Lab/Shul in Manhattan, got married. At 38, Naomi tried to conceive. Over the next seven years, her fertility journey unfolded with eight in vitro fertilization treatments, including two with donor eggs.

It’s a path many in the Jewish community know all too well, with their own individual twists and turns.

And it’s more common than you think. One in eight individuals or couples has trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy.

Facing fertility challenges is never easy, but it’s especially fraught in the Jewish community, where there’s a large emphasis on family building. This tension cuts across all lines of Jewish affiliation and engagement.

“It impacts your life, your career goals, your finances. It’s all encompassing,” Naomi says. “One of the hardest parts is the crippling isolation. For way too many people in the Jewish community, it is a silent secret and sometimes shameful struggle.”

That’s why UJA-Federation funds an initiative to raise awareness in our community, so individuals and couples coping with fertility issues will feel greater support.

Last year, we supported a training session for clergy, mental health professionals, and lay leaders about fertility struggles. Naomi was one of the facilitators at the event, which was run in collaboration with Uprooted: A Jewish Communal Response to Fertility Journeys.

And in March 2018, TRYmester: Jewish Fertility Journeys Out Loud, a performance told through a tapestry of song dance, and monologue, explored the many twists and turns that can occur on the journey toward family. TRYmester was based on true stories of people in the New York Jewish community.

Artistically developed by Uprooted and the In[heir]itance Project with support from UJA, TRYmester performances were held at the Barry and Florence Friedberg Jewish Community Center, the Harold and Elaine Shames JCC on the Hudson, and the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan with the Manny Cantor Center, all UJA nonprofit partners.

UJA is also funding support services for people facing fertility challenges. These services are offered at community centers in Westchester, Long Island, and Manhattan. For more information, contact Shana Bloom at blooms@ujafedny.org.

“More people speaking openly about this normalizes the experience,” Naomi says. “It’s not taboo, it affects so many people. And the more we speak about it in the Jewish community, the more people with this experience will feel that they are not the only one.”