By Mica Soffer – COLlive.com
Photos: Yinon Suissa
Chabad couples struggling with infertility now have their very own source of assistance on their journey to parenthood.
Bonei Olam, one of the world’s leading Jewish organizations assisting couples with financial aid, advocacy and other fertility-related services, has opened a Chabad branch in Crown Heights.
Although Lubavitchers have always been served by Bonei Olam, and hundreds of babies in the community were born with Bonei Olam’s assistance, the new office is bringing the organization even closer to home. Bonei Olam Chabad is serving as a home base of Bonei Olam operations, not only for local couples, but also for Shluchim and other Chabad communities in far-flung areas of the globe.
The Crown Heights office is a welcome addition to Bonei Olam’s network. Bonei Olam currently has eighteen chapters in five countries, and satellite offices in Jewish communities around the world, including Los Angeles, Baltimore, Montreal and many others.
The organization has achieved remarkable success. In the twenty years since its founding, Bonei Olam has become the address people turn to when they need funding for exorbitantly expensive treatments, and when they need medical advice, help with genetic issues, referrals, or other services related to their infertility.
To date, Bonei Olam has been involved in the birth of nearly eight thousand babies – with more being born nearly every week. That number is incredible, especially considering the fact that fertility treatment is extremely complex – and very costly.
While the average cost of bringing a couple to parenthood is $25,000, it may rise to $150,000 or more. Yet Bonei Olam will help a couple and pay for treatments, as long as they have a reasonable chance of having a child.
Bonei Olam Chabad is being led by Crown Heights residents Etel Hurwitz, Esther Kleinman and Rochie Junik, under the guidance of Bonei Olam’s founder and director, Rabbi Schlomo Bochner.
Hurwitz, Kleinman and Junik are well suited to the task. As Crown Heights residents who’ve experienced infertility firsthand, they understand the issues – and the pain – that couples endure in their struggles.
“We want every single couple navigating the world of infertility to know that they are not alone,” says Esther Kleinman, in a joint interview with COLlive. “Bonei Olam is here to help.”
Etel Hurwitz explains why the Crown Heights location is so important.
“We joined Bonei Olam from Crown Heights because we wanted every couple to feel that there is someone in the community who understands what they are going through,” Hurwitz says.
“The reality is that there is a lot of stigma and shame when it comes to infertility,” she explains. “It’s not a topic people want to discuss, even with close friends or relatives. We’re here to help; to make getting assistance as comfortable as possible.”
Already, feedback has been very positive, with Chabad couples looking forward to working with Bonei Olam representatives from their own community.
The Bonei Olam Counselor – a couple’s link to care
Bonei Olam has invested considerable effort in easing the process of getting help. Each couple is assigned a counselor who manages every aspect of their case, from the application process and on. This counselor is the only person in Bonei Olam whom a couple has to speak to.
“Every counselor is an expert in the field,” says Rabbi Bochner. “We created a system where the counselors have access to a network of doctors, hospitals and laboratories. They know which is the best for a couple in a particular situation.” This network includes the leading fertility specialists in the world. Bonei Olam’s connections also mean that counselors help patients get not only the best care possible, but also the best prices for that care. That is very significant.
“The single largest obstacle to having a child is cost,” Rabbi Bochner says. “In the past, couples simply couldn’t afford to be treated. That is a terrible tragedy. We can’t allow that to happen.”
He advises couples to reach out for help, even if they can afford treatment on their own.
“Many couples who try to get help on their own, sadly, after a few years, still don’t have a child. Bonei Olam has connections to doctors who may be able to help. We can provide very valuable guidance.”
Beyond funding – The scope of Bonei Olam activities
Bonei Olam has assumed a leadership role in the field of fertility. It has earned the acclaim of the medical community, and is involved in the research and technology of reproductive medicine.
Bonei Olam’s Medical and Advisory Board is headed by Rabbi Yechiel Mechel Steinmetz, the Skwere Dayan of Boro Park, who answers the often-complex Halachic inquiries regarding fertility treatment. The organization stresses that couples should seek Halachic guidance from their own Rabbanim.
Bonei Olam has been hugely successful in helping couples dealing with genetic issues. Through complex testing, they are often able to isolate the gene responsible for a specific disorder and help the couple have healthy children.
“Ashkenazic Jews suffer from more genetic diseases than the general population, because we all live together and marry into the same group of people, again and again,” explains Rabbi Bochner. “So, if both parents are carriers of a disorder, they can have children with genetic diseases.”
There are also disorders that can be passed along to a child, even if just one parent is a carrier.
Very often, when a couple suffers from recurrent miscarriages, the problem is genetic. The pregnancies can’t be carried to term, because the fetus is unwell. Sometimes, when the pregnancy is carried to term, the child is born with a debilitating genetic disorder. Bonei Olam’s genetic work has helped many couples circumvent the issue and have healthy offspring.
“In the past, we didn’t have the opportunities available today,” Rabbi Bochner says. “We weren’t able to treat infertility and genetic mutations; we didn’t have options like cryopreservation and high-risk care. These are gifts from Hakadosh Baruch Hu; so that Klal Yisroel can have healthy children.”
Chabad and Bonei Olam – a long term relationship
Lubavitcher couples have been served by Bonei Olam since its inception. Incredibly, Chabad represents some 10% of Bonei Olam cases worldwide. Of the 400 couples the organization serves each week, approximately forty are couples from our community. The new Crown Heights location will likely increase that number, as couples will feel more comfortable approaching the organization and dealing with a counselor from their own community.
Bonei Olam Chabad is relying on the community’s support for funding, so that it can help Crown Heights couples as well as Shluchim and other Chabad members realize their dreams.
“One in six couples will experience infertility, so there is an average of about one couple in every family,” Rochie Junik says. “It could be your sister, your nephew, your cousin, your friend. We need the community’s support.” She adds, “Bonei Olam Chabad is funded by the community, for the community.”
To reach out to Bonei Olam Chabad, call 718 252 1212 x224. All calls are strictly and completely confidential.
To donate to Bonei Olam Chabad visit https://www.boneiolam.org/chabad