By Sara Spielman
Shifra and Puah of the Hillside/Elizabeth community in New Jersey held their first event last Sunday night to bring awareness to the community of the new branch’s benefits and accomplishments.
About 40 women attended the beautiful outdoor event, which was also on Zoom for those who could not attend in person. Shayna Cohen, one of the organizers behind it, hosted the evening in her backyard, where hot soup, fresh-cut vegetables with hummus and guacamole cups and lavish desserts were served.
Shifra and Puah provides hot breakfast for mothers who just gave birth, delivering it to their doors in the morning. They also provide post-partum care, including acupuncture, massage, and two mental health sessions with a social worker.
Cohen and Rochel Bushman worked together to start a local branch after they moved from Crown Heights to Hillside. They shared their journeys at the event, describing how they joined to create the organization and its importance for providing support for women after birth. Mothers in attendance shared their testimonials about how it felt to receive breakfasts.
When Cohen was living in Crown Heights, she experienced Shifra and Puah firsthand, receiving fresh, delicious, and beautifully packaged breakfasts at her door following two of her births. As an extra surprise, she received a cake for Shabbos.
“There was no prep, no dishes, just delicious, beautifully packaged food,” Cohen said. “My husband was jealous, implying ‘don’t I work hard too?’ I decided then if I ever do Shifra and Puah I will include fathers.”
When Cohen moved into the community three years ago, she wanted to offer women support and began with delivering hot breakfasts. This past Vov Tishrei they officially announced the start of Shifra and Puah. They now provide mothers breakfasts for six days a week and three days for fathers. For women who deliver twins or through cesarean Shifra and Puah offers two weeks of breakfast.
“It’s not just physical nourishment, but also mental and emotional postpartum support,” Cohen said.
After Bushman’s last baby she realized breakfast is so difficult for a postpartum mother to prepare and yet important to start the day right.
“I knew about Shifra and Puah but moved out of the community before I got a chance to experience it,” said Bushman. “Figuring out how to prioritize breakfast, sleep, and showering was a juggling act I still had yet to master by my third baby. Although our community had grown significantly by this point, only dinners were being taken care of, but I knew how important breakfast was and that by not having breakfast I was already starting off the day depleted.”
A friend gifted money for a cleaning lady after she gave birth and Bushman decided to offer cleaning help or breakfast for one week at a time to other mothers. At eight weeks postpartum, Bushman suffered with anxiety and depression and greatly struggled over the next six months.
“After surviving postpartum depression, I knew I wanted to help other moms in their initial postpartum period,” said Bushman. “B”H, I did receive help and I began to heal from my journey. I knew at this point that as soon as I felt ready, I wanted to support other moms after having a baby and I thought that breakfast was the best way to start.”
Cohen soon connected with Bushman. Subsequently, more moms in the community gave birth and they created a form to address everyone’s needs.
May is actually Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month and to break the stigma and provide care, the organizers arranged a table at the event with information about postpartum depression, which could affect one in every five women. They introduced partners who work with the organization to provide postpartum care. Three moms in total shared testimonials, including Esther Fischweicher, a woman from the community who benefited as the first official recipient of Shifra and Puah’s meals.
“Not until Shifra and Puah came into my life did I realize how utterly imperative it is for a brand-new mother (whether first or sixth child!) to begin her postpartum journey with healthy, filling eating habits,” Fischweicher said. “For the first time ever, I became conscious of taking care of myself and understanding that a mom is only able to pour from a full cup, not an empty one. I had become so used to always being in survival mode and putting myself last. Food is not just food; it is love and investment and self-worth and moms are worth it!”
Those involved wanted to add self-care to the pampering package. They give gift certificates six weeks postpartum, including a $15 spa care gift certificate, two yoga sessions, a 30-minute session of acupuncture and payment for a few loads from Wash Club, which picks up, folds, and delivers laundry to the door.
They also partnered with Alona, who bakes delicious Shabbos treats for the family and Dr. Marcy, a licensed social worker that offers free help for two sessions postpartum.
The first Shifra and Puah organization started in the Chabad-Lubavitch village Kfar Chabad in Israel, which was established in 1949 by the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, on Iyar 21, the same date when the event took place.
“It came out on the night of Chesed Shebeyesod, kindness and connection,” said Cohen. “By providing breakfast and self-care to women we are doing just that.”