B’yad Rama: A labor of love

The aim of the organization is to help women who are unable to become pregnant naturally by helping them in different ways.

BABIES GIVEN life with the help of Tali B’yad Rama. (photo credit: Courtesy)
BABIES GIVEN life with the help of Tali B’yad Rama.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
On May 2, 2004, Tali Hatuel and her four daughters – Hila, 10; Hadar, 9; Ronit, 7 and Meirav, 2 – were on their way to a routine ultrasound for Tali, who was eight months pregnant. It was a trip they had taken countless times from their home in Moshav Katif in the south to nearby Ashkelon. This trip, however, ended with murder: a terrorist stopped their car and shot into it at point-blank range, killing them all in cold blood.

In shock and anger, their family and friends decided that the way to avenge their lives was to give life and so, Tali B’yad Rama was born.

The shock and grief of the nation were unimaginable; the anger and rage intense – and from it all came an idea, a way of retribution in a sense. What would be the greatest antidote to taking a life? Giving life. Tali B’Yad Rama was founded, “Rama” is an acronym for the first letters of each of the girls who were killed. “B’yad Rama” is an honorific meaning: “May God avenge his/her blood”. It is a term that refers to any innocent Jews killed, whether for antisemitic reasons or others.

The aim of the organization is to help women who are unable to become pregnant naturally by helping them in different ways, such as obtaining eggs donated by other women, aiding them financially, giving advice, surrogacy, non-medical information, and by just “being there.”

MIRIAM LEBOVICH, founder of the organization, is the perfect address for this field. It took her and her husband 11 frustrating, painful years to get pregnant, going through a series of in vitro fertilizations – a procedure that she started when it was not as common and recognized as it is today, and known then as developing “test tube babies.” She works in the Ashkelon’s McKeef Bet high school as a lab technician, helping prepare students for their matriculation exams in biology, physics and biotechnology.

Since 1994, Miriam has been an inspector of the country’s fertility clinics and has done similar work abroad. In addition, she is also a lab technician in the IVF Clinic of Ashkelon’s Barzilai Hospital.

The procedure of egg donation, IVF or in-vitro fertilization is available to women (aged 18-54) who cannot become pregnant from their own eggs, allowing them to give birth to babies by using egg donations from other women. It is uncomfortable and emotionally trying, and one of the most widespread fertility treatments in the world today.

It is also one of the most expensive. In Israel, the cost is NIS 1,500 to NIS 5,000 shekels for the first child with help from the country’s sick funds. The exact cost depends on the type of medicine needed for treatment and whether it is included in the State’s Health Basket. The charge for the egg(s) is between NIS 30,000 and NIS 60,000 shekels, and although the state does help fund the treatment somewhat, it doesn’t cover it all. That’s where Tali B’Yad Rama comes in.

“We help with a partial donation to each candidate, sometimes up to 50%. Our criteria are according to the treatment they need and only after they meet specific requirements, including letters from their physicians, copies of salary slips and proof of an active bank account. We don’t ask how much they have in their account, but we do need to know that they legitimately need our help,” Miriam explains.

ACCORDING TO Israel’s State Health Insurance Law, in vitro fertilization treatments are options for “couples who have no children from their current marriage (up to two children). It also applies to a woman without children who is interested in raising a family headed by an independent parent (“one-parent family”) for begetting a first and second child. IVF treatments are administered to women from the age of 18, while the maximum age for receiving treatments is up to the woman’s 45th birthday. An egg donor may be a woman who is herself undergoing fertility treatment, or a 21- to 35-year-old volunteer donor who is not undergoing fertility treatment.” The donor must be approved by a medical and ethics board and as mentioned, the potential parents must also be approved to make sure they are mentally and emotionally up to the challenge.

Besides IVF treatment, Tali b’Yad Rama also helps with surrogacy, egg donations and sperm sorting, a procedure in which healthier sperm are selected before subsequent IVF treatment. This costs between NIS 4,500 and NIS 5,000 and is done in only two labs in the country: Bar Ilan University and Rishon Lezion. According to Miriam, this is the reason for over 50% cases of infertility and is a problem that many men, and even their wives, are embarrassed to disclose.

“We give money to everyone who approaches us if they meet our requirements and as far as I know, we are the only body that does so. We never meet the people we help because the last thing I want to do is embarrass them. We also don’t care if this is their first child, second, sixth or tenth. We don’t ask if the couple is married or if the woman is a single parent. We help religious and secular women, Israeli Arabs, Jews and non-Jews. We don’t ask as well. There is a similar group that only helps the ultra-Orthodox community, but the aid they offer is for the first child only. Actually, they refer couples to us.” “Every evening, except Shabbat and holidays, I take phone calls from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Some people find us on our website or related sites, or are referred to us by social workers and other organizations.”

“Some of the stories are more painful than others with couples waiting over 10 years to have a baby. Not long before the coronavirus broke out, a woman from the North was very anxious. I rarely meet the people we help face to face, let alone invite them to my house, but this was an exception. She desperately wanted to start a family, but her husband was very stubborn, proud and embarrassed, and she had no one to talk to.

“I invited her to my home in Ashkelon and over a cup of coffee she was finally able to voice her stored-up feelings for the first time. She was the only one of her family and friends who was still childless and the family never missed a chance to ask her why. She had no one she could go to, and after we spoke, she said it was as if the proverbial tons of bricks had been lifted off her shoulders.

“That’s another example of what we do: lend a sympathetic and understanding ear. We also talk to their husbands who refuse to be tested as well. On many occasions, people undergoing treatment need help deciphering test results, but we don’t go near any medical diagnoses. We have volunteer doctors around the country who work with us as well.

“Sometimes, we are also approached by Israelis who live abroad. They return home for IVF treatments. Even though they don’t have health insurance here and must pay out-of-pocket, it is still much cheaper here than abroad and we help them, too.”

“We also help fund surrogacy. This costs between NIS 250,000 and NIS 300,000 and obviously, that is way out of our reach,” says Miriam. “The amount we offer depends on their financial situation. It’s a drop in the bucket, but it’s a start. We don’t get many applications for surrogacy; maybe four or five a month, as most of them are done abroad.” As of this writing, the IVF clinics are closed in hospitals nationwide due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, although there is a petition to the Ministry of Health circulating by potential parents to reopen them.

A MONTH after the unimaginable murders that wiped out almost the entire Hatuel family, Miriam kept thinking, “You can’t let terror win. You have to respond by bringing new life into the world.” With that persistent thought came the idea of helping women with fertility problems in Ashkelon, Tali’s hometown and where her husband David was principal of the Assaf Maimon Elementary school.

“I never expected it to balloon into a nationwide organization, but it soon became clear that we were desperately needed and just about the only address for help in this area. We are flooded with inquiries, not only locally but from all over the country.”

“We do this work totally out of love and dedication. No one pays me or any of the counsellors or medical staff we refer people to, in fact, we all donate money of our own into the organization’s bank account on a monthly basis. David Hatuel is the head of the board and we have counsellors from Eilat to Metulla. Our accountant keeps careful track of the funds, which are all from donations and handled very carefully. If there is an exceptional request, we meet to see if we can give them a bit extra, and if necessary, we give more from our own pockets. We are overseen by the country’s nonprofit watchdog to make sure that everything is run according to the rules and regulations of nonprofit organizations.” “We don’t keep track of our successes, but we know from letters and pictures that we have helped bring hundreds of babies into the world. It’s difficult to put into words how we all feel with each new life that comes after years of trying. We all get great comfort and satisfaction from the many thank-you letters we receive, along with photos of the babies, some of whom were named Tali or after one of the girls. They thank us, but it is our honor and joy to help them realize their dreams.

“Sadly, Tali B’Yad Rama was born out of a tragedy that is almost impossible to fathom, but every birth is a victory – a reminder and living tribute to those beautiful lives that were so brutally taken. It is our delight to help them realize their dreams and at the same time, honor the lives of Tali and her girls.”  Donations to Tali b’Yad Rama are tax deductible.

www.beyadrama.org.il