Helping women say, 'God hath made laughter for me'

Brooklyn haredi organization Bonei Olam raises hundreds of thousands of dollars to help infertile couples conceive.

babies 298 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
babies 298 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A row of over 20 credit card machines lined the entrance to the main hall of the Ateres Chaya hall in Borough Park, Brooklyn, and by the end of the night had pulled in several hundred thousand dollars for Bonei Olam, a haredi organization that raises money to help fund fertility treatments for religious couples struggling to get pregnant. The annual fundraiser is considered one of the most popular events of the year in this neighborhood, and last week's event brought in upwards of 10,000 people. For no other group has infertility treatment become as much of a cause celebre as it has for the haredim, for whom the subject is by no means new. For haredim, having children is not elective, it is the "purpose of the union between man and woman" said Shlomo Chaimovits, president of Agudath Israel of Borough Park, who attended the fundraiser. "How long can you run before your soles run out?" said Chaimovits. "Bonei Olam does not give up." To date, Bonei Olam has helped over 2000 couples, and has helped in bringing about the birth of 674 babies. When Brany Rosen, a member of the Bobov sect, got married, she had never heard of infertility. "Regardless of who I was in my life, I had a good job and a nice husband, but not having children felt like a failure," said Rosen. "It's a feeling of shame, and a feeling of inadequacy." Rosen is one of the founders of A Time: A Torah Infertility Medium of Exchange, another haredi organization that offers a wide range of support to couples dealing with infertility. A Time provides medical information, a 24-hour hot line (718-438-7110), educational events, a Web site ( and a quarterly magazine that includes up-to-date information on the latest fertility technologies. Their most recent addition is an adoption service. Today, given the growing list of available technologies and access to information through services like A Time, often the only thing that stands in the way of a couple's fertility is the cost of treatment. Over the last decade the number of treatments has grown exponentially, but so have their cost. In vitro fertilization reaches $15,000$20,000 per cycle. And though most couples hope to be successful after one attempt, getting pregnant can sometimes take more than six tries. "It's very difficult for anybody, but when you are Orthodox, it's a thousand times harder," said Dr. Richard Grazi, a leading expert on infertility and the director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at Maimonides Medical Center and the founder of Genesis Fertility and Reproductive Medicine, an infertility clinic in Brooklyn that sees many haredi patients. "It's very hard for these couples, who are not sophisticated medically, to negotiate their way through the medical system, and on top of that they don't have insurance for this type of thing." Organizations such as Bonei Olam act as gobetweens for religious patients and medical facilities and staff who are not familiar with the laws of niddah and taharat hamishpacha, which dictate what treatments are allowed and when in a woman's cycle they can be done. "The ultra-Orthodox accept advances in reproductive technology so long as they don't overstep halacha," said Grazi. Bonei Olam works with both fertility clinics and rabbis. In 1999, when Bonei Olam opened, the five founders got no encouragement. "The subject of infertility was still taboo, and it wasn't talked about," said Rivkie Kleinbart, one of the group's founders. "You can say we brought it out of the closet, but we had to be careful." "Instead of sitting at home and having people pity you, we decided to do something about it, and the community came out big time," she said. The group has since expanded to nine locations around the world, including branches in Israel, London, Belgium, and Dublin.