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In Shifra's Arms


Since last week’s Torah reading dealt with end-of-life issues, I shared with you links addressing how to dissuade people who are considering cremation, as well as a checklist of end-of-life matters that all of us need to put in place.

This week, one of the first topics in the parasha addresses giving birth. It speaks about how two midwives, Shifra and Puah, defied Pharaoh's demand to murder newborn Israelite boys. Therefore, I share with you the following email I just received, as well as a follow-up article.

Dear Rabbi Landau,

I’m reaching out to ask you to help SHIFRA continue to save Jewish lives. This is not a donation request.  As you may know, SHIFRA (formerly "In Shifra's Arms") is a unique Jewish support network for nurturing Jewish women through unplanned pregnancy crises and helping them thrive as mothers and women. We are grateful to be endorsed by the RCA and our posek is Rabbi Yitzhak Breitowitz. 

SHIFRA provides social services to pregnant women in crisis- including substantial financial aid- found nowhere else in the Jewish community. We do not offer halakhic or medical guidance and provide sensitive follow-up in cases where clients miscarry or terminate. 

When I started SHIFRA- I thought our primary audience would be single women. But married, Orthodox women regularly call SHIFRA considering abortion because of financial and emotional pressures. With our support, they most often decide that abortion will be unnecessary and come to embrace their pregnancies and their children. 

We know, however, some women never hear about our help before it's too late. 

I am writing to ask you again to raise awareness in your community & congregation ahead of Parshat Shemot or, as we call it, #SHIFRAShabbat. 

I look forward to hearing from you. 

Erica Pelman
Founder, SHIFRA

Article by Erica Pelman from several years ago:

Shifra’s Calling

Ten years ago I got that call. My dear friend called to tell me she was pregnant. I wish my reaction would have been to do a happy dance, to jump up and down with inspired tears streaming down my face. I love her. She is an extraordinary, caring, wonderful human being. Any child of hers I will naturally adore.

The tears that flowed that day were not ones of joy. The pain in her quivering voice shook up my world. She was single and in her early 20s. The man in her life was not good father material. She had dreams, but they didn’t include motherhood just yet. Perhaps most of all, she was ashamed. Ashamed to be a nice Jewish girl, from a nice Jewish family, with no ring on her finger but two lines on the test.

My heart broke with hers. I felt helpless. We wept together, grieving. She felt like she only had one real option. Soon she was pregnant no longer.

Fast forward three years to 2008. I’m now married. I have been trying for months to get pregnant with no success. Each successive negative pregnancy test makes me sadder. I am also trying to figure out what I should do next with my life. I need a change.

One morning in May 2008, I arrive early at my office. My mind is clear and open. I spontaneously start to pray. “God, there are so many issues to care about and work on. Clean water worldwide. Defending Israel. Fighting poverty. Promoting democracy. What do you want from me?”

That call. Suddenly new ideas start pouring through my fingertips onto the screen in front of me. I think back to that call. What if, what if, what if? What if she had sought support to have the baby? Where could she have turned? Her boyfriend and family were not able or ready to embrace her pregnancy. As her friend, I had felt overwhelmed. I had no resources to offer. But what about the Jewish community? Are there any non-denominational American Jewish resources for pregnant women in crisis?

The answer was no. And so began the journey to create “In Shifra’s Arms.” Six years later, we’ve helped pregnant Jewish women from all around the United States, both single and married, from unaffiliated to Orthodox, ranging from their late teens to their early 40s. Their needs are emotional and economic, financial and social. We offer them professional, practical, and compassionate specialized social services. Sometimes we work with them for a call or two, sometimes over a two-year period. Over and over, they share their gratitude that they can count on the Jewish community and not feel judged.

Unbeknown to me, that morning when the inspiration hit, my struggle to become pregnant myself had already ended. Eight months later I was blessed to become a mother. Perhaps this was bashert, meant to be. While one woman’s struggle with infertility might seem like the opposite of another woman’s unplanned pregnancy crisis, the truth is that both women share much in common. Both must face their own vulnerability. Both have the potential to discover their own strength and resilience. And if either is going to bring a baby into the world, she is also going to need a lot of support.

This week, Jews around the world will read about our organization’s namesake, Shifra. She is one of the two midwives discussed at the beginning of the book of Exodus, this week’s Torah portion. In those dark days of slavery in Egypt, the Jewish people must have felt both powerless and hopeless.

I imagine how Shifra would have brought comfort and tenderness as she cared for each pregnant Israelite. She could not change the circumstances around them. Yet her indomitable faith in the future must have empowered and strengthened each woman who sought her help.

It is time for the Jewish community to follow Shifra’s example and embrace vulnerable pregnant women among us so they do not need to struggle in silence. In Shifra’s Arms is answering that call. We want every Jewish woman in the United States to know we’re here if she needs us.

Learn more about In Shifra’s Arms and share our new video, “So you’re pregnant.”