Built on Hope

March 9, 2023

Changing the Story for Couples

Sarah Massry

One of 10,000: the story of one Bonei Olam baby

Sori Engel shares:

After several years in shidduchim, I was looking forward to joining the ranks of my married friends who were raising families in Lakewood. I eagerly anticipated the next stage of life—building my own family. But Hashem had other plans.

As a morah, I was going to work each day watching other people’s children. I was playing with them, hugging them, and thinking to myself, Will I ever be able to do this to my own child?

As time passed, we began with standard fertility testing. We remained hopeful that it was just a small issue, something that could be easily resolved. But as the testing progressed, things started to fall apart.

I still remember where I was standing when I received our devastating diagnosis. It was paralyzing. I felt like the world had stopped; I couldn’t move on. There was no tomorrow.

Our path to parenthood would be long, invasive, and very, very expensive.

I was living two lives simultaneously. To the rest of the world, I was functioning and smiling. People had no idea that there was a thundercloud over my head. The treatment option we were facing was the last resort. After this, there was nothing else to try. What would we do if it didn’t work? We faced the gripping fear of the unknown.

My story had a beginning and a middle, but I didn’t know if it would lead to a happy ending.

There were also the practical questions. We were totally lost. How would we find the best doctors? And how would we pay the astronomical costs?

We called Bonei Olam. They set us up with a counselor, and immediately, we felt like a boulder was lifted off our hearts. Our counselor became part of our family. She was there for everything we needed, from calming our fears to helping us get expedited appointments, from medical advice to emotional support. She went above and beyond, leaving no stone unturned to help us. Though logically, we knew she must be helping other couples too, we felt like we were the only couple she was helping.

Throughout our years of treatment, we faced tens of thousands of dollars of medical expenses that would have been impossible to pay on our own. But we were not on our own. Bonei Olam paid the bills. Money did not come in the way of achieving our dream.

With the financial arrangements in place, we began our difficult and draining treatment. There were times when I thought it was too hard to go on. Even with our amazing families and our Bonei Olam support system, there were moments of weakness.

One Motza’ei Pesach stands out in my mind. We had just made Havdalah with our extended family. All the grandchildren were around; there was a lot of excitement. Everyone wished each other a gezunten zummer, and then the kids began clamoring for pizza. It was a simple moment in life. Did anyone beside me even notice the happiness of the children? Everyone was in their own bubble with their own children, and my stark reality hit me: another Pesach had passed, and I still did not have a child. I didn’t have my bubble of happiness. Would my reality ever change? The void was so real that I had to walk away. I couldn’t handle the pain.

The years passed with many treatment cycles of raised hopes and then dashed hopes. And then, after six and half years, Hashem heard our tefillos and our precious baby, Avrumy, was born. When I was handed my newborn, it was an indescribable feeling. We had walked into the hospital as a couple, and now we had become a family.

Several days after our baby was born, Rabbi Shlomo Bochner called to wish us mazel tov, and we realized that we wanted to introduce him to our baby. It felt like he was one of the zeidies because he had such a big part in making it happen. Our miracle baby was part of the staggering statistic of more than 10,000 babies that have come into this world because of Bonei Olam.

As we walked into his home, Rabbi Bochner was so excited to see our baby. He took our Avrumy into his hands and gave him a hug and a kiss. He turned to the other guests in his home and said, “This is a nes Bonei Olam baby!”

Life of isolation

“Lakewood is a very hard place to live while going through infertility,” says Mrs. Peri Leiser, medical counselor at Bonei Olam. “It’s the culture. Everything is about family. The people are incredibly strong in bein adam l’chaveiro, but the whole town is about children. The couples facing infertility feel so isolated.”

Many of the couples that reach out for financial help are working hard but are already stretched to the limit and living on a tight budget. Even with extra jobs, they can’t keep up with the bills.

As a Bonei Olam counselor, Mrs. Sara Klein has forged connections with many of the couples. “The amazing couples going through the journey are balancing so much,” she says. “They are dealing with a second life. They are successful teachers and therapists. They are part of their extended families. Looking at them, you would have no idea what they are juggling. They are inspirational people, going through an enormous challenge.”

Everyone knows someone who is facing the nisayon of infertility, and everyone wants to do the right thing for them. “It is important to do things from a place of love and care—not out of pity,” says Mrs. Klein. Sometimes, though, she admits, there isn’t much you can do for them.

So what can we do to help our neighbor, sibling, or friend who is facing this challenge?

“You can daven and support Bonei Olam. By supporting Bonei Olam, you are directly providing support, guidance, and funds for their treatment. That is the most concrete way to help them.”

Secondary infertility

Once couples have surmounted multiple obstacles to reach their dream of parenthood, they often yearn to continue the journey. They want to give their only child the most priceless gift: a sibling. Yet they are faced with enormous financial obstacles. Will money come in the way of continuing to build their family?

Raising money for primary infertility is a significant challenge and the main focus of Bonei Olam. But in recent years, Bonei Olam has taken on the additional challenge of helping couples achieve the dream of having a second child.

“The pain of secondary infertility is real,” says Rabbi Bochner, Bonei Olam’s founder. “And for the only child yearning for a sibling, this is primary.”

Two years ago, the Bonei Olam yearly campaign hit a groundbreaking milestone: after reaching the initial goal to cover primary infertility, the campaign went into a bonus round to cover a significant portion of treatment costs for couples to have a second child.

Rabbi Bochner is aware of how incredible the Lakewood community is and the beautiful way in which they support each other. “This cause is so close to their hearts because it is such a young community. Families live in neighborhoods, developments, and buildings in close proximity. The pain of the childless couples is so recognizable, and everyone connects to that. They feel the pain and they want to help.

“In the last twenty-five years, Bonei Olam has touched nearly every family in Lakewood through its work in genetics, infertility, cancer, and shidduchim. And now they want to give back.”

Rabbi Bochner shares his dream: “In the past, the slogan of Bonei Olam was ‘In every Jewish home, a Jewish child.’ We want to change that to ‘In every Jewish home, Jewish children.’”

The cost of saying yes

Bonei Olam has helped over 1,000 Lakewood couples achieve their dreams. The question is, would these families have managed to do it without Bonei Olam? Would they have found another way to pay for their treatments?

In many cases, says Rabbi Bochner, the answer is no. “Many Bonei Olam couples could not have crossed the bridge without our help. Some primary-infertility couples cost Bonei Olam over $200,000 to have a baby. But how can we put a price on a Jewish child? As long as there is hope, Bonei Olam will keep trying and keep paying for treatment.

“I could never take the responsibility of saying no while there is still hope,” he adds. “I want to know that we did everything we could to help every couple. Hashem is my Partner; He helps us handle our budget and sends us incredible shluchim.”

Aside from financial help, couples receive valuable guidance from Bonei Olam’s global network. For the past two decades, Bonei Olam has been at the forefront of medical research for genetics, cancer preservation, uterine transplants, and very complicated infertility cases.

“People in the field are astonished by Bonei Olam’s accomplishments,” says Dr. Eli Rybak, renowned reproductive endocrinologist. “Their innovations have changed the face of infertility treatment worldwide.”

Rabbi Bochner possesses the rare ability to change the scope of Klal Yisrael while simultaneously connecting to the pain of each individual. And as we approach Purim and Pesach—two of the most difficult times for couples waiting for children—he feels the pain of the childless couples.

“Children are such a big part of Yiddishkeit. Wherever you turn, the lack is there. A couple once told me about a Pesach Seder that they spent with their extended family. Someone had arranged for a young nephew to ask them the Mah Nishtanah because they didn’t have their own child. In the middle, the young boy suddenly looked up in confusion. ‘But Rebbi says we say ‘Tatte leben’! We’re not supposed to ask our uncle!’ No one in the room knew what to do with themselves. The pain was unimaginable.”

As we begin collections for kimcha d’Pischa, Rabbi Bochner stresses, “Matzah and wine are not nearly as important as a baby in a Jewish home.”


Gitty’s letter

A letter from an only child

While the pain of secondary infertility cannot be compared to that of primary infertility, it is real—for the parents as well as the only child. This letter was written by Gitty’s mother on behalf of her daughter.

My name is Gitty and I am six years old.

Today, my four-year-old neighbor Chany told me that her mommy had a baby. Chany already has a baby that is two years old, so I asked her, “Your Mommy had another baby? Now you have two babies?”

Chany said, “Yes, this time it’s a girl baby.”

“Oh,” was all I could say.

Last Sunday, my seven-year-old cousin Etty came on a trip in my car with me and Totty and Mommy. She asked me, “Do you want more people in your family?”

My eyes were shining brightly and I answered, “Yes! I want a baby in my family!”

This year, about half the girls in my class had new babies. I waited for it to be my family’s turn, but it never came.

Every day, the girls bring in mitzvah notes about sharing with their sisters and brothers and helping out with their babies. I wish I could have mitzvah notes like that.

I see my friends going places in their minivans. We don’t have a minivan. I see them climbing into the back and sitting with their brothers and sisters. I sit by myself in the back seat. If Mommy and Totty aren’t talking to me, I sit quietly, looking out the window. I wish I had company back there.

My cousins from Montreal are coming to visit soon. Mommy says we don’t have enough room for them to stay at our house, but I said that the girl who’s my age can sleep in my room with me and the baby can sleep in the empty bedroom that still has my old crib in it. I even offered to give the baby a paci in the middle of the night if he starts crying.

All the kids on my block come out to play with their siblings. The big brothers and sisters always stand up for them. I don’t have anyone to stand up for me, but if I had a little sister, I would take such good care of her!

Today, one of the girls in my class asked me, “How come you are the only kid in your family?”

I told her, “Because no one else was born.”

I used to ask Mommy and Totty every day for a new baby for our family. They always buy me toys and everything else that I ask for, but they haven’t gotten me a baby yet.

So I stopped asking them.

Instead, I daven to Hashem and ask Him, “Can you please send a new baby for our family?”