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Fertility Is Not The Enemy Of Feminism. The Way The Jewish Community Pushes It Is.

Dear Jane,

In the last line in your op ed on Monday entitled “Family is a Jewish Value Don’t let the Mistakes of a Few Rob us of that Gift,” you write, “My children — and now, my grandchildren — are the greatest joy in my life. Why wouldn’t I want everyone to share that experience?”

It’s a deeply hurtful sentiment.

This line hits me in a deep emotional place. As someone who struggled for years with infertility, it is comes off as smug and condescending. We are not all blessed to find partners, marry, and have children.

As a single woman in my twenties, my marriageability, sexual attractiveness, and ability to be a good future mother while being a rabbi were issues that were addressed in entirely unacceptable venues, including classrooms, seminars, and job interviews. Marriage, fertility and sex are interwoven topics. It is extraordinarily hard to touch on one with out bringing up the others, and thus the opportunity for unacceptable and harassing comments to be made is large.

In my thirties, when I was married, people thought it only fitting to ask when I would have children. Little did they know how hard we were trying. The few times I let my guard down and told people it was not as easy as they thought, I received joking comments like “You must not be doing it right,” “Lose some weight, make yourself more attractive to your husband”… or, “Relax, take a vacation, have some wild sex, it will happen.”

All of these were said to me in a professional space. All were highly inappropriate.

Fertility is not the enemy of feminism as you write. As an avowed feminist, I wanted to be both a mother and a professional.

What is against feminism is the way women’s bodies continue to be objectified by the Jewish community both for their attractiveness and their value as baby makers. What is against feminism is the way twenty-somethings are thrown together with lots of alcohol and encouraged to “make Jewish babies.” What is against feminism, is the way women are blamed for falling marriage and birth rates because they attain higher educational degrees and are committed to their careers.

The enemy of fertility and families is the lack of funding in the Jewish community for those couples who are struggling to have children and can’t. The enemy of fertility and families is a lack of parental leave in Jewish institutions. The enemy of fertility and families is the lack of affordable child care, schooling, and after care in the Jewish community.

Yes, family is a Jewish value. However, how we create families can be spoken about with dignity, not with winks and nudges. Men need to be held just as accountable as women for how families are created and sustained.

And if the liberal Jewish community truly wants to help raise the birth rate, then they need to provide fertility support, adoption support, affordable child care, schooling for all, and pay a living wage to those working in the Jewish community.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Rebecca W. Sirbu

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