JUF has launched a new Infertility Support program, providing grants of up to $10,000 to help couples experiencing infertility pay for treatment. The first round of grants was made to six couples in late 2019.
"There's a need to support members of the community facing infertility issues," said Paula Harris, JUF Associate Vice President of Community Outreach and Engagement. "One in eight women suffer infertility issues, and men do, too. These rates may be higher in the Jewish community because we often delay for education and career advancement."
"As we researched infertility, we were struck by how many Jewish communities around the country are developing assistance programs," added Jason Rothstein, another member of JUF's executive staff that helped bring this project to fruition. "Learning about the experience of other communities gave us valuable knowledge, and ultimately led us to partner with the Kevin J. Lederer Life Foundation to provide needed expertise to evaluate applications.
The program was initiated by David and Melissa Sarnoff, who provided the seed money for a three-year pilot program. Additional funding has been provided by Eli & Dina Field Family Foundation and the Harry and Sadie Lasky Foundation.
"We felt so incredibly fortunate when we became pregnant with our first child. I felt strongly that we needed to do something to help those less fortunate and the idea for this program was born," said David Sarnoff, whose family has a significant legacy of giving back to the Chicago Jewish community. "Just knowing how many challenges friends have experienced in conceiving children, I thought it was important to create and fund an initiative whose sole purpose was to help Jewish people have babies."
"Everyone who wants a baby should have a baby. You should not be foreclosed from having a child because you cannot afford fertility treatments," said Melissa Sarnoff. "JUF is the perfect partner. Put simply, by helping the current generation of Jews grow their families, they are ensuring the next generation of Jews."
The application for the grant is "as inclusive as possible," said Harris, with the sole qualification to apply being that one member of the couple needs to identify as Jewish. The Life Foundation then assesses applications using medical, financial, and psychological criteria.
"We have a pretty robust scoring system," said the Foundation's president and Northwestern reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Eve Feinberg. She and other physicians look at factors like age, relevant diagnoses, and treatments, and use an "intricate validated point system" to determine who has a good chance of being pregnant. In the last five years, the Foundation's success rate has been 70%, where rates of similar programs trend around 50%.
JUF and the Life Foundation will open the next round of applications in April on the Life Foundation website. The grants may include funding for IVF, implantation of unaffected embryos from couples who carry a genetic disease, sperm banking or freezing eggs due to cancer treatment, and other medical conditions.
"The images of Jewish life that we see frequently depict families with children. For a long time, our institutions have spent much of their resources serving the needs of families with children. All of this can be very alienating to those facing infertility, even though this is exactly the time they need their community the most," said Rabbi Michael Weinberg of Temple Beth Israel in Skokie. "JUF's new program says that the Jewish community cares for couples and individuals at all times of their lives, those we talk about and those times we keep most private. The initiative raises awareness and provides a path forward."
For more information, contact Paula Harris at PaulHarris@juf.org. For more information about the Kevin J. Lederer Life Foundation, visit lifefindsaway.org.