Last week, the Jewish Theological Seminary announced the winners of a new grant, the Seeds of Innovation Project. The award is designed to support JTS alums who are “pioneering new ideas that foster fresh and innovative forms of Jewish engagement.” Five of the six winners were rabbis, whose projects range from connecting prayer with social justice to making Jewish summer camp more affordable. The sixth, Annie Glickman, a 1997 graduate of the Davidson School of Education at JTS, started an organization called Priya: A Fund for Jewish Reproduction.
Years ago, Glickman wrestled quietly with infertility. Now that she’s been blessed with three kids, she wants to help other couples and singles become parents. “I think there’s a general insensitivity about how painful infertility can be,” she told me in an interview. “I’ve heard a lot of ‘Just relax and it’ll happen!’ but people don’t understand the nuances or complexities.”
When Glickman and her husband David were new JTS grads, they moved to Dallas for David’s job as an associate rabbi at a large congregation. They had one child and desperately wanted another, but Annie couldn’t get pregnant. Being married to a rabbi is a very public job. “People kept asking me, ‘So when are you going to have another one?'” Annie told me. “There was so much pressure and I couldn’t escape it. I felt horrible, and I didn’t know how honest to be, and it was very lonely. I pledged that if I were to be blessed with more children, I would someday find a way to be able to give back. I wanted to pay it forward.”
Today, Glickman is the mother of Gavriel, 14, Ellie, 9, and Dani, 6. She and her family now live in Kansas City, where she’s a regional director of the Melton School, a pluralistic Jewish education network. She started Priya after Dani was born. (The name, “Priya,” is derived from the three-letter root word meaning “fruitful,” as in pru urvu, the Torah proscription—and Mitzvah—meaning “be fruitful and multiply.”) “We said, ‘People had been so generous with emotional and financial support when we were undergoing treatment, we wanted to encourage support for others who were still struggling.”
Since the Priya Fund’s inception in Dallas, it’s helped a dozen couples and seen five new babies come into the world. Glickman is using the JTS grant ($14,000 over two years) to create a brand-new fund in Kansas City. With additional help and support from the Jewish Community Foundation and Jewish Family Services of Greater Kansas City, Priya will offer not just financial assistance, but also access to a designated social worker who will provide counseling and education to individuals and couples. “We made our first pledge today!” she told me excitedly.
Priya’s support can be used for either infertility treatment (in-vitro fertilization can cost $10,000 per attempt, out of reach for many families; intrauterine insemination is more affordable but some families may not even know it’s an option) or adoption. Glickman said she’s sympathetic to prospective parents’ desires to have children in whatever way works for their family. “It’s easy for people to say, ‘Shut up and adopt,’ she said. “But you don’t necessarily know what struggles other people are undergoing.”
Priya is still building its website. For now, prospective donors can go to the JCFKC site and write “Priya” or “infertility fund” in the “name of fund” field.
“How much stuff do any of us really need?” Glickman asked me. “The idea for Priya is that moments of joy or celebration—like a baby shower or a birth—are the times to say to our loved ones, ‘The way to honor me is by supporting someone else in their struggle.'”
After I pitched this story, I discovered I had a connection to Glickman. She was the woman my father had called “The Bride.” She’d been my mom’s student at JTS back in 1996, when my dad had experimental open-heart surgery that went awry. For a while it seemed unlikely that he’d survive. By the time I returned home to San Francisco, Dad had developed ICU psychosis and was hallucinating and aggressive. I thought I’d never see him again, and my last moments with him were horrifying.
At JTS, Glickman (who didn’t grown up observant) learned about the tradition that says God cannot resist the request of a bride under the chuppah. On her wedding day, she prayed for my father, a man she’d never met. Dad recovered, and lived another eight years. He got to be a grandfather. And he always attributed his survival to my mom’s student, “The Bride.”
I’m not saying you have to donate. But for me, talk about the opportunity to pay it forward.