In 1938, about a year before my family left Poland to come to the United States, my mother endured a stillbirth. I was just 7 years old. Yet the memory of her mourning the loss of her infant has remained with me, as has my own yearning for a little brother that I was never to have.
Our Jewish traditions provide clear directions on how to honor and grieve our relatives and friends when they die. There is comfort in joining together as a community to sit shiva, say Kaddish or light a yahrzeit candle.
The same is not true for miscarriage or stillbirth, such as my mother experienced 81 years ago.
While Jewish culture and superstitions about not attracting ayin hora, or the evil eye, during pregnancy have long acknowledged the frailty of new life, there are no special rituals or prayers — not even special counseling services — for those who suffer the anguish of miscarriage or a stillborn infant.
When I first heard about the Memory Garden — a space for people to reflect upon and heal from pregnancy and fertility loss — at the Fammy Awards gala held by S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services, I found myself relating to this project. I was reminded how the idea of a memory garden might have helped my mother if such a place had existed decades ago.
The Memory Garden will surely provide comfort and strength to families devastated by the unexpected loss of a pregnancy or infant by memorializing those losses and by ensuring that our Jewish community is a place of solace and support in those difficult times.
As part of the Memory Garden project, JFCS has implemented special programs for those suffering from pregnancy losses. Services include counseling, outreach, and education for medical and Jewish community professionals and clergy on culturally and religiously sensitive information, to better serve their constituents.
To be located at Eternal Home Cemetery in Colma, the Memory Garden is certain to fill an important void in our Bay Area community. This innovative program is also a testament to the incredible strength of the individuals in our community, who are able to overcome and share difficult personal experiences in order to help the entire community grow stronger. A special note of appreciation to its co-creators, Debbie Findling and Abby Porth.
Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & Culture has committed a grant to the Memory Garden to strengthen our community’s ability to be responsive and compassionate to the needs of our members. The Memory Garden and the care services of JFCS can serve as a model for Jewish communities throughout the United States and worldwide.
Participation to help make the Memory Garden a reality should be a goal for our Bay Area Jewish community. Please join us in supporting the capital campaign so that the Sinai Memorial Chapel, which is overseeing the project, can break ground soon.