In Shifra’s Arms Fights to Help Jewish Women Through Crisis
In the battle over abortion, everyone hears the slogans, the demonstrations, and the endless lawsuits.
But what about the single Jewish woman who has abortion access, but doesn’t feel like she has any other choice? What about the pregnant mother of three leaving a bad marriage who needs resources, not a pep talk or a slogan?
Rather than joining the abortion wars, In Shifra’s Arms (ISA) is fighting to make sure Jewish women have the support they need to get through their pregnancy crises while always respecting each woman’s individual choices.
It all started more than a decade ago, when Soriya Cohen hosted Tamar* (name changed), for a Shabbat lunch in Miami. Tamar was 15 weeks pregnant, single, and functionally homeless, living on a friend’s couch. She was considering abortion because she had no place to go; she had left her fiancé because he was abusive.
Cohen had recently read about new Jewish efforts to help women in Tamar’s position. She called Erica Pelman, a member of the DC-area Jewish community and the founder of In Shifra’s Arms. Cohen and Pelman worked together to offer aid to Tamar. When Tamar chose to continue her pregnancy, they helped her access medical care, maternity clothing, and housing.
Tamar was ISA’s first client. Since then, ISA has expanded, offering services to Jewish women across the U.S. and Canada. This year, they are increasing their outreach to major metropolitan areas to ensure every woman can lean on the Jewish community through a pregnancy crisis and beyond.
Beyond Pro-Choice and Pro-Life Divide
No issue in the United States is more fraught with division than that of abortion. But In Shifra’s Arms stays away from politics and focuses on service. “It’s not our job to tell women what path to take,” explains Francine Gutstein, LCSW, one of ISA’s counselors. “It’s our job to give a safe space through compassionate listening and to share the unique ways we can help.”
“While our expertise is helping women overcome the challenges of unplanned pregnancies,” Pelman said, “whatever our clients choose, we treat them with compassion and respect. This support includes sensitive follow-up after miscarriage or abortion.”
In Shifra’s Arms Board members come from both sides of the political aisle—but they are united because they agree that ISA services meet a vital need for Jewish women. “Erica has created an environment where we all work together to ensure Jewish women can access our unique support if they want it,” says Dr. Elaine Jacobson, a longtime ISA Board member who is pro-choice, “It’s about compassion, service, and unconditional love.”
Addressing unmet needs of Jewish women in crisis
Who is a “typical” ISA client? There is none, Pelman says. Spanning the religious spectrum from unaffiliated to Orthodox, some are married with children and are overwhelmed at the thought of an additional child; others are single women struggling with the ramifications of solo parenthood. Some clients are trying to leave abusive relationships. Many women say they feel they can’t afford to have a baby.
Over the past decade, ISA has developed five core services to meet frequent client needs: 1) Free one-on-one crisis counseling, 2) Material aid, 3) Financial aid, 4) Referrals to community organizations, 5) Lifetime access to online parenting and inspirational classes.
Material aid may include diapers, maternity and baby clothing, and equipment. Financial grants go toward expenses such as childcare, postpartum support, vocational programs, or other high priority needs not met by other agencies. Elana*, a single mother in South Florida who turned to ISA for help, credits the organization with helping her build a new life with her son: “Every single thing that this organization has done has been exactly what I needed.”
To women who are struggling now, Elana says, “Please know there are other people who have felt afraid, and who felt alone, and who have walked through this journey. Know that it can be beautiful. It can be the most incredible blessing, even when it doesn’t look that way at all.”
To help ISA meet the needs of Jewish pregnant women in crisis, visit: https://jewishpregnancyhelp.org/donate or mail checks to In Shifra’s Arms, PO Box 7212, Silver Spring, MD 20902.