By Avra Gordis and Stephanie Blumenkranz
As agents of social change, we at the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York imagine a world of inclusion and opportunity for every Jewish girl or woman. Our work explores populations of Jewish women who are not represented in the policies and programs of our Jewish institutions. In an effort to bring Jewish women together to learn from one another, and to grow individually and as a Jewish community, we held a gathering titled Not Having Children by Choice, Chance, or Circumstance, to learn about the experience of Jewish women without children.
Our guest speakers Melanie Notkin, entrepreneur, author, speaker, marketer, and leading voice of childless, often single, women; and Piper Hoffman, writer and attorney specializing in employment, animal rights, poverty, women’s rights and being childfree, shared their experiences and expertise with us. In turn, we opened our minds to how we will improve our community.
Both of our speakers, whose reasons for not having children are quite different, shared stories of feeling a sense of non-belonging in Jewish religious and communal events, and also the callous ways in which they are treated and spoken to by family, friends, and in meeting members of the Jewish community. One of our speakers shared a terribly painful account of having been told by a family member that her choice not to have children is tantamount to Hitler winning the war against our people. Is this the community that we want to be? Our values of continuity and childrearing are supposed to promote a sense of belonging and community, not make people feel alienated. In order to create a strong Jewish future, we must include people in the present.
In order to include amazing people like Melanie, Piper, and the 48% of women of childbearing age who do not have children, here are some of the lessons we learned:
- Have a wider view of who we consider our family, especially during celebrations and holidays. (For instance, Melanie shared that she asked her synagogue to include in their announcements the birth of a niece or a nephew, in addition to sons, daughters, and grandchildren.)
- Recognize and rejoice in peoples’ accomplishments in all facets of their personal and professional lives.
- When talking casually, refrain from asking about someone’s personal life, including their marital status and thoughts on having children.
- When planning an event, do not place people at a table together because they are single if this separates them from those with whom they are most connected.
- Acknowledge that someone else’s decision or circumstance of not having children is not an objection or judgment of your own choices or circumstances.
- Notice when you are internally judging another person. They may not hear you, but they feel your apprehension.
- Remember to look for the best in people.
Find out what else we learned and hear about the moving experiences of our speakers Melanie and Piper by watching the event: