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Jewish Pregnancy Support Organization Now Helping Los Angeles Women

No matter what the circumstances are, Pelman wants to be there for pregnant women in their time of need — and she urges others in the Jewish community to do the same.
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May 21, 2021
Courtesy Erica Pelman

 

Sixteen years ago, Erica Pelman received a distressing call from one of her best friends, who told Pelman she was going to have an abortion.

“She was heartbroken and so was I,” said Pelman. “We both grieved the loss. She was not ready to be a mom, even though it was her dream someday, and she felt too ashamed to even place for adoption.”

A few years later, when Pelman was struggling to become pregnant, she wondered what kind of resources would have been helpful to her friend if she had wanted to continue her pregnancy and keep her child. She started researching and found that while there were many Jewish resources for unplanned pregnancy support in Israel, there weren’t any in the United States.

So in 2009, she started In Shifra’s Arms (ISA), an organization that supports women who have unplanned pregnancies. Pelman has helped women throughout the nation, and now she’s focusing on assisting women in Los Angeles as well.

“As with stigmatized crises, it’s hard for many [women] to get the courage to ask for support,” Pelman, now a mother of four, said. “We want more women and their loved ones to know they have somewhere to turn.”

Although Pelman is based in Maryland, her organization has helped 74 women in 16 states with long-term support between 2018 and 2020. Right now, she’s making a big push to assist women in the most populous Jewish areas around the country, including Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago and greater New York.

When a woman reaches out, she can receive free professional counseling from one of ISA’s two counselors for up to a year after birth. She will also get lifetime access to parenting classes, maternity clothes, custom financial aid, baby items and referrals to partner agencies that provide employment, housing and adoption services. The counselors have assisted pregnant Jewish women from unaffiliated to Orthodox, single to married and from late teens to their early forties.

“Our clients generally often find ISA to be more like an extended family than a formal social service agency,” said Pelman.

The organization does not facilitate adoptions or provide services to potential adoption parents, and the counselors won’t give medical advice or halachic/moral guidance around abortion. Instead, they refer clients to doctors and rabbis if they have questions.

“Some women just need to have that emotional outlet to process the pregnancy, and then don’t need anything else,” said Pelman. “Others have miscarriages or abortions, in which case we provide sensitive follow-up. If the reason for abortion was abuse, for example, we will make sure the client is fully connected with Jewish domestic abuse organizations. Most of the women who call decide they want our continued support throughout pregnancy and after birth.”

Since Jewish women from all different backgrounds come to ISA, the counselors hear a variety of viewpoints surrounding pregnancy. Pelman’s friend who had an abortion is strongly pro-choice and supports the organization by donating every year.

“One big thing is I’ve learned is how to bring people together,” Pelman said. “I have found that few things are more controversial or have more taboos attached than abortion and unplanned pregnancies. But ISA brings together people who are both strongly pro-choice and pro-life.”

Through her work with ISA, Pelman has realized that unplanned pregnancies can happen at any time, in any situation.

Pelman has realized that unplanned pregnancies can happen at any time, in any situation.

“Everyone has their picture about what an unplanned pregnancy crisis is,” she said. “Mine was a woman like my friend, an unmarried twenty-something with a Mr. Right Now boyfriend. But what I didn’t imagine was the thirty-something who left an unhealthy relationship but realized this might be her only shot at having a child. Or the forty-something married woman who was so overwhelmed by her many other children, at least one of whom had special needs.”

No matter what the circumstances are, Pelman wants to be there for pregnant women in their time of need — and she urged others in the Jewish community to do the same.

“With every woman who calls, her life and future are at stake,” she said. “Our community must be willing to offer long-term resources and support for her. Most problems are not going to be resolved in a single conversation, but it’s our willingness to walk with her in her journey that matters most. We don’t need to have all the answers for her, but we need offer real resources, financial and emotional.”

If you need help from In Shifra’s Arms, you can call 1-888-360-5872, text them at 646-632-8547 or visit them online at JewishPregnancyHelp.org.


Kylie Ora Lobell is a writer for the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, The Forward, Tablet Magazine, Aish, and Chabad.org and the author of the first children’s book for the children of Jewish converts, “Jewish Just Like You.”

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