WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO FORGE A NEW PATH, to offer a kind of help that didn’t exist? Caring. Risk taking. Determination. Vision. Willingness to follow the hard baby steps into unchartered territory. Openness to the call of one’s heart, and sometimes a call from Above. To listen and receive, then to turn the vision into a concrete action plan.
Erica Pelman is all that. The Founder and Executive Director of In Shifra’s Arms, Jewish Pregnancy Help, she sensed a need and grew something vital.
Erica told us this story:
“Twelve years ago I had a close friend who was not married become pregnant unexpectedly. She was embarrassed and felt too ashamed to continue the pregnancy so she terminated it. When she called to tell me, I could hear her heart breaking and mine broke too. I realized there was no specific place for her to turn to in the Jewish community that would have been loving, non-judgmental and offer concrete resources and support if she had chosen to have her baby. I carried the experience in my heart but didn’t know what to do with it.”
Three years later, pregnancy was very much on Erica’s mind, as she and her husband were struggling to conceive, and she was also thinking of leaving a stressful job. Late one night she had a flash of insight. She recalls, “I prayed about it and felt like I got a big spiritual insight – my job is to create a place for Jewish women to turn when they experience difficult unplanned pregnancies.” She conceived her first child that week.
Erica found other dedicated women to partner with, and started the slow progress of building an organization. “We started in 2008. In Shifra’s Arms was incorporated in 2009 and we hired our first part-time social worker in 2013 (after we realized we needed more than volunteers) and hired a second one this year.” The organization receives calls from women all over the U.S. and offers free counseling during the pregnancy and for a year after, financial and vocational support and more, as needed.
Named after the Hebrew midwives from the book of Exodus, In Shifra’s Arms tries to embody their spirit. “In the darkness of Egypt, Shifra and Puah nurtured Jewish mothers. We want to embrace expectant mothers with love, compassion and practical support,” Erica says.
We got to know Erica when she reached out to Bais Chana three years ago, on a hunch there might be some overlap in the women who come to Single Jewish Moms Connect and the women she wanted to help. She was right.
Erica has words of encouraging practicality for women who have a dream. “I advise leaders to share your dream till you find others to partner with. Start slowly, build from small wins towards your big dream. And try your best to be joyful in the journey.” She says she’s learned to really rely on G-d. ”I need to, moment by moment, ask G-d for spiritual guidance and direction. I can’t do it on my own, but I cannot fail to make a difference if I don’t give up.”
The non-political organization helps women explore their options with unconditional love. Erica has tremendous gratification from the letters, calls and pictures of happy mothers with their beautiful children. “It has been deeply healing for me to do this work. I felt so powerless when my pregnant friend called in crisis and I couldn’t offer her any real help. Now we have a team that has a lot to offer.”
If you are, or know of, a Jewish women struggling with an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, please reach out to In Shifra’s Arms. Erica runs a National Helpline 888-360-5872 and a website, inshifrasarms.org.
Meet the other remarkable Lights here.