(Courtesy of NechamaComfort)
Reva and Danny Judas were away from home when their newborn son died suddenly after living only 12 hours. No one knew what do. “I was in shock, devastated. My father is a rabbi, but this was never something that was covered in his training,” said Reva. “The rest of our family, friends, the community—no one had ever experienced this before. They didn’t know what to say or do.” Together, Reva and Danny navigated the difficult choices of choosing a name for the baby and arranging for burial. Then they returned home to grieve alone.
That was 32 years ago, but not enough has changed, said Reva, who vowed that no other family would have to suffer the way she and her husband did. NechamaComfort, the organization she founded, is dedicated to helping families navigate the trauma of pregnancy or early infant loss. During October, which is National Infant/Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month, NechamaComfort makes a special effort to educate communities about the services they offer.
“Every case we deal with is unique, and each is tragic,” said Reva. She feels especially fulfilled when she helps families who, like hers, have a loss when they are out of town. “One couple was told that if they wanted to bury their baby in their home state, they would need to drive it home themselves! Thank heaven someone knew about us, and we were able to help arrange transportation with the proper respect.”
Many families reach out about losses that happened years ago. Sometimes, they ask for help to find out where their babies are buried. “It is a misconception that Jewish law prohibits families from knowing the location of the grave. I’m sure it was meant to protect the family, but people don’t realize how families suffer, wishing they could visit the grave,” said Reva.
While the main focus of NechamaComfort is helping those directly affected by loss, awareness and education are two big pieces of the NechamaComfort mission. When communities are educated about loss and how to support a grieving family, they feel empowered to offer help, and families do not feel so isolated. Professional training for medical staff and clergy fills the gaps left by traditional curricula that gave little attention to how to handle these situations.
Esther Levie is an RN who helps with the professional training. “Doctors, nurses, sonographers—they see grieving families all the time, and they are so grateful for the guidance we offer. I especially enjoy being able to teach young rabbis in the pastoral care program, knowing that they will help the broader Jewish community.”
Sharon Barth, a mental health professional who recently joined the team, helps staff the hotline and run support groups. “People who never had a chance to grieve for their babies come to us every week. They are so thankful there is a place for them to talk about what happened—a place where people understand that no matter how much time has passed, they still hold their baby in their heart,” Sharon said.
Currently NechamaComfort runs support groups in four locations in the New York/New Jersey area: Riverdale, Cedarhurst and West Hempstead in New York and Teaneck, New Jersey. (Times and locations are posted on their website: nechamacomfort.org.) “Our long-term goal is to train facilitators so that every Jewish community can have local resources to support families,” said Reva.
While working towards that goal, NechamaComfort consults with clients by phone, text and email all over the world. “We have always had clients from Israel, England and South Africa, but when a woman reached out from Moscow, I was a little shocked. It reinforced the scope of the need and the importance of getting our message out,” said Ellen Krischer, who spends most of her time focusing on educational programming.
NechamaComfort has helped hundreds of families across dozens of communities, but “the more we do, the more communities reach out to us for help,” said Reva. “Calls for our services have tripled in the last year. We need to grow faster to meet the growing need.”
NechamaComfort plans to bring attention to their message at their annual dinner on December 7. “It is a special evening,” said Reva. “The broader community comes and shows their support for families, friends and neighbors, and they help erase the stigma that has kept so many people silent about their losses for so long.” This year, digital influencer Elizabeth Savetsky will be honored. She started the “Real Love, Real Loss” social media movement that inspired so many people to share their stories. Kiley Hanish, author of “Three Minus One” and co-creator of the film “Return to Zero” will be the guest speaker.
“Clients come to the dinner and feel they have a place where they can openly remember their babies and be comforted,” Reva said. “After all, ‘nechama’ means comfort.”