There are about 3,000 crisis pregnancy centers in the United States, organizations that offer various forms of support to pregnant women seeking an alternative to abortion. Most of them, though open to all clients, have some sort of Christian underpinning. One of them is Jewish.
In Shifra’s Arms was founded ten years ago by Erica Perlman, a young Orthodox woman who was haunted by a friend’s experience going through a traumatic abortion because she felt she had no other choice. While welcoming all comers, the organization is specifically targeted to the needs of Jewish women. Amidst the many Jewish support groups that facilitate abortions, it seemed to Perlman that an obvious niche wasn’t being filled.
Perlman assembled a board from across the political spectrum to focus practical help on women who want to carry their babies to term. She named the group for the Hebrew midwife Shifra, who saved Israelite boys from the Egyptians. The lean operation runs on about $100,000 a year of private donations, with executive director Perlman (also an at-home mother of four) and other leadership volunteering their time.
The women who show up are much more varied than the young, single clientele Perlman was expecting. About half of them are married—struggling with finances, a rocky relationship, or trouble with their existing child-care load. Some are older would-be single mothers facing intense pressure not to give birth, or in abusive relationships, or homeless. Whatever the situation, the counselor hears them out and offers targeted assistance and referrals, as well as a supportive connection that continues through the first year of the child’s life. Clients who choose adoption are linked up with a reputable Jewish agency.
“No one speaks about it,” writes former board member Lori Prashker-Thomas, who felt utterly alone when she placed her first daughter for adoption. “There was no Jewish organization at the time to help me through anything.” She joined In Shifra’s Arms to become a caring sounding board for other women in her shoes.
One anonymous client lauds the volunteer at In Shifra’s Arms that she worked with as “an angel sent…to help me get through this very hard time and learn to love myself and my life again…. Thank you for the ongoing support you are providing.” This woman named her baby Eliana—“my God has answered me.”