"I never push, because ultimately, all choices have to come from them”
Growing up, Judy Levine’s* children knew they only interrupted Bonei Olam phone hours for blood or smoke. Otherwise, Mommy was unavailable. What Mommy was doing wasn’t public knowledge to the Levine children, but the description in short was, and still is: “being a lifeline.”
Infertility can be a lonely journey, something Judy knew intimately, having traveled this path herself for over a decade. “My husband and I stumbled around in the dark, with no direction or guidance. I underwent unnecessary procedures that strained our finances. We had no one.”
That’s why, with the creation of organizations like Bonei Olam and A T.I.M.E., Judy knew she had to be involved, to be the light in the darkness and give to others what she wished someone had offered her. And for almost 20 years, she’s been doing just that, becoming the soothing voice at the other end of the line, dispensing medical advice, emotional support, financial guidance, and when it comes to halachic matters, recommending rabbanim.
“It was frightening in the beginning,” Judy admits. “I was aware of what a huge responsibility this position is, and I was nervous. I was assigned another counselor as a sort of coach, and I’d call her before making a phone call to discuss what I should say, and then after the phone call, to rehash what I did say. She was great, but today it boils down to my own personal style.”
“After I’m assigned a couple, I send them an email introducing myself,” Judy describes. “Next, we speak on the phone, and I get the rundown of their fertility history. I then make suggestions based on my knowledge. I never push, because ultimately, all choices have to come from them.”
Sometimes, Judy says, it can take a couple a few years before they decide what their next step will be. And Judy is there the entire time.
She volunteers for 50 to 60 hours a week, sleeping little, in addition to being a wife and mother. “I need to keep long hours, because people call me from all over the world — Australia, Panama, Texas, New York, California. I’m accessible for all time zones.”
Bonei Olam provides financial assistance for treatments and bills, and Judy helps with that entire process.
“My regular day,” Judy says, “begins with checking my emails and catching up on my clients. There’s so much they need; even tidbits like ‘the nurse in that clinic is a nightmare’ is helpful to someone just starting a cycle of treatment. Of course, some may choose to use the clinic anyway, and that’s where I won’t push. I give my advice and the rest is up to them.”
She won’t ask clients for news regarding pregnancies, but if they do choose to share, then Judy will remain in touch throughout the pregnancy, offering advice and encouragement. Most do share news about births, but not always, and that can be hard, to give and advise and not know what ended up happening.
“Baruch Hashem, there have been many simchahs in my years of volunteering — this month alone there have been four births, and several more expected.” Some clients remain in touch for many years, sharing additional milestones such as subsequent births and other simchahs. She’s even received bar mitzvah invitations.
Most encouraging is when clients send her pictures of their children. “It’s heartening, it brings me chiyus, and gives me chizuk to deal with the clients who unfortunately have failures, or even worse, harsh diagnoses,” Judy says. “When that happens, I daven to Hashem to put the right words in my mouth. If I know the couple well, I’ll have a clue as to what they want to hear from me. But if I don’t, I’m terrified of causing them further pain. That fear doesn’t fade with experience. Thankfully, Bonei Olam provides therapy and grief counseling to those who need it.”
If she doesn’t hear from an active client in several months, she’ll send them a neutral email: “How are you, if there’s something I can do, please let me know.” If they respond, she’ll catch up with them and see how she can help.
She ensures total anonymity and will rarely meet with couples face to face. “I want to be that voice on the phone they’re comfortable sharing their raw pain with; that’s less likely we meet afterward in the grocery store.”
She wants to remain anonymous herself, as well. “I want to derive no credit in This World; I’ll save it all for the Next.”
And we know that for this selfless woman — and all the volunteers like her — that credit will be abundant.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 759)
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