Those struggling with infertility have found a community of support and prayer thanks to technology and the efforts of a Highland Park woman.
Peninah Kaplan, a single 27-year-old Highland Park resident, decided to start a WhatsApp tehillim group in January 2018, reciting daily psalms on behalf of those unable to have children.
Since then at least 88 couples have had their prayers answered. Group participants from all over the world are only given the Hebrew names of those for whom they are davening. Those seeking prayers are never asked how long they have been trying to conceive because, “it is super painful for many,” said Kaplan.
“It’s been a wild ride and for a while I was not sure I could continue because of outside factors such as work,” Kaplan told The Jewish Link in a phone interview. “But, as we say, ‘God has a plan for everything,’ and fortunately He came through even with all the craziness of the pandemic.”
The group of family, friends, parents and others in the group include people from all walks of life and denominations, “from ultra-frum to Conservative.”
Kaplan sends out a daily reminder to participants and is assisted by her mother, Rachel; sister, Adinah, a bridal attendant/event planner; and her cousin, Simcha Kaplan of Passaic, a DJ who is her supporting administrator. News of the group has spread through word of mouth, synagogue newsletters, flyers, a closed Facebook group, and on Instagram at tehillimforchildren, which is public.
Those who wish to become part of the group receive a Google document to submit after messaging Kaplan on WhatsApp. The project is not formatted to communicate via text. “I try my best to answer everyone within a day, whether it’s 7 a.m. or 7p.m., but it really depends on the day,” said Kaplan, who works full time as an administrative assistant.
“We are forever promoting ourselves,” said Kaplan, adding that participants are asked to give full names so they can be identified should they call with a question. “If I get 25 Rachels and a big group of Sarahs and five Karens, I would have no idea who I’m talking to,” she explained. Participant privacy is a top priority.
So why would a single woman take such a personal interest in helping couples overcome infertility?
“I saw people in my childhood struggle with this,” said Kaplan, including an aunt. She also heard how people would quietly talk about the painful subject. “It’s a private struggle and people don’t want others knowing they are struggling with infertility,” she explained. “People don’t talk about the link between mental health and infertility. When I was a kid it was a very private and very hard struggle. There are more options today, but it’s still a struggle.”
Kaplan was encouraged to start the group by her mother, who runs a similar group for singles seeking mates. Initially, she protested that she had neither time nor energy. However, while mother and daughter were out for their monthly Rosh Chodesh dinner, Kaplan became convinced that helping the infertile was her niche and she formed Tehillim for Children.
A new cohort forms every 40 days since the number 40 signifies transition or change in the Torah and Talmud. Each participant selects three tehillim and agrees to recite them every day for those 40 days on behalf of about 40 couples, although the number varies.
The feedback Kaplan receives reinforces how hard it is for some couples and the joy the birth of a child has brought them.
“Honestly, I think the biggest thing I get out of it is being able to help people in their private struggle,” said Kaplan, calling herself “the catalyst” for members who she described as becoming “like family to me.”
Many have sent Kaplan heartwarming messages in gratitude for her efforts, which they believe have resulted in them conceiving. Additionally, she provides referrals to organizations assisting with infertility with whom she has developed contacts.
“I always ask members of the group if I can share their success stories to bring hope and inspire others,” said Kaplan. She recently shared a story of a couple who had a healthy baby girl through a surrogate. “She has now helped me tweak the stigma around that and open that door for others,”said Kaplan.
The child’s mother, Robin (who asked that her last name not be used), told The Jewish Link that she had recited tehillim for two years.
“And the result was our daughter was born Oct. 14 when I was 45½ years old with eggs I had stored one month shy of my 36th birthday. So I guess my daughter is really 10 years old,” said the joyful Teaneck resident.
Throughout the ordeal, Robin said the group had given her focus and hope. “You pray for all the people and it was very exciting to announce that our dreams had become a reality,” she said. “I would love to talk to anyone about this to help them make their dreams a reality.”
Reciting the tehillim takes about 10 minutes and includes the names of those on a given list. Because each participant takes on three chapters every day, the entire sefer Tehillim is recited.
An additional prayer, citing the fertility struggles of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, and asking the community to remember and embrace those in its midst also struggling, is also recited. The prayer is designed for incorporation into the Kol Hanearim portion of the Simchat Torah service where children are called to the Torah, but can be recited anytime.
S.R., another woman who has davened with the group on behalf of her children, particularly her daughter, spoke to The Jewish Link from her home in Europe. Her daughter, who is now expecting her first child, lives in New York. S.R. learned of the group through participation in the shidduch group run by Rachel Kaplan and can vouch for its success. She plans to continue to pray for others.
“I have encouraged a couple of friends to do it for their children with tremendous success, baruch Hashem,” she said. “I actually know another girl who was married about the same time as my daughter who is now also expecting. I find it very inspiring.”
Like S.R., Molly of Brooklyn learned about the infertility group through the shidduch group. “I’m a big believer in tehillim,” she said. “I married off two kids, my son and daughter.”
Molly said she also joined the infertility group within the first year of its launch “because it helps me a lot and five weeks ago, baruch Hashem, my daughter-in-law had a little boy.”
“I am now praying for three couples,” she noted. “This is an amazing organization. It is selfless, made up of people who do it out of pure chesed. They are constantly on top of things with reminders. It all comes from above and I feel the power of 40 ladies praying together is very strong.”
To join the group, contact Peninah Kaplan through WhatsApp at 1-347-391-1741.
By Debra Rubin