Uprooted was born from the idea that one can feel uprooted from one’s self, one’s community, one’s vision for the future, and one’s body when going through family building struggles. Often, those struggling to grow their families feel isolated from the Jewish community both socially and spiritually.
Through programming, advocacy and ritual creation, Uprooted educates American Jewish leaders in assisting families with fertility challenges, and provides national communal support to those struggling to grow their families. As Jewish values and tradition emphasize the importance of family and growing one’s family, Uprooted aims to create an American Jewish community where those struggling to achieve this goal feel supported and welcomed. Uprooted is a registered 501(c)3 organization.
Developing the Concept
Uprooted began as a personal response to the challenges of living amidst the Jewish community while struggling to conceive.
Unfortunately, the Jewish community can feel particularly isolating when one is struggling to grow a family. The deeply connected nature of the Jewish community fosters a familiarity that generates a lack of boundaries and leads people to inquiring about people’s personal life. Those asking likely do not know that the person they are speaking with is on a fertility jounrey, and that their innocent questions and comments can be painful and triggering causing their recipients to feel unwelcome and unsafe. The Jewish community is also a very child-focused environment, which may date back to the first commandment in the Bible, “be fruitful and multiply.” (Genesis 1:28)
There is an additional factor that leads the Jewish community to display a less than incredibly open and compassionate approach to infertility—and it stems from the Bible. In the Bible we have a litany of women who struggled to conceive—Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Hannah to name a few. But although, our heritage is filled with ancestors who shared this struggle, the community often misses and even misuses these Bilbical texts. Many Torah classes and discussions of these texts has implied that G-d sealed the wombs of these women since He wanted to hear their prayers, and as soon as they prayed, it all worked out. Such interpretations present significant emotional and spiritual challenges to those trying to conceive, to say nothing of the implications such an ideal promulgates about those who are ultimately unable to conceive.
Dalia Davis who has a background in dance, decided to create a performance piece that would express the fertility narrative of both the Biblical and contemporary women. She envisioned this piece as a social change initiative that would travel to communities and be followed by a discussion and reflection based on an accompanying resource guide. She named this vision The Akara Project—since akara is the term used in the Bible for a woman who is struggling to conceive. To bring this vision to fruition, worked to grow this project as a PreseTense Fellow in NYC in 2014. During that experience the name of the project changed to Uprooted since it is from the root of the word akara—l’akor is to uproot—and uprooted truly describes the experience of many people who struggle to conceive—they feel uprooted from their body, from their family, from their vision for their future. And, they feel uprooted from the Jewish community.
Establishing a Network of Passionate Individuals
After the PresenTense Fellowship experience was complete, Becca Shimshak reached out to Davis as she was interested in providing mentorship support and resources to those struggling. Shimshak became the Founding Executive Director, and Uprooted took off from there. Uprooted re-envisioned itself as a national organization with a much broader reach and a more expansive approach. Shimshak used her administrative and networking skills to refocus Uprooted’s vision, build a staff, establish a board, create an advisory council, and lead Uprooted towards its status as a non-profit.
In 2015, Shimshak organized and directed Uprooted’s first annual retreat. She gathered participants and created a task force, designed the content, and led this retreat which allowed women from throughout the East Coast to gather together to share their stories, insights, and visions for Uprooted. The group met at Temple Reyim in Newton, MA and individuals came from Florida, Washington D.C., New York City, Connecticut, Western MA and New Jersey. One attendee even stepped up to spearhead Uprooted’s internal operations and finance management and helped the organization do an internal needs assessment to outline the steps Uprooted needed to take in order to succeed. As an outgrowth of the retreat, the team began developing relationships with Jewish federations and began offering programming including mentoring, consultancy for communities, trainings for lay leaders and professionals as well as developing resources online such as a blog and advocacy material as well as educational resources for larger organizations to share with their constituents.
Expanding the Reach
Shortly after programming began in 2015, it was clear that it was time to take Uprooted further and to develop a more national presence, in particular, to create a strong base in New York. Uprooted reached out to Naomi Less who now serves as the organization’s Vice President. With Less’s influential voice in the Jewish community, leadership, and administrative experience, in 2016 Uprooted was able to return to its programmatic roots and develop the concept of a performance piece and the work began in 2017 in partnership with UJA Federation of New York to design a piece to debut in 2018 in New York and with the potential to travel to educate other communities.
Fertility Journeys Center Stage
With large projects developing, it became clear the team needed to expand its infrastructure and its board support. Uprooted then engaged Sara Beth Berman, a nationally renowned Jewish communal professional with exceptional administrative and organizational leadership capability to serve as Uprooted’s Managing Director and the organization blossomed. Uprooted expanded to present at places such as the Union for Reform Judaism’s Biennial Conference in Boston in December 2017 and the Jewish Theological Seminary The William Davidson School in New York. Uprooted is looking forward to entering a new phase with the launch of its’ first performance piece in March of 2018 aimed at reaching those hoping to grow their families throughout the Jewish community.
For more information about Uprooted or to connect with us, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.