JERUSALEM, Israel – An estimated 50,000 babies are aborted each year in Israel. Be'ad Chaim, an Israeli pro-life group, has a unique project to help women cope with post-abortion grief and honor the babies they have lost.
At the living gardens – or Ganei Chaim in Hebrew – women from around the world are invited to plant trees in memory of children they have lost through abortion or miscarriage.
"This place is going to be a place of healing…a place of restoration…a place of forgiveness," said Tony Sperandeo, one of the founders of Be'ad Chaim.
"We want to remember that the shedding of innocent blood brings a curse and Jesus came – Yeshua came – to bring a blessing," Sperandeo said.
Located at Latrun in central Israel, less than 20 miles from Jerusalem, Ganei Chaim is very close to the biblical Emmaus, where Jesus revealed himself to his disciples. Organizers believe these gardens will help Israel fulfill its calling to be a light to the nations.
Accepted, but Not Understood
Abortion is widely accepted, but little understood, in Israel. Some rabbis believe life begins at conception, while others say it takes 40 days for life to begin – when, they say, the soul enters the baby. Some doctors even say the unborn child is not a baby until birth.
While the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is known for protecting Israel, it is also an indirect promoter of abortion. During a girl's two-year mandatory service she is allotted at least two free abortions. If, however, she decides to keep her baby she is immediately dismissed from the army without any benefits or severance pay.
Hemda BenJudah found herself in that dilemma. BenJudah was a teenager when she immigrated to Israel with her family from the U.S. At 17, she entered the military. Six months later, she went to the doctor because of blood clots and discovered she was pregnant.
"The doctors there told me they were sure – because of nine weeks – that the fetus, they never referred to it as a baby, had already been deformed. I didn't really want to, but you…know the rules and regulations...your choice was you either do it or you're not allowed in the army," BenJudah told CBN News.
Abortions in 2008
Government statistics show nearly 20,000 babies were aborted in Israel in 2008. Pro-life groups believe the number is closer to 50,000 – up to a quarter of the babies conceived in Israel each year.
"Two million babies have been killed through abortion in Israel alone. Two million," Be’ad Chaim director Sandy Shoshani told CBN News.
Abortion is legal and paid for by the state-funded medical system if approved by a government committee for any of the following reasons:
• The mother is under the age of 17 or over 40.
• The pregnancy is the result of rape, incest or even adultery.
• The health of the mother or baby is in danger.
Ninety-nine percent of women who apply are granted an abortion.
Shoshani says her group is fighting an uphill battle to educate the public. Unlike the U.S., abortion is not even a moral or political issue here. Most women don't know it is illegal to have a private abortion.
"They just think it's private. They just think it's like going to have a nose job privately rather than government funded," Shoshani said.
Providing Financial Support
Because most Israeli women say they want an abortion because of economic reasons, Be’ad Chaim's project, Operation Moses, provides each new mother with baby furniture, a stroller, diapers and all she needs for her baby for a year.
"We don’t want any baby to be lost to abortion because of finances," Shoshani said.
Be'ad Chaim also offers extensive moral support, help with housing, and group meetings for pregnant women and new mothers.
Shoshani says it's not only a matter of the babies who are killed, but women and family members suffer, too. She hopes Ganei Chaim will help women deal with that pain.
"Women are hurt by abortions. So what we have in Israel are two million women with grieving hearts and a need for some kind of closure and memorial," she said.
Longing for the Lost Child
"The interesting thing about abortion is even if you've done it 30 years ago, you still long for that child that was lost," Shoshani said.
That was the case for Hadass, who asked that her identity be obscured.
Born and raised on an Israeli kibbutz (collective farm), she had an abortion decades ago. She said planting a tree helped her.
"I can't think of a better way really on earth to give hope and to bring proper healing and to put the past behind," "Hadass" told CBN News.
Two hundred thirty-five trees were planted at the recent dedication. Shoshani hopes this will be a step toward reclaiming the country and bringing life out of death.