Lev Leytzan ElderHearts
Lev Leytzan ElderHearts Esther Mishkowitz Courtesy Lev Leytzan

A New York based medical clowning organization called Lev Leytzan is undertaking a new initiative to conduct a study on the positive effects that medical clowns have on patients who are undergoing an in-vitro fertilization (IVF) process.

Following an initial study that was conducted in Israel at the Asaf-Harofeh Hospital, Lev Leytzan and their subsidiary project, The ElderHearts, are attempting to conduct a study of their own and thereby begin to gain recognition for the positive benefits that medical clowning can offer to couples struggling with fertility issues.

The initial study has shown that when interacting with medical clowns during specific stages of IVF, 36 percent of women succeeded at becoming pregnant, as opposed to only 20 percent of women who did not receive the therapy.

Dr. Neal Goldberg, a renowned psychologist who is connected with the Lev Leytzan program, spoke about his own personal challenges with regard to IVF procedures.

“Twenty-six years ago, when we were 21 years old, my wife and I were presented with shocking news when our doctors told us that we were infertile. They informed us that it could take many years and` thousands of dollars towards treatments that might give us the chance to have children. As a young couple looking forward to starting our own family the news was devastating,” he said.

Recounting the emotional turmoil that this caused Goldberg said: “The loving romantic journey that we had been hoping to set out upon would now become an emotional roller coaster left to sterile medical facilities and white coated doctors.”  

“The sheer anxiety was very dominant for us and others we were talking with’” Goldberg recalled. “The lack of intimacy, loneliness and isolation, in hospital rooms and waiting rooms when you are left alone to deal with these issues, it is very difficult especially for young couples who are having fertility issues,” he explained.  

On top of the emotional issues, Goldberg described the process which necessitated more than eleven IVF cycles and over 300,000 dollars worth of medical bills. He soon became an activist for couples with fertility issues. Goldberg recounted that he became a board member at Resolve International, helped found ATIME (A Torah Infertility Medium of Exchange), published a fertility study with a world leading IVF clinic, started a fertility hotline, and initiated training and clinically supervised workshops to treat couples struggling with infertility. 

“During our journey,” said Goldberg, “I often found myself standing alongside my wife who was lying on a gurney, tensely waiting for a procedure to begin or end. We would both search for supportive words to say during this lonely, awkward and unromantic moment but find ourselves in a state of protracted silence.”

Goldberg said that it was in those moments that the inspiration to introduce medical clowning to the IVF process was born. “It was during those moments that I began to hypothesize that humor and laughter were sorely missing and would help alleviate the tensions. What if a positive emotional experience could lead to a better medical outcome?  Could positive thinking assist in better success rate in IVF?  Maybe if the silence was being filled with laughter, it could make a real difference.”

Goldberg added that “one of the most successful forms of therapy intervention today is connected to mindfulness of any situation, so when we tie in the mindfulness of the patients to the physiological we hope to see a lot of success in a field which can otherwise be very lonely and difficult for patients to go through.”

“Once we saw that there was a report published in Israel about the effects of using medical clowns to help make the body more receptive to the IVF post embryo transfer work, and it reported positive results, we were inspired to try here as well," said Goldberg.Nachum Gordon Director of Development for Lev Leytzan, also spoke with Arutz Sheva about the project.

“The whole thing is a very personal experience. Clowning performs an actual physiological function in relieving stress and making the patient more responsive to the treatments that they are receiving.”

Lev Leytzan hopes that through the relieving of stress, especially immediately prior to a procedure that is as costly and delicate as IVF, the patients will see a lot more success in the procedure.

“The area requires further exploration” said Gordon. “But the potential it has for the very real issue of fertility, especially in the Jewish community is extremely compelling.”  

Gordon said that the organization is continuing to work on intervention with medical clowns for patients who request it, and they are simultaneously trying to build more research in the area. We want to use more scenarios that closely relate to the reality of what it is like to go through the IVF procedures.

“If we can demonstrate the positive outcomes to more couples who are paying tens of thousands of dollars for IVF treatments, if we can make that more successful for them the impact could certainly be huge,” said Gordon.  

Gordon met Goldberg at their local synagogue. For years they were close friends but it took them a long while to figure out that they could collaborate together and create this project. didn’t know what the other was doing and going through.

There are many major Jewish organizations, both in the US and Israel deal that deal with fertility issues. Finding a method to help make IVF more successful, could impact the Jewish world both in the United States and around the world in a significant manner.  

“We are looking for more clinical validation,” said Gordon. “We want to get more people involved and to collaborate with us, to replicate the findings and put them into action so that we can help as many people as possible.”

Lev Leytzan began 13 years ago and originally focused on elder care, hospice care and medical clowning. The ElderHeart division is working on pediatric hospice elderly hospice, and now IVF work. The organization is  both home-based and facility-based.