A few days ago a friend came to me. I have known her pretty much through the whole duration of my living in Israel, so I could tell that she was full of silent angsts. As I person, I try not to interfere, so I kept maintaining our usual chat till she decided to confide in me. “I would like to tell you something you didn’t know about me before, and please, after I tell you, keep yourself cool and don’t make empathetic faces” — she said. I nodded. “I’ am adopted and I had no idea about it till my cousins decided to tell me about it, it was a few years ago.”
A few years ago, I thought…she must have been at the beginning of her twenties back then. I couldn’t really understand what the issue was as I don’t consider adoption a big deal. My perception of her certainly would not change, but after she elaborated on her story, I understood why the fact that she was adopted was an issue for her. The problem was halacha and the community’s attitude towards her situation. In search of trying to make herself understood, she wrote a piece that she wanted to publish anonymously, but could not find an appropriate outlet. She told me poignantly that while her work was praised for its style and content, editors did not feel comfortable publishing it. After hearing out and reading her story, I have offered her to publish it in my blog, so that she could comfortably put her words out there. While her case is unique and I have never met anybody who would be in the same situation, I think it deserves attention. We just need to learn collectively how to judge less and embrace each other more, because our lack of care might affect people in inexplicable ways. I am just going to leave it here:
I am still hesitant to talk about adoption in the Jewish community
It was a day before the trip to Hebron when my cousins told me that I was adopted. I was nearly twenty one years old being on the program in Israel, and that day has been marked in my memory as one of the darkest in my life.
My family is Russian Jews, and in a rather close-minded Russian culture the matters of adoption tend to be awkward and discreet. It is very rare that parents decide to tell their children. Twenty five years since the collapse of the Soviet union it is still impossible for adoptees to search for their biological parents. That being said, it did not come as a surprise that I have spent more than two decades of my life without having the slightest clue.
I was not raised religious, but my parents have always been very spiritual and connected to their Jewish identity. I inherited that. So, during my senior year in college, I started seriously making plans to move to Israel. I instantly picked Jerusalem out of all places for its beauty, vibe and the spirit fortified and maintained by the Jewish people that have lived there for thousands of years. I was thrilled to belong. I was dissolving myself in the delicate glow of Jerusalem lights in the evenings. I walked across the city to pray by the Kotel on Friday evening. I soared. But then came the day when my cousins felt the need to let me know that I was adopted because by their standards, I was not really Jewish and was not entitled to dedicate myself to Jerusalem. Despite the fact that my immigration was smooth, I was viewed by them as a deceiver that needed to be put in order.
So they hastily dropped it on me that summer evening. “you know there are programs that you can do in order to become Jewish according to the halacha” — they began — “you should consider applying”. I was astounded by the lack of any sensitivity in their voices. I was struck by how unrealistic the notion was. I could not possibly imagine going through a full conversion process that is required by the state of Israel in the cases, where a child who is not genetically Jewish, but adopted by Jewish parents. I believe that I certainly have Jewish blood in my veins, but there is no way to prove that. The phantom of something that happened twenty five years ago has smoldered leaving no residue, and my story is my present.
I know I am Jewish because I hear melody in Yiddish words, and eating kneidlach soup brings memories of my grandmother’s cooking together in our big house. I am Jewish because I always wanted to marry a Jewish man, and raise children that would be connected to Judaism. I am Jewish because Jewish prayer has accompanied me through the difficult times leading me to healing. I am Jewish because I embrace melancholy and altruism. I am Jewish because Jewish traditions have an inconceivable meaning for me.
While abiding by the principles of the religion is important, we should always ask ourselves if it’s worth it to slash someone’s heart with a truth that has no relevance? I am not the only one and my cousins are not the last ones to pursue an alleged righteousness through the hurtful truth. I am sure they are children at any age that still don’t know. As Jewish people we should be benevolent and empathetic to each other. We should illuminate each other’s lives, not descend them. The community is what makes us strong and Judaism is the religion of light, thus, we should not exclude individuals that have opened their love to us, individuals that have been raised by our people.
My experience is not unique, and women in Jewish communities prefer not to adopt in the fear that their children will not be recognized by the rabbinic authority, and will not be able to have a proper Jewish wedding. It is tragic enough if a woman can’t conceive. It is difficult enough to adopt especially in ethnically Jewish community. So why should we make her experience strenuous after all that she has already been though with endless doctor’s appointments and the unfortunate news and the despair of waiting and waiting for a miracle to happen? Why should we remind her that her child is an outsider according to the religious standards?
On the trip to Hebron the next day I felt feeble and empty. I recall standing by the Cave of the Patriarchs wondering if my whole life has been a forgery, and if my ancestors ever made a history in Israel. I was new in the country and did not have anybody to confide in. It took me more than two weeks to collect all the scattered pieces, and be able to talk to my parents as if nothing had happened. It took time to reunite with myself after the initial shock and the feeling of betrayal. With the years, I have learned how to accept my story and not give a damn about other people’s chatter. I healed through reminding myself that there is a courageous, loving part of me that brought me to Israel, and no one can take it away from me. Sometimes I am still hesitant to bring it up, sometimes I ask myself if that guy turned away from me in the fear of silent hostility from the community. I know, many suspect that I am not a biological child of my parents because I don’ t look like them. I think, many don’t know how to feel about the issue of adoption in the Jewish community, especially the one in Israel, because this topic remains unspoken. So maybe this is the time to start the dialogue?