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This Purim, the mitzvah to support vulnerable kids

(Wikimedia Commons)

As we approach Purim and Pesach, we should remember that Mordechai adopted Esther, and that Moses was adopted by Pharoah’s daughter — and use this season as an opportunity to reflect on this important mitzvah.

We all know how difficult childhood can be in even the most stable, loving family. So imagine the pain that comes when children face abuse and neglect growing up in an unstable home. There are almost 700,000 children in the foster-care system in America each year, and we have a duty to improve their lives as much as possible.

My wife, Shoshana, and I have been foster parents in Arizona for around seven years. We’ve cared for about 10 small children, boys ranging from newborn to three years old as they prepared for reunification with their biological families. It’s been very challenging but also very rewarding. I questioned the predicament when I couldn’t put my biological children to sleep because I had to put the foster children to sleep. But I my resolve was strengthened when we saw the children rapidly recovering and healing.

I was so passionate about this way of caring for children that I wanted to find a way to help others looking to be foster and adoptive parents do the same. So a few years ago, I established YATOM, a Jewish foster-and-adoption network inspired by the Torah commandment to love and protect vulnerable children. 

At YATOM, we run programs that support singles and couples starting their journey toward fostering or adopting. We’ve created a handful of tools for doing this.

For one, we’re currently offering micro-grants (of $500 to $3,000) to people who are already fostering or adopting but need some financial support. This program provides a boost to make the journey of brightening a child’s life through the warmth of a loving home a little easier.

Additionally, we are providing general education to the community. The best way to engage in that is to join our email list and our newsletter and to follow our Facebook page.

Maybe the most exciting: We are in the process of recruiting for our seventh cohort of our Family Fellowship, which connects Jewish adults across the nation to learn together about various aspects of the foster-and-adoption process. YATOM welcomes a diverse group of interested participants representing the many beautiful definitions of “family,” by providing expert guest speakers sharing their insights, a commitment to sharing a collaborative spirit and providing the opportunity to establish meaningful connections.

This program supports prospective adoptive and foster parents in three ways:

      1. Through a stipend of $1,000, which helps with the inevitable costs involved with supporting the children.
      2. Through education to help participants navigate the system, as the process to adopt and/or foster a vulnerable child can be arduous and frustrating.
      3. By giving participants a close-knit community of mutual support as they go through the highs and lows of the fostering/adoption process.

“We’ve had workshops with several experts in the fields of foster care and adoption Matt Hazimeh, a member of our fifth Family Fellowship cohort looking to adopt with his same-sex partner wrote for the Greater Phoenix Jewish News. “Something that Yousef and I never really considered was how health insurance would work for foster children. We also were unaware of the myriad mental and/or physical health challenges children in the child welfare system could be facing.”

For the next two weeks, until early March, we’re still recruiting potential fellows from around the country. You can apply here to be a part of this program

(Wikimedia Commons)

In addition to our commitment to education and counseling we engage in advocacy. We recognize the call to fight against discrimination. Perhaps you’ve heard of Elizabeth and Gabriel Rutan-Ram, the Tennessee couple who was just denied help adopting a child by a state-funded agency simply because they are Jewish — after having already picked out a child to bring in as their own.

“It kind of takes the wind out of your sails,” Gabriel said of the incident in a recent discussion with me. “But as Jews we have a nice history of bearing down and rolling with the punches and [to] keep chugging forward.”

Recognizing the pain of this case, we must also work to ensure our LGBTQ friends are able to fulfill the mitzvah of loving and protecting the vulnerable child as well.

Another channel of support should be advocacy for the bi-partisan Adoption Tax Credit ​to assist low-income families in the journey to support vulnerable children.

While we may never be able to actualize a fully just system that gives parents children to care for and provides children with the loving homes they need, we are inspired to do our part and repair the system however we can.

As we enter the Purim season and plan to give matanot l’evyonim (gifts to the poor), we should consider prioritizing the most vulnerable population of all: children.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the President & Dean of the Valley Beit Midrash (Jewish pluralistic adult learning & leadership), the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek (Jewish Social Justice), the Founder and CEO of Shamayim (Jewish animal advocacy), the Founder and President of YATOM, (Jewish foster and adoption network), and the author of 22 books on Jewish ethics. Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America and the Forward named him one of the 50 most influential Jews. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s and do not represent any organizations he is affiliated with.
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