Gina Hagler is a freelance writer living in the Maryland suburbs with her husband and their three children. You can see more of her work at www.ginahagler.com.
A Conspicuous Family
We are often referred to as a "conspicuous family." Sometimes we're described as "diverse." We like to think of ourselves as "wonderful." Any way you term it, we are a Jewish family with a biological son and an adopted son and daughter. Since the children who joined us through adoption are of Korean descent, people notice when we walk into a temple.
Before we adopted, we gave considerable thought to what it would be like for Asian children to be raised as Jews. Our primary concern was whether or not they would be accepted in the Jewish community. Since we were interfaith at the time and not exactly enjoying a stellar reception as it was, we got past that worry quickly enough. And we'd read about the growing number of Jewish families adopting Asian kids even if we didn't know any from personal experience. We weren't quite sure of the specifics of how best to meet our family's needs as a "conspicuous family" who happened to be Jewish, but we decided to go ahead and adopt.
Looking back over the past 10 years, the day-to-day raising of our kids as Jews has been easy because much of our observance is home-based. Lighting candles on Shabbat and incorporating tashlich (sprinkling crumbs into a moving body of water to symbolize casting away the things you regret as you look forward to the coming year) into our Rosh Hashanah observance doesn't depend on being members of a congregation. Our kids know all about the holidays and observances from what we share with them. They self-identify as Jews.
But we wanted our children to observe Judaism within the embrace of a community. Finding the right community, however, took some work. The temple we belonged to at the time we were adopting was welcoming enough. The rabbi and staff made no distinction between our adopted children and our biological son. Some of the staff even had or knew of people with internationally, transracially adopted children. As our children were ready to enter nursery school, we felt a bit less comfortable. It was our fellow congregants who quickly pointed out that the little Chinese girl who was also a member of the congregation would be the perfect future bride for our adopted son. There was nothing exactly wrong with that, but it wasn't quite right, either. It was time for a change.
Feeling a bit like Goldilocks, I explored other congregations. Some had a more diverse membership, but their practice of Judaism was not as clearly defined as I wanted. Some had the Judaism component just right, but no other transracial families. Where was the congregation with those Jewish adoptive families I'd read about?
We finally found it two years ago. It's not close by, but it is a warm, welcoming congregation, firmly rooted in Judaism. There are lots of "conspicuous families" who all happen to be raising their children as Jews. We see many families who look like ours. We find many families who share our concerns and celebrate our differences. This has been a positive experience for my Asian children, as well as for our biological son. It means a great deal to all of us to see lots of different types of families when we participate in the congregational Shabbat (Sabbath) dinners and tashlich observances. In fact, seeing families that look like ours may not ultimately have been as important as being in a place where all the families are not alike--no matter in what manner. A bonus is that we've found other families from our area who also bypass closer congregations because while not themselves adoptive families, they've sought out a more diverse congregation as a model for their own children.
I asked our younger kids what they thought of being in a congregation with a lot of other kids who are also adopted. They said it was great because they didn't have to explain over and over again why they didn't look like their mom and dad--everybody already knows. For our older son, it's been just as meaningful because he doesn't feel the awkwardness of well-intentioned people searching the room for his siblings. Where we are now, the possibility that his brother and sister are a different race than his exists clearly at the front of everyone's consciousness.
For my husband and me, belonging to a congregation with other families like ours puts into action our words about diversity. It also fits what we tell them about Judaism being about what you believe and how you live your life, rather than how you look. If we did not live in an area with such a congregation, we would be more involved in something like Stars of David, a non-profit organization dedicated to the celebration and support of adoptive Jewish families. We've seen firsthand that it makes a tremendous difference to be in a place where we are just another family.
Ideally, our children would have more role models of Asian Jews but we're confident this generation of Jews, with so many transracially adopted children, is going to be the generation that grows these future Asian rabbis and cantors. For now it's enough for our children that their peers reflect them and our congregation makes them truly welcome.