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Dear Dr. Paula: What Issues Do We Need to be Aware of as an Interfaith Couple Adopting a Child?

InterfaithFamily.com was pleased to offer "Dear Dr. Paula," written by Dr. Paula Brody, the nationally prominent specialist on interfaith family issues. Dr. Brody's monthly advice column responded to email letters submitted by our readers.

Dear Dr. Paula,

We found the recent adoption articles on InterfaithFamily.com interesting because we have many questions about the upcoming adoption of a Chinese baby. We will be going to China next month and returning with our five-month-old daughter, whom we will raise as a Jew. When I think back to all the strained discussions and arguments we had about raising children as an interfaith couple, I find it ironic, for those interfaith issues have long since been overshadowed by our struggles with infertility and our decision to adopt. You never really know how life is going to work out for you.

I was raised Catholic, but since marrying my Jewish husband Michael ten years ago I have felt a part of his Jewish family. We celebrate all the Jewish holidays with Michael's parents and often join them at their Conservative synagogue for services. We have also taken an Introduction to Judaism course together through the Reform movement, and some day in the future I may become Jewish. My parents are quite religious Catholics, but have always been very supportive of us.

What issues do we need to be aware of as an interfaith couple adopting a child? We have been so focused on the adoption decision and becoming parents that the interfaith questions have been the furthest thing from our minds. We wonder most about our daughter's comfort in a synagogue and within the Jewish community as she certainly won't look Jewish. For that matter, neither do I. We also have many questions about our daughter's Jewish identity. For example, will she need to "convert" to Judaism? What if her birth mother and adoptive mother are both not Jewish? Can we still give her a Jewish name?

Thanks for your help,

Cathy

Dear Cathy,

Congratulations to you and Michael, and to both sets of grandparents, on the forthcoming arrival of your daughter. I can only imagine how excited you are to welcome her into your family. How special for the Jewish community that you have decided to raise your daughter as a Jew. I hope you have experienced that gratitude--especially from Michael, his parents, and the Jewish community with which you have been connected. It is also wonderful that your parents have been so supportive of you and Michael as an interfaith couple, and of the decisions you are now making regarding your family's religious direction.

I know that as parents of your new daughter, you will want her to be comfortable in all the settings, both religious and non-religious, in which she is involved individually and with you as a family. I would like to reassure you that your daughter will be comfortable in a synagogue and other Jewish settings. Jewish communities, especially today in the United States, are very diverse, and many individuals who are involved with Jewish life may not look Jewish. Jews have always come from a multitude of different cultural, ethnic and racial backgrounds, plus conversion and adoption have added to the diverse "look" of the Jewish community. Be aware, however, that some religious settings, like other non-religious settings that your daughter will become a part of, may be more diverse than others. Seek out a congregation that celebrates diversity. Certainly interfaith couples enrich diversity in synagogue life. I hope you and Michael will get actively involved with a congregation that is "yours" in addition to the connections you feel to Michael's parents' synagogue.

I would strongly encourage you to develop a relationship with a rabbi with whom you feel comfortable and who can be helpful to you on any issues that arise. As for formal conversion of your daughter, I would defer to a rabbi to answer that question, as Reform and Conservative rabbis may differ. In traditional Judaism, children born to a mother who is not Jewish are "converted" as newborns through a ceremony of mikvah, or purifying waters. It sounds as though you know Michael's parents' rabbi fairly well and that he or she will be able to render advice on this issue from a Conservative point of view.

As new parents you will want to create rituals to welcome your new daughter into your life. Yes, adoptive children can receive Jewish names. Remember that a "Jewish" name can be given to a child to honor the memory or living legacy of someone who may not be Jewish, including one of your beloved relatives. Try to find ways that you and your Catholic parents can be involved in these Jewish rituals to welcome a child into the life of your family. Also, are you planning to acknowledge both the Chinese heritage and the Jewish-American legacy you want to give to your daughter? Again, a rabbi can provide information and suggestions regarding a formal naming ceremony and other Jewish lifecycle celebrations. In addition, you will benefit from a trusted clergy relationship to support you in your own evolving religious journey and possible decision to become Jewish.

The miracle of becoming a parent may possibly engender unexpected feelings for you and Michael. Please remember to seek out help and support if at any time having a child does stir up "strained discussions and arguments."

Please stay in touch and let InterfaithFamily.com readers know about milestones in your lives. Mazel tov on this joyous occasion. I wish you many blessings and much fulfillment.

Dr. Paula

 

Hebrew and Yiddish for "good luck," a phrase used to express congratulations for happy and significant occasions. Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." Hebrew for "collection," referring to the "collection of water," is a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism. Today it is used as part of the traditional procedure for converting to Judaism, by Jews who follow the laws of ritual (body) purity, and sometimes for making kitchen utensils kosher. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.
Dr. Paula Brody

Dr. Paula Brody, Ed.D., LICSW, is director of Outreach Programs and Training for the Northeast Council of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (the Reform movement), where she develops and coordinates a wide range of programs and services to welcome interfaith families into Reform congregations.

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