Robin Sedman holds advanced degrees in counseling and nursing. She recently returned to her home state of Michigan in order to reconnect with family and to increase the sense of family affiliation for her daughter. Robin works as a research coordinator for the University of Michigan.
The Dilemmas and Delights of Raising Lilly
When my husband and I decided to start a family we did not plan to adopt. It was only after four years of treatment for infertility and several lifetimes' worth of grief that we realized that becoming parents was the goal, not getting pregnant, nor establishing ripe follicles with drugs. And so we began a personal and spiritual path to parenthood that continues to lead us to dilemmas and delights and other places I never would have guessed.
Andrew and I had been in a committed relationship for fifteen years before we became parents. I am a first-generation American Jewess. Andy's ancestors in America have roots going back to the founding of Connecticut. Although we are an interfaith couple, we decided to raise our daughter Jewish. The conventional wisdom of 'doing" one religion while our child is small made sense to us, and celebrating Christian holidays was not very important to Andrew. Lilly knows that her daddy isn't Jewish, but our lives are so richly "Jewish" (we celebrate the holy day of Shabbat every week!) that Lilly lacks no reasons to celebrate. I am aware that this may change as Lilly grows. However, the religious issue is the same as it would have been if our daughter were ours biologically. Andrew has not converted to Judaism and has no plans to currently.
The frequent Jewish deference to bloodline can be the source of great hurt for Jewish families adopting a child who was not born Jewish, even if that child is converted. According to traditional Judaism, even though the child is converted, he can never be a kohein (literally priestly tribe having responsibility to say the blessing over the Torah) or levi (another bloodline given deference in temple responsibilities), can never have the first aliyah (literally means 'ascension' and first call to the altar for Torah reading or blessing) in synagogue, and can never marry a Jew who is above an Israelite (the "common" bloodline). Lilly's conversion was carried out by a non-Orthodox beit din (civil court of three rabbis) and therefore probably would not be recognized by Orthodox Jews in the community. Some Jews even discount the Talmudic commentary regarding adoption--that the person who brings an orphan into his or her home and raises the child shall be recognized as if she had given birth to the child. They reject that commentary because, they say, most contemporary families "merely" want to adopt because they want to be parents and not because they want to save an orphan.
We converted our daughter to Judaism, but I felt disheartened that we had to. If I had borne a biological child, it wouldn't matter if I'd married a Jew, borne my child in wedlock, given my child a Jewish name or immersed her in the "living waters" of the mikvah; she'd still be a Jew. The fact that Lilly was not born Jewish changed all this. At first I was resentful that I had to "jump through the hoop" of the mikvah as part of Lilly's conversion. But, actually, I loved going to the mikvah. It was a beautiful and spiritual rite of passage for me as well as for Lilly. Adopting Lilly was, I believe bashert, or meant to be.
A dear friend is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. She, too, is married to a man who is not Jewish. When she was in the process of adopting her son, it grieved her greatly to consider that adopting a child would break the link in the collective Jewish experience that was almost extinguished by the Holocaust. If she'd given birth to her son, her family's bloodline would have been preserved. As I watch this adoring and doting parent, I don't believe she could have loved any other child more, although she may always carry grief over her inability to pass on that biological heritage.
Our world revolves around our daughter. I haven't yet ceased to marvel at her miraculous nature, her myriad gifts, nor the endless joy that she has brought to our family. Another of my child's attributes is that she was borne to a woman whose religion is Christian. This woman granted us the gift of taking Lilly home with us to raise as our own. What shall I do with this legacy? Hide it? Ignore it? deny it? Erase it with conversion?
My response has been to bring our daughter into Judaism, to give her a history and affiliation that I believe is rich and compassionate, humane and world aware. As Lilly grows we will teach her about her birth religion because it is part of who she is. I didn't erase Lilly's birth legacy, and I wouldn't, any more than I would erase her beautiful smile or the way she gestures with her hands.