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September 15, 1989 - Image 118

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-09-15

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I --

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tion, there is often no question of conceal-
ment, but the same principles apply even
if the child resembles his adoptive parents.
The story of how Mommy and Daddy
waited and hoped for little Sarah's arrival,
complete pictures of their airport
meeting—these become part of the child's
sense of who she is and how she belongs.
Although the tradition views mikvah
and milah as essential, some liberal rabbis
dispense with ritual circumcision in the
case of already circumcised boys, and
others disapprove of immersion for infants
and children altogether. These positions
are extremely controversial in the
American Jewish community, and also in
Israel. The debate is an old one: the
authority of halachah in the modern world.
But even if your Reform, Conservative,
or Reconstructionist rabbi follows the law
to the letter, convening a bet din for a
child's milah and/or mikvah as required,
there are rabbis who may not recognize
your son or daughter as a kosher Jew. (This
is true_ for adult conversions as well.)
Unless the rituals are supervised and
witnessed by Orthodox rabbis, your child's
conversion may be challenged as inauthen-
tic by the Orthodox community. Given the
current religious-political debate in the
state of Israel, a non-Orthodox conversion
may, at some point, impugn your child's
status as a Jew and a citizen there. For this
reason, some liberal Jews seek out Or-
thodox rabbis to oversee the conversion of
their children, just to make sure that
nobody, in any Jewish community
anywhere, can question their identity.
The overwhelming majority of Jews have
their sons circumcised as infants, a prac-
tice that is followed with adopted infant.
sons. However, if the child is much older,
circumcision is a far more difficult decision
to make—and explain. The fear and pain
associated with having the procedure done
on a school-age boy cannot be wished away,
and some parents refuse to subject their
new son to- such a bewildering operation.
But for others, a decision not circumcise
seems just as wrong. One adoptive parent
wrote eloquently of her decision to have
two sons, ages seven 11 and circumcised:
"We considered letting the boys grow up
and make the decision for themselves. It
would have been an easier way out for us
as parents . . . I felt it would have made be-
ing Jewish a possibility for the future for
them, not a reality in the present . . . I tru-
ly feared that it might make them hate
Judaism, not to mention make them hate
us. I could only say to them that if I did
not have them circumcised, I would not be
treating them like my true sons . . . the
same as if they had been born to me as
In certain periods of Jewish history, the
biological or racial aspect of Jewish
peoplehood was considered paramount.
The same racial definition of Judaism that
has been the pretext for so much anti-

Semitism is stil alive within the Jewish
community. While overt racism is, by and
large, socially unacceptable, there are many
amont us who fear and 'reject people—even
children—who look "different." This fear
finds expression in everything from the
garden-variety cruelty that kids display on
the playground, to the grandma who wor-
ries (aloud) that her granddaughter might
one day grow up to marry the Korean-born
Rosenbloom kid.
But the Jewish people, am yisrael, is a
changing people, and as it changes, the old
prejudices will wither. Just as modern
Israel includes black-skinned Ethiopian
Jews and blue-eyed refuseniks, the
American Jewish community of the 21st
century will include taller and blonder,
dark-skinned and almond-eyed Jews.
Besides, we are, as we always have been,
not a race but a people who choose to enter
into a special relationship with God. As
Rabbi Daniel Shevitz has written, the most
important aspect of Jewish self-definition
has always been the covenant, "the bonds
of promise, service and expectation bet-
ween God and Israel, that make one a true
member of the Jewish community."
While all Jewish parents worry about
their children's commitment to Judaism as
adults (Will they identify as Jews? Will
they intermarry?), adoptive parents may
be particularly sensitive to the difficulties
their kids may face as adolescents and
later in life. Indeed, some parents feel guil-
ty about asking a child to assume the
burden of belonging to two minority
groups. One adoptive parent writes, "I'm
sure that little voices inside each of them
were saying, something to the effect,
`Millions of American families and we had
to get Jews.'
The first line of support for any major
life change is one's community, family and
friends, your synagogue or havurah. And
agencies that deal with adoption now tend
to offer support services long past the day
that baby is legally yours. (When you are
choosing an adoption agency or service,
you should feel comfortable asking any
and all questions—including concerns
about raising a Guatemalan-born Jew in
Springfield, Illinois.) --
Professional services to meet the specific
needs of Jewish adoptive families are just
beginning to come of age. Jewish family
agencies vary greatly in terms of sensitivi-
ty and expertise; some barely acknowledge
the special concerns and growing numbers
of adopting couples, while others provide
a wide range of support services for adop-
tive families, from help with special-needs
children, to family counseling, to
Chanukah parties.
All members of adoptive families benefit
from contact with other parents and
children who share simmilar histories,
questions and challenges. Just being part
of a group of families who look like yours
is an important form of validation. And to-

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