Adoption and Jewish Identity

We gave our daughter her Hebrew name, we welcomed her into our story in a way that most biological Jewish kids never get to have.

File Under: Other Stuff

When my wife and I decided to go through the process of adoption we thought about a lot of “stuff”: Would we be good parents, would we guide this baby in the right direction and encourage him or her to follow their passions, can we possibly keep this thing alive for more than a week without having complete meltdowns and crises of confidence… you know the normal “stuff” that people think about when a brave birthmother chooses you to be parents.

I remember thinking… when this thing goes down… we better not fuck it up. Like seriously, someone is trusting us to raise this child.

The night our daughter was born was the happiest and most nerve wracking night of our lives. We had hung out with the birth mom and her mother all day. We just chatted and tried to lighten to mood of what was obviously an intense experience. The birth mom thought she was going to have a boy, so we were surprised and overjoyed when this 1 minute old little baby girl was brought into us… it was a perfect and beautiful and sweet and blissful moment we will never forget.

Cut to my Rabbi father, mother, my wife and I sitting around the dinner table a week later talking about who she would grow up to be. How would she be connected to our families? Would she understand her past… not just her biological past, but our family… how would she find her role in our story? What was that going to be like for her?
We cautiously decided that it was important for our daughter to go to the Mikvah and make the Jewish thing official. My wife and I weren’t super into it, but we understood that it could be rough for her someday to identify as Jewish and be identified as a “real” Jew if we did not do this for her. We asked a couple of my Rabbi friends to come with us, along with my parents and my wife’s parents and we did it. And in a little bit of a surprise twist, it was a really joyful moment for us. We gave our daughter her Hebrew name, we welcomed her into our story in a way that most biological Jewish kids never get to have. It was a clear marker for us that our daughter was going to be Jewish and in embracing that… we knew we would have to step it up a bit in our lives so that it made sense to her and to us as well.

Up until preschool a year ago, our Jewish identity building for our daughter consisted of observing some of the holidays in a superficial way, having a few Shabbat dinners with friends, and celebrating with our families when we were able to make it work… I would say it was Jewish-y but it felt pretty basic. Cultural but not connected.

This all changed a year ago when I had the opportunity to take a graphic design job working at a synagogue. They have a pre-school so it just made the most sense for our daughter to attend so she could be close if she needed me, and I can get her to and from school and have more time with her. But those reasons paled in comparison to what we have witnessed over the past year and it has allowed us to embrace our family’s Judaism in a new and surprising way.

To cut to the chase… our daughter loves being Jewish. The pre-school experience has enabled her to start creating her own Jewish identity without the pressure of mom and dad telling her why it’s important. We just let her enjoy the experience and then participate in it with her. We’ve had more Shabbats with friends, we’ve gone to services that we never were super into before, we read books that have Jewish stories and themes, and we actually talk about being Jewish. She asks about God which actually makes me think long and hard about my own thoughts on divine energy.

I love that we get to watch our daughter create this important part of her life while we get to reconnect with the things we sometimes have taken for granted.

The past year has reminded me that I actually love being Jewish, that it is important to me to enjoy Shabbos together as a family, that saying blessings isn’t annoying or weird, but actually a way to simply express gratitude and acknowledge a pride in our connection to past and future.

I had a free moment at work on a Friday morning a few weeks ago and decided to “spy” on my daughter during the Friday morning Shabbat service that all the little kids go to. There she was… 100 feet away, wearing her Kippah that she made herself, leaning in listening to the Rabbi’s Shabbat Story, and on her face was the most joyful smile I could ever hope to see. In that moment my heart was full. Our connection to being Jewish is transferring to our daughter right before our eyes and I am convinced that we are on the right track.

Herschel Bleefeld

Herschel Bleefeld