The best social life I ever had was when I was thirteen. Being Jewish and growing up in a largely Jewish area makes for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebration at least every weekend (sometimes multiple parties per weekend). As a parent of a current twelve year old (and two older teens) living in a very non-Jewish area, although not the rocking party scene that I had going on in 1978, I have attended many Bar Mitzvahs in the last several years.
I have written extensively about my work with adopted kids in my therapy practice. I have had the privilege of not only working with adopted kids, but also enjoying wonderful relationships with many adopted adults and children adopted into families of my dearest friends.
At a recent Bar Mitzvah service of a close family friend, I glanced to my right during the singing of a Hebrew prayer. My eyes fell upon three Jewish girls of Chinese descent belting out this beautiful song. My gaze lingered on them as if stuck in a trance and I found my eyes filling with joyful tears.
This scene hits me again and again. I am blessed to be surrounded by many adopted children of all ethnicities at our synagogue and am repeatedly touched in a very profound way. At the Jewish summer camp where my children attend, the staff are excellent at providing photographs to us eager parents on a daily basis. I may or may not peruse many of the photos (not just those of my kids) to get a richer view of all that is camp. During my
hours few moments a day spent looking at the camp fun, I again see children born from a multitude of ethnicities who are being raised in Jewish homes that are singing Hebrew songs, praying at Shabbat services and whooping it up at this Jewish camp.
I am trying to articulate what I find so emotional about witnessing these children of varied ethnicities (Asian, African, Columbian, Russian etc.) being raised Jewish. I have friends who have adopted domestically and are raising their American and, most often Christian born children, Jewish as well. I am similarly moved by their experience, yet the adoption issue is less obvious at a quick glance since the Caucasian kids adopted into Caucasian families more often resemble their parents (a common topic in therapy sessions with many of my internationally adopted clients).
Adoption is often so much about identity. Who am I? Where did I come from? Who did I come from? Who am I now? Why why why was I given away? I am constantly aware of the beauty and complexity of the adoptive family; the joy of the parents who have brought their child into the family, the bonding that has occurred, the variety of cultures involved and the whispers of ghosts of the birth family.
And, for many, Judaism is very much about an identity; not just a religious identity, but one of huge cultural significance as well. The food, the jokes, the sayings, the holidays, they are all part of the culture of being Jewish.
As one who studies and counsels children who are seeking an understanding of both their birth and adoptive identities, adding this rich Jewish identity, something very meaningful to me, is rather touching. These little girls that I saw singing at the Bar Mitzvah lived in orphanages in China, they are now being raised in loving families with a strong Jewish heritage with which to embrace. My hope is that when they are feeling those moments of loss or sadness that can be inherent in an adoptive child’s experience that there will be something loving and warm that they can grasp from their Jewish upbringing.