A Jewish ex­am­ple at Christ­mas

The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - Opinion - Kathryn Jean Lopez is se­nior fel­low at the Na­tional Re­view In­sti­tute, ed­i­tor-at­large of Na­tional Re­view On­line and found­ing di­rec­tor of Catholic Voices USA. She can be con­tacted at [email protected]­tion­al­re­view.com. Kathryn Lopez Colum­nist

“We waited six-and-a-half years to have chil­dren, and within seven months we be­came a fam­ily of four.” That has been the re­al­life ex­pe­ri­ence of Malka Gro­den and her hus­band, Men­del; they gained an “in­stant fam­ily,” much like Mark Wal­berg and Rose Byrne in the movie “In­stant Fam­ily” cur­rently play­ing in the­aters. (The movie is based on di­rec­tor Sean An­ders’ own fam­ily’s story.)

The Gro­dens’ chil­dren came to them last year, af­ter a lot of strug­gle, heartache and fi­nan­cial ex­pense. The Gro­dens are mem­bers of the Chabad Lubav­itch com­mu­nity in Crown Heights, Brook­lyn. They mar­ried young and ex­pected to have a big fam­ily quickly, as many in their com­mu­nity do, but en­coun­tered the an­guish of in­fer­til­ity. Af­ter costly fail­ures with fer­til­ity treat­ments, they started look­ing into in­ter­na­tional adop­tion.

“Prac­ti­cally speak­ing, though I didn’t re­ally know what to do or what steps to take,” Malka re­cently shared at a Na­tional Re­view In­sti­tute fo­rum on adop­tion and foster care at the Tik­vah Fund in New York City, “ev­ery­one had an opin­ion and ad­vice on what I should do, and I just spent hours study­ing the State De­part­ment site on in­ter-coun­try adop­tion try­ing to un­der- stand it, which was not easy.” Soon, they de­cided to fo­cus on do­mes­tic adop­tion op­tions in­stead.

“En­ter­ing the world of do­mes­tic adop­tion ex­posed me to an al­ter­nate re­al­ity that I’d never known,” Malka said. Poverty, pros­ti­tu­tion, drug ad­dic­tion and in­car­cer­a­tion are com­mon­place. In these en­vi­ron­ments, the risks of vi­o­lence and sex­ual abuse for the chil­dren are high. “That’s the world many birth moth­ers come from,” Malka shared. “You start to learn about adop­tion, and au­to­mat­i­cally be­gin to think there’s no way I can be open to a child who was ex­posed to heroin be­fore birth or who might go through with­drawal or whose birth fa­ther is a sex­ual preda­tor.”

Af­ter a “men­tal ad­just­ment,” the Gro­dens were open to this rad­i­cal new world.

“We were of­fi­cially ‘in the books’ wait­ing to be placed with a child in early Fe­bru­ary 2017, and ex­actly two weeks later, we got the call that we were matched with our son, who was born a few days later,” Malka says. “That sum­mer, we re­ceived a call about a baby girl, and on the holi­est day of the Jewish cal­en­dar, Yom Kip­pur, of 2017, we were blessed with our daugh­ter.”

She quickly re­al­ized that no one re­ally knows any­thing about adop­tion (my words, not hers) — in­clud­ing — maybe even es­pe­cially — in her com­mu­nity. (The more I learn about adop­tion and foster care, the more I think about its sim­i­lar­ity to the mil­i­tary: It’s of­ten only the rel­a­tively few who serve who have any idea what goes into it, what the life is like and what the hur­dles and strug­gles are.) Malka con­fesses: “At first, it ir­ri­tated me and I thought ‘I re­ally would just like to be left alone and not have to ex­plain all of this to peo­ple all the time,’ but then I be­gan to re­al­ize that if I spoke about it I could ad­dress peo­ple’s cu­rios­ity and ques­tions on my own terms and maybe build some aware­ness.”

I’ve heard Malka tell her fam­ily’s story three times in the last three weeks — in­clud­ing at a White House lis­ten­ing ses­sion on adop­tion and foster care on Nov. 29 — and each time I can’t help but think that she was made, in some ways, for these weeks, that she sets an ex­am­ple es­pe­cially needed in these fraught times. Trees, wreaths and Christ­mas lights are just about ev­ery­where now. Some places, you’ll see the Holy Fam­ily, too — Mary, Joseph and the Christ child. And a Jewish mother from Brook­lyn im­plores us to make more room in our hearts for chil­dren in need of stable, lov­ing fam­i­lies.

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