This weekend, many Christian churches will mark Orphan Sunday, praying and educating worship communities about foster-care and adoption. Here, I talk with Malka Groden about her experience as a Jewish family with adoption.
Earlier this year, Malka Groden wrote for National Review Online about “The Power of Domestic Adoption.” On the evening of Tuesday, November 20, in New York City, I’ll be having a conversation with Groden and Naomi Schaefer Riley from the American Enterprise Institute about some of the same. We talk about some of her experience with adoption here in anticipation of our upcoming event. — KJL
Kathryn Jean Lopez: What first turned your attention to adoption?
Malka Groden: My husband and I are part of the Chabad Lubavitch community. We got married at a very young age and expected to have a large family, but after years of failed fertility treatments, we decided we could no longer handle the emotional difficulty of repeatedly failing, not to mention the exorbitant financial costs. A Chabad rabbi and his wife, the directors of Chabad Lubavitch in Montana, Rabbi Chaim and Chavie Bruk, had adopted several children when they faced similar struggles having biological children. We sought their advice and forged forward into the world of adoption.
Lopez: Why should domestic adoption be a priority?
Groden: As we took our first steps into the world of adoption, I really didn’t know where to look. I began by researching international adoption, but I quickly realized there were tremendous hurdles. The Hague Convention has made it difficult for international adoptions to take place, because it emphasizes trying to have children adopted within their countries before allowing for international adoption. There is merit to a child staying within their home country, but in many countries, this isn’t a practical strategy and children are left languishing in orphanages. Russia has closed the door to adoptions and China has very strict requirements for adopting couples. Arthur Brooks has written about this.
Initially, domestic adoption was just our practical next step, but it’s become my passion. There are so many children in our own backyards that need safe and stable homes. Providing homes for these children isn’t just about completing a family, but it’s also about ensuring the next generation of Americans. It sounds grand, but it really isn’t.
Lopez: What’s your rallying cry to Jews in particular? To all religious believers?
Groden: God tells the Jewish people repeatedly in Isaiah that we’re meant to be a light unto the nations. We have an ability to transcend considerations of race and other dividing factors, because they should be of no consequence to us as Jews and more broadly as believers. Our adoption agency couldn’t fathom that the Chasidic Jews from Brooklyn were one of their more open waiting families. I think as believers we’re uniquely armed for that role.
Lopez: Is there a specifically Jewish vision or approach do these things? Or should there be more of one?
Groden: There really hasn’t been much of an approach or vision in the Jewish community. Orthodox Jewish families have many biological children and simply don’t have the bandwidth to adopt or foster, so it hasn’t been part of our culture unless it’s emergency services within our own communities. There is an incredible social services organization called OHEL in New York. Among its many services, it provides foster care options for Jewish children in New York and New Jersey, ensuring that Jewish children are placed in Jewish homes.
That’s been one of my challenges when I speak about adoption in the Jewish community. I am constantly asked about Jewish children, because we have an ethic of taking care of our own first. That just isn’t the landscape of adoption today. There aren’t many Jewish children waiting for homes.
I want everyone to adopt, but I have altered my strategy within our community. I’ve started speaking more about my own journey to adoption. We put together a small women’s event in Crown Heights, showing a film by the Archibald Project, and I shared my story from infertility to adoption. My talk was a mix of my personal story, general adoption awareness, and answering questions. In December, we’ll be hosting a similar event in Los Angeles. I plan to hold an info session with my adoption agency in my home in the spring of next year.
Through awareness and normalizing adoption in our community, I hope adoption could become an option that couples struggling to conceive or with secondary infertility might begin to consider. I think that’s a practical and realistic place to start.
I decided to test this out, once I’d read about Evangelicals creating spaces for prospective adoptive and foster parents to learn about these opportunities in a religious and communal setting.
Lopez: How do you know if adoption is for you?
Groden: Adoption is a privilege that comes with its own challenges. There’s a misconception that it takes “special” people. I don’t believe that. I hate change, waiting, uncertainty just like everyone else. I’m not known as a particularly flexible person. I accept these challenges. I think adoption is for anyone who is willing to commit to it.
Lopez: You’ve written: “Among critics, adoption is painted as baby-buying for the infertile. Prospective adoptive parents wait for the ‘perfect’ child who will fit into their family, as though it were their own biological offspring. But adoption is not surrogacy.” How do we combat this?
Groden: It’s tough. Many people come to adoption after years of infertility, as we did. They have certain conceptions of what it would have been like to have a biological child and how they would have behaved during their pregnancy. I certainly did. But once you enter the world of domestic adoption, you’re confronted with facts about who the women (and sometimes men) placing their children for adoption are and what challenges they have had and continue to go through. Situations I’ve personally seen have included: rape, incest, incarceration, prostitution, drug and alcohol addictions, homelessness, and the list goes on.
Many people can’t believe how quickly we adopted our son, because everyone knows couples who wait for years. I do think our situation was miraculously quick (a two week wait for our son), but I also think we were open! If families open themselves a little bit more than they might have intended originally, they’ll be surprised at how their wait time will change.
I recommend people reach out to a couple of pediatricians to discuss their concerns about prenatal drug and alcohol exposure, learn more about withdrawal and possible long-term effects, before ruling out prenatal exposure.
Another important factor to consider here is race and pushing ourselves beyond what we originally thought we would be comfortable with. Children being placed for adoption are disproportionately minorities. I struggled with the decision to open myself to a child of another race primarily because I feared what it would be like growing up in a predominately white Jewish community, but the numbers our agency shared with us struck me. Out of 150 waiting families, only 30 were open to a child of another race. A family who is closed to a child of another race, can wait for 18 months to two years to adopt. A family that’s open has an average waiting time of six months or less.
Everyone must do what they practically think they can handle, but I’d like to emphasize that there is a shorter path to having a family in adoption, if we open ourselves up a bit more and allow ourselves to move beyond our ideas of “perfection.” My son is almost two. If we had not opened ourselves up more, we could still be waiting. That’s mind boggling to me when there are so many children ready to be adopted.
Stressing the shorter wait time toward becoming a family can be an incentive for adopting parents to widen their level of openness even if that’s not the core reason why we “should’ be more open.
Lopez: Do you know the birthmothers of your children? How do you think of them?
Groden: I do. I am very private about my children’s backgrounds, because it’s really their information to share, and I want them to know it before anyone else does.
Birth mothers are heroines. I mean that with every fiber of my being. No matter what they’ve done in their lives, what challenges they may still have, they have made this choice for their child, and I think it’s important that we respect their agency in this. They placed their child in another woman’s arms. They’ve foregone the everyday pleasures of parenting: hearing the first mama, being kissed, putting them to sleep, out of love for their child.
Lopez: Is there anything you wish you knew then — before maybe you even considered adoption — that you know now?
Groden: I wish I would have known how deeply this would fulfill me as a person, how this would positively influence my family, friends, and community, and how I realized I am more capable than I ever imagined.
Lopez: Have you and your husband thought about foster care?
Groden: Yes. We have. My husband is currently in medical school, and we have two children under the age of two, so I think we’re going to wait a little while, but it’s something we’ve spoken about. When I wrote my NRO piece on adoption, I read all the Twitter comments, which I’ve learned you shouldn’t do. Some of the pushback I got was questioning why we didn’t foster.
Firstly, we were young parents looking to start our family, and we wanted to experience babies. Secondly, if not for our experience through domestic adoption, fostering would have never been a consideration for me as it now is. Our eyes were opened to a world of poverty, abuse, incarceration, and addiction that we had never been exposed to.
Lopez: What’s the first practical step? What if the apartment isn’t big enough? What if a couple just doesn’t have enough money to nearly make ends meet?
Groden: Just explore. Speak to adoptive parents that you know. If you don’t know any, there is a world of adoptive parents on social media. I’ve met and become friendly with several Evangelical adoptive and foster moms, through social media, who were a source of strength and guidance to me through this process.
It also might be worthwhile to speak to a social worker from an agency and get their feedback on your situation.
Finally, there are resources to help finance adoption, such as the Hebrew Free Loan Society, where we received an interest-free loan for adoption. There are church communities across the country who have helped raise funds for church members looking to adopt.
Don’t rule yourself out without learning more!
Lopez: What’s the question or plea you might leave with people?
Groden: There is no greater gift we can give a child than a life in a stable home with present parents with simple pleasures like reading books, bedtimes, and trips to the park. Children deserve this.
We can all demand more of ourselves. Maybe it’s starting or giving toward a community fund for adoption, supporting your children if they mention this path to you, or making this a consideration for yourself.
This doesn’t take “special” or “righteous” people. It’s just regular people who heed the call to protect our children.
Lopez: What are you hoping we accomplish on the evening of November 20?
Groden: I’m excited to continue the conversation you and I have already started and to bring Naomi into this. The world of adoption can feel like a silo sometimes, but I’ve become hopeful now that I’ve begun speaking and writing more, because I am seeing interest. The more we talk about this, the more we can bring this to the forefront of people’s minds, the more each of us can begin to think about what we can do to provide loving and safe homes for American children.
RSVP for the event here.