When Jerusalem-based Rabbi Susan Silverman was growing up in the United States, her parents brought foster children into their family’s home. “I saw, close up, what it meant for children to not have families of their own,” Silverman told the Journal in a Skype conversation. “It just stayed with me my whole life. I knew from when I was a kid that when I grew up I would adopt. And it became really clear to me when I became a rabbi that this was my passion and that would be my rabbinate.”
True to her word, Silverman, together with her husband, Yosef Abramowitz, adopted two children from Ethiopia and had three biological children. Then, 18 months ago, she toured the U.S. with her memoir, “Casting Lots,” which focuses heavily on her views on how to create intentional families. She was also busy creating Second Nurture, an organization dedicated to providing a path to adoption for “waiting” children by bringing together multiple adults from within the same community who are interested in foster-adoption, creating an adoption cohort and offering multilayered support throughout the adoption process.
Silverman launched pilot programs with three synagogue communities, one of which was at Wilshire Boulevard Temple with Rabbi Susan Goldberg. Twelve people signed up for the initial cohort, some of whom are interested in fostering, some who want to foster-to-adopt, and others who simply want to be mentors or who are willing to take part in emergency care.
Second Nurture joined with a Los Angeles foster family association called Extraordinary Families as its social service partner, and is currently working with the cohort on the organization’s home-study program.
Silverman said Second Nurture has just begun applying for grants, but over the last 18 months it has raised $100,000 from private donations.
Second Nurture was a perfect match for Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Goldberg told the Journal in a phone interview. “My sister went through L.A. County foster and adopt. At adoption day, the head of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) pulled me aside and said, ‘Are you a rabbi?’ ” Goldberg said that when she answered in the affirmative, the DCFS head replied: “If every faith community in L.A. would help to get just one kid adopted, we’d have no kids [needing adoption].”
“I really took that to heart,” Goldberg said, “and came back to our community and asked what would it look like if [the temple] started to get involved?”
In a serendipitous stroke, someone had already suggested that Silverman reach out to Goldberg and Silverman was in town at that time on her book tour.
“If you look at the numbers, there are about 400,000 children in foster care in the U.S.,” Silverman said. “There are about 8 million kids in institutions worldwide outside family care and tens of millions on the streets. For many of those kids, the best solution for them is adoption.”
The seeds of Second Nurture (whose website is at communityadoption.org) were born because “I started with a couple of assumptions,” Silverman said. “That every child who needs a family deserves to get one, and that more people will adopt waiting children if they know that they have a community that has their back.”
It was a no-brainer for Silverman to begin in the Jewish community. “First of all, it is the most cited obligation traditionally to take care of the orphan,” she said.
Goldberg concurred. “That’s what temples are at their core: We support families in all aspects of the life cycle. Family is central to the Jewish community, but people make families in all different ways.”
“Moses was the first open adoption. Ruth was adopted by Naomi. Esther was adopted by Mordechai. We have these redemptive figures who were all adopted. That’s kind of intense.” — Rabbi Susan Silverman
Silverman also stressed that everyone in the cohort isn’t necessarily trying to foster or foster-adopt. “We’re educating the community as a whole,” she said, “setting up a system of support for the families.” One family may want to get support for children already in the their home, she said, and Second Nurture can help in preparing those kids for the introduction of a foster child. Another family who has brought home a child may need practical support, whether it’s diapers or a crib, or office space for the husband whose room is now being used for the foster child.
“The cohort is basically a support group on steroids,” Silverman said.
Second Nurture also plans to take the issues related to adoption and fostering into the community.
“How do we train the teachers in religious school to deal with foster children coming home?” Silverman said. “Do we have some sort of celebration if they are bar or bat mitzvah age? How do we integrate adoption into our curricula and culture in a meaningful way so kids and families see themselves reflected in what it means to be Jewish?”
“How rabbis speak about family on the pulpit, and making sure that we make room for everyone’s family no matter what that family looks like,” is important, Goldberg said. “And it’s an ongoing theme [in Judaism]. Look at how many Torah stories there are about infertility. Almost every matriarch struggled with getting pregnant.”
Silverman also spoke of the plethora of adoption stories in the Torah. “Moses was the first open adoption,” she said. “Ruth was adopted by Naomi. Esther was adopted by Mordechai. We have these redemptive figures who were all adopted. That’s kind of intense.”
Goldberg believes part of the reason the time is ripe for a program like Second Nurture in Jewish communities is because “there has been a huge impact that has come from there now being women rabbis. These were issues that weren’t discussed before.”
Goldberg tells the story of one of the first ordained female rabbis who had a congregant come to her to ask her how to have a mourning ritual around a miscarriage. That rabbi went to her head (male) rabbi and asked what to do. He told her nobody had ever mentioned such a thing to him.
“To talk about things like miscarriage and infertility and adoption with a supportive community helps struggling families,” Goldberg said. “And it helps them know there are many ways to have a child.”
“It’s so deep,” Silverman said. “There’s this midrash that makes me cry every time I read it: When the world was created, God separated the waters above from the waters below, creating the seas and the sky — and when this separation happened, the lower waters cried out, ‘Woe to us that we were separated from our creator.’
“It’s just such a powerful midrash,” she said, “and it’s also the essence of adoption. It’s all about how do we bring in this midrash when we’re teaching at Wilshire Boulevard Temple about adoption: how being separated from their creator is both an intense loss and act of creation at the same time.”