Multiracial Jewish Families

Increasingly, Jewish families are adopting non-white babies.

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"We hope to bring people out of their isolation" as Jews of color, said Jean Weinberg, a Boston-based management consultant. The network is addressing the needs of Jewish families with nonwhite members through conversion, intermarriage, and birth, as well as through adoption.

Multi-racial Jewish families

While there are a few places--including Boston, New York City, and parts of California--where Jews of color find comfortably diverse synagogues and other Jewish environments, many people live where they are one of only two or three multiracial families, Weinberg said. 

"We need a network so our children can have a reference group in which they can ground themselves," said Weinberg, the mother of two adult biological children and the adoptive mother of 5-year-old Sarah Julia, whose birth mother was Swedish and birth father was black. 

As emotionally and spiritually complex as adoption is for anyone, it is all the more so for those who adopt from different ethnic backgrounds. 

"Adopting interracially is like donning a permanent sandwich board that advertises your adoption (and your infertility too)," wrote Jana Wolff, Ari's mother, in her book Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother. 

In an interview, she said, "We've increased the ways in which Ari stands out. He's different by being adopted, by being Jewish, by living in Hawaii, by having a Hebrew name. And it's very hard to think you've contributed to making things difficult for your child." 

For those reasons, some consciously decide against adopting cross-racially. Rabbi Simkha Weintraub and his wife, Simha Rosenberg, had already adopted Adin, who is white, when they investigated adopting a second child. 

They were offered a nonwhite baby, who they turned down. "It was a wrenching experience for us," said Weintraub. But "we didn't want to put Adin in the position of having to answer questions about his sister or brother every time they went to the playground," said Weintraub, who works as rabbinic director of the National Center for Jewish Healing, which is based in New York. "We didn't want to impose a neon sign on them. 

Since then, they have welcomed Meirav, who is Caucasian and now 5, into their family. 

Heightened racial consciousness is part of adopting across racial lines, and Jewish families often find themselves suddenly in the position of having to raise awareness about color-sensitivity issues within the larger Jewish community. 

They also work hard to bring their child's ethnic background into their lives. For some, that means using the Passover seder to focus on the struggle of African-Americans and other ethnic groups. 

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Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Debra Nussbaum Cohen is a staff writer for The Jewish Week.