The topic I chose for my graduation speech is about children adopted into Jewish families. I am Chinese and adopted into a Jewish family. My paper will explore the challenges and complications of this experience.
I have many friends; some Jewish, some adopted, and some both.
My good friend Addie is Chinese and adopted, just like me. However, she is not Jewish. Sometimes she asks me question about Jewish holidays like, What’s the name of the holiday when you fast? Or what foods do you eat on Passover? What runs through my head is, Would she have known the answer if she was also Jewish? Or maybe she could be Jewish and still not know the answer. I have the same questions about one of my best friends, Anat. She is Jewish but not adopted. We go to school together and often hang out at her house. But she, too, asks me questions. Only not about Judaism, but about adoption. For example, Do you ever want to meet your biological parents? Or, Do you ever wonder what they look like? I laugh at the fact that I get asked similar questions, only about the other side of my cultural background. Another friend, Lilach, is adopted from China, and Jewish. I don’t know if she gets asked the same questions about her adoptive side or Jewish side, but I do know that we’re a lot alike. I wonder if we have the same likes and dislikes because we are both adopted and Jewish.
I sent out a questionnaire asking questions to both my Jewish and my adopted friends. I asked, How do you feel about feeling adopted? Or for those who weren’t adopted, How do you think it would be, if you were adopted? Lilach sent me her responses. There was one that really caught my attention. I asked her, Do you think being adopted changes the way you think about your religion and why? This was her response: “I think being adopted does change the way I think about religion because it makes me think of what my parents followed. In Judaism, they say that the Jews came from Abraham and so on and so forth...But I know that I didn’t, nor did my blood ancestors. Does this make me not belong here? I wonder sometimes.” I found this very interesting because every once in a while, I think about it too. And I wonder sometimes if I really do belong here. I also asked her how she felt about being adopted, and she said, “I think that being adopted is a really special thing, because even though your biological parents may not have been able to care for you, someone out there (your parents now) cared about you and wanted you to have a safe home and be happy. I know this is what my mom wants for me, and in my eyes, she is an even greater person because of that. I know that many people say, ‘You’re adopted?’ but it doesn’t really make a difference whether you are connected by blood to your parents or not because there is love.” I, too, think that being part of a loving family, and having people in your life who care about you, is all that counts.
Maya, another friend of mine who is Jewish and adopted, also sent me her responses. I asked, “How do you feel about your birth parents?” She said, “I do not feel any different than other kids to have my parents now. I feel I am lucky to be adopted.” I think that her response was very sensible. I feel lucky to be adopted too. If I hadn’t been adopted when I was, I could have lived in the orphanage in horrible conditions, with hardly any milk or food. I could have been there long enough to actually start to remember my surroundings, and if that had happened, then I would probably feel a lot more traumatized. If I had stayed there I would have made friends, and then when I was taken away it would have been more painful for me. Even though that’s hard to imagine, because you would think I would want to leave as soon as possible. Maybe the friends that I would have made would have helped me get through life at the orphanage, and they would be the people that I thought would never desert me, unlike my biological parents.
Another question I asked Maya was, “Do you ever wish you weren’t adopted and/or weren’t Jewish?” She said, “No, I don’t wish that I was never adopted or not Jewish because that is just who I am.” When I read this, I realized that being adopted and Jewish is what makes me who I am. If I wasn’t Jewish, I wouldn’t have gone to Sunday school or celebrated Shabbat. If I wasn’t adopted, then I wouldn’t be Liza; I would be a different person with a different name and identity. My life wouldn’t be the same as it is now, that’s for sure.
Now, some Chinese adopted Jews become Bar or Bat Mitzvahed, like me, but others choose not to do so. I find it really interesting, when I go to the movies or the mall and I see another Chinese girl shopping, whether it be with her mom or her friends, I think, well of course she’s Jewish, because that is my own experience. But she could belong to another religion. And I wonder how her life is different from my own. I celebrate Chinese New Year with all of my Chinese adopted friends. But some of them, like my friends Siena and Lily, are not Jewish. I think that girls like me sometimes have a hard time understanding where they came from, or what religion our birth parents were. Questions about our biological parents and families seem to be mysteries.
Once, my friends from school and I were working on a Social Studies project about certain dynasties in China’s history. One of my group members asked me if I knew about my family’s history. I laughed and said no. Then he asked me if I knew who my biological parents were or if I ever wanted to meet them. My answers to all his questions were no and that I did not care. To be honest, I think he was more interested in meeting my biological parents than I was. Sometimes though, those questions do go through my head, but my answer is always no and that it doesn’t matter. Then I think about why it doesn’t matter. Is it because I’m scared? Is it because I’m happy without knowing what they look like or how they live? Or is it that seeing them might bring back memories that I can’t remember, that maybe I don’t want to remember. I don’t know and I don’t think I ever will know. There are so many possibilities out there.
When I was little, I used to say that I was special because I was both adopted and born. But as I grew older, I learned that it didn’t matter that I was both, and that all that mattered was that I knew and understood why I was adopted and that my religion was Judaism and not a different one. Sometimes my friends ask me why I was adopted. I say, well there are a lot of possible reasons. I could have had a brother, and since boys can do more physical work and carry on the family name, my birth parents decided to give me up. Or I had one sister and they couldn’t afford to support us both, so they just had to choose. Or maybe they just didn’t want me. My friends say, Don’t you feel bad for yourself? and I say no. If I had a sister and they had to choose one to give up, I wonder how my life would be if I wasn’t put up for adoption. I could have been adopted later, living in a different family and not be Jewish, or I could be living in China with my biological parents. If that happened, I would probably be asking my friends the same questions that they ask me. I would ask about Judaism if I wasn’t Jewish, and about adoption since I wouldn’t be adopted. So it’s a cycle, where people want to learn about other peoples’ backgrounds and understand how each person lives.
When I was about four years old, I used to ask my parents questions all the time. I asked about my birth parents, like where they were and what they looked like. I was little, yet still able to relate to my past. During this time period in my life, I was experiencing a loss, greater than any other that I remembered. My English babysitter, Sue, left to go back to England for about two weeks and the U.S. Government has not permitted her to come back to the United States ever since, for ten years. I said goodbye, thinking I would see her in a couple of weeks, but I was very wrong. If I had known that she wouldn’t be coming back for a while, I think I would have done it differently. You see, I never liked to say goodbye to people, not even if I was leaving from a play date. I would always just leave with my head turned up. I hated goodbyes and never liked to say the word. I think this relates to my being in an orphanage and having to leave my parents or say goodbye to them, even if I can’t recall that moment now. I ask myself, what would have happened if I hadn’t gone through all those changes in my life. As my mom recently told me about this memory of Sue, I became a little teary eyed and I thought of all the things that had happened to me in my life, to maybe influence my future. Since my past has influenced my life now, maybe my life now will influence what happens in my life later on. Maybe that was supposed to happen. Maybe I was supposed to be adopted into the family that I have and make the friends that I love. If it had all been different, I can’t even imagine how my life would be different now. I might not have such a great family that cares about me, I would have never met such wonderful people that I call my friends, and I might not even be Jewish.
Maybe I will meet my birth parents one day, or see my sibling walking down the street, or maybe I’ll even hire a DNA detective to find my biological family. My future has many possibilities, and is full of many choices that I will have to make in my life, for better or worse. I’m definitely glad that what happened to me did, because I can’t imagine it any other way. But I think that when the time comes for change, or for something new to happen that will change my future, I’ll be ready for every single one, because I have learned to take life as it comes.
This report has been a personal exploration of my experiences as a Chinese girl adopted into a Jewish family. I hope it has given you a sense of the challenges and complications children in my position face. Thank you.