The “Seeking Kin” column aims to help reunite long-lost relatives and friends.
BALTIMORE (JTA) – Fifteen years ago, Sarah Starr snooped.
That would set her on a path leading to Israel, where she lives and hopes to remain. To do so, however, Starr wants to prove that she is Jewish, which means locating her natural parents.
Growing up in northwest London, Starr sensed she didn’t belong. She didn’t look like her parents or relatives, never felt connected to their Greek Orthodox religion and culture. When she would make a minor mistake, like breaking a dish, the parents remarked that they would call social service agencies to take her away.
Starr liked to poke around the house. Once she was stunned to find a box in her parents’ bedroom closet containing her passport and baby pictures, along with letters indicating she had been adopted that apparently were written by her natural parents. Their names appeared — Moshe and Rachel Starr — along with indications that they were Jewish, with roots in Israel and Yemen.
That’s all Starr remembers. Her adoptive parents walked in and shouted at her. The adoptive parents, whose names she preferred not to offer, admitted that Sarah, an only child, was adopted, but revealed nothing more.
She would look again for the box but it was gone.
At 17, Starr decided to leave home and began saving money. At 20, she departed stealthily, clutching a few possessions and not much money. She found an apartment and a job stocking supermarket shelves, and earned a degree from Middlesex University in teaching English and Italian as second languages. She adopted her natural parents’ surname.
“I just wanted a clean break,” she said by phone last week from an apartment she rents near the beach in Netanya, “and I’ve never looked back the last 10 years.”
But now, at 30, Starr must gaze back to face forward.
Her tourist visa in Israel from January has expired, and applications to extend it were denied. She ekes out a living teaching English online but lacks a work visa.
To legally remain in Israel for the long term, Starr must attain citizenship by either proving she’s Jewish by birth or converting to Judaism. To achieve the former, Starr must locate her natural parents; she cannot apply to a conversion program until she is issued a work visa or renews her tourist visa.
Rabbi Ariel Konstantyn of the Tel Aviv International Synagogue, where Starr would take the conversion program, calls her “a wonderful girl with solid and genuine intentions.” He added that she faces a long process with “no predictable light at the end of the tunnel.”
“Someone wanting to be part of the Israeli nation is hitting a bureaucratic roadblock,” Konstantyn said.
Starr’s easier path appears to be locating her natural parents, but that might mean contacting her adoptive parents — something she’s loath to do because they’ve been out of touch since she left home. Starr said she prefers “to stay in the shadows,” not wanting them to know where she’s living and what she’s doing.
“I put them out of my mind, like they’re dead to me,” she said.
In England, Starr had visited the London hospital where she was born and her pediatrician. She checked out the National Archives and a government documents registry in Wales.
All were for naught because the papers she sought do not exist or were not provided because of confidentiality rules.
By age 23, she gave up.
“I wasn’t after the whole happily ever after, finding my parents and living with them [dream], so I wasn’t disappointed,” she said. “I thought, if I’m not finding them, it’s for a reason.”
Now she’s searching anew. Starr thinks her natural parents lived – perhaps still live – in England. Wherever they might be, Starr hopes they’ll see this story, leading them to contact her. Meanwhile, she joined a Netanya synagogue and travels to Tel Aviv every Sunday to attend Torah classes at Konstantyn’s synagogue.
“It’s showing my faith and commitment – that I am doing something [toward conversion],” Starr said.
A Jewish friend from university recently directed her to a Facebook page covering traditional perspectives on faith. Starr posed questions there. A British couple who responded, David and Denise Dome, are lending emotional support and assisting in Starr’s search. A friend of theirs in Israel, Yocheved Golani of Beit Shemesh, recommended “Seeking Kin” as a helpful vehicle.
On a visit to Israel in June, the Domes took Starr to lunch.
“She’s very brave. She’s gone through a long journey since finding out she was adopted,” said David Dome, an optometrist in London. “My wife and I want her to succeed.”
Dome added, “She’s come a long way on her own, without family. Our hope is for her to feel 100 percent settled, either way, meet somebody decent and have a family.”
(Please email Hillel Kuttler at firstname.lastname@example.org if you know the whereabouts of Sarah Starr’s natural parents. If you would like “Seeking Kin” to write about your search for long-lost relatives and friends, please include the principal facts and your contact information in a brief email. “Seeking Kin” is sponsored by Bryna Shuchat and Joshua Landes and family in loving memory of their mother and grandmother, Miriam Shuchat, a lifelong uniter of the Jewish people.)