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Transforming a Community: Two Agencies Seek Jewish Parents to Adopt Children of Jewish Heritage

July 7, 1999
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Wanted: Jewish parents for Jewish children. Conventional adoption wisdom says that it’s nearly impossible to find a Jewish child to adopt. But it’s not.

Two organizations are looking for Jewish parents ready to open their homes and hearts to Jewish children.

One is the Denver-based Jewish Children’s Adoption Network, begun almost a decade ago by Steven and Vicky Krausz.

The other is the Cradle of Hope adoption agency, which specializes in overseas adoptions.

“Every child, Jewish or not, has a right to their heritage,” says Steven Krausz.

The Krausz’s matchmaking service, formally known as an adoption exchange, places about 200 children a year. Most — but not all — are considered “special needs” because of their age or because they have medical or emotional difficulties, or developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome.

The service gets calls regarding three or four children each week from rabbis, social workers, adoption agencies, attorneys and birth families, and tries to match each with one of the more than 1,000 families who have signed on to their database.

The Krauszes, whom Steve describes as “black hatters,” or fervently Orthodox, started the organization after they struggled to adopt a Jewish child themselves.

They had had two biological children after two very difficult pregnancies and many miscarriages, and wanted to expand their family, he said.

As Jews, “we had nowhere to go,” he recalls. The local Jewish family service organization “wasn’t doing much, and we couldn’t go to Catholic or Lutheran social services. The county wouldn’t talk to anyone who wasn’t black or Hispanic.”

Then, through a social worker they had met, they heard about a 4-month-old Jewish girl whose mother was mentally ill and living on the street.

The city said it didn’t care “if the baby is a Jewish kid,” Krausz says, “but the baby’s grandparents wanted her raised by a Jewish family.” So they began fighting local bureaucracies for the right to foster-parent, and later adopt, the baby.

On the day they finalized their adoption of Elisheva 11 years ago, they were expecting their third biological child.

Since then they have adopted two more Jewish children, aged 4 and 6, both with Down syndrome.

After gaining custody of Elisheva, Krausz says, “we started getting calls from all over the country saying `How did you find a Jewish child?’

“There are people desperate to adopt a Jewish child, and people were calling us up saying there are Jewish children who need a Jewish home, and somebody needs to make a shiduch,” he said, using the Yiddish word for match.

The couple called dozens of Jewish organizations around the country. “Nobody wanted to do it,” he says, so he and his wife did. Since then, they have placed more than 1,000 Jewish kids in Jewish homes.

Krausz says it is untrue that Jewish law prefers Jews to adopt non-Jewish children and convert them out of concerns they might be mamzerim, the halachic category that refers to children born out of a forbidden relationship such as incest or a married woman’s adultery.

Products of such unions are extremely rare in the Jewish community, he said, and completely avoidable in open adoptions, in which the birth and adoptive parents have contact.

Most of their children come from fervently Orthodox and Conservative homes.

Krausz says they frequently get calls from Chasidic fathers whose wives have just had their 10th or 11th child, this one with Down syndrome or spina bifida.

Many in the Chasidic community, thinking the problem is hereditary rather than a genetic anomaly, believe that prospective spouses will not want to marry their other children, fearing an increased chance of producing children with birth defects, Krausz said.

Other babies come from Conservative homes in which a teen-age daughter has become pregnant.

Reform girls, he believes, are more likely to have an abortion, and modern Orthodox girls, he contends, are more likely to place the baby in a non-Jewish home so their community doesn’t find out.

Another group looking to make matches between Jewish parents and children believed to be of Jewish origin is Cradle of Hope.

The Silver Spring, Md.-based organization has placed about a dozen babies from the former Soviet Union who are thought to be Jewish, says Linda Perilstein, the agency’s executive director.

Perilstein, who adopted two children herself, said the number of children of Jewish backgrounds seems to be increasing.

Sometimes the babies’ records indicate their Jewishness. More often the organization and its contacts decode Jewish ancestry from the child’s first or family names, which are generally markedly different than the names given by ethnic Russians to their children.

There is rarely incontrovertible proof, so the babies almost always undergo conversions once adopted by Jewish parents in the United States, Perilstein says.

But no matter how tenuous the child’s Jewish lineage, she believes it is important that they be adopted by Jews.

“For parents, it’s another point of connection,” Perilstein says. “If you’re not going to have the biological tie to the child, a lot of Jews cherish the cultural connection.”

The ancestors of many American Jews came from Eastern Europe and “adopting a child from there helps them connect with that.”

Jewish Children’s Adoption Network can be reached at 303-573-8113.

Cradle of Hope can be reached at 301-587-4400.

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