In the following article, the author details her personal experiences as a single Jewish woman who adopted a daughter from China and has endeavored to raise her with pride in her Chinese and Jewish heritages. Reprinted with permission from JewishFamily.com.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, my daughter’s integration into Jewish life began before she was even born or chosen for me. My father, adhering to Jewish tradition, asked me to name her after his parents. I had already decided to name her Zoë, as it meant “life.” To honor my father’s request, I chose the Hebrew names Meira Sigal, meaning “shining treasure,” after my grandparents Morris and Mildred Sarah Kress.
I also wanted to honor my daughter’s heritage and history by giving her a Chinese name. When I adopted Zoë in May of 1994, adoptive parents were notified that there was a baby waiting for them, but received no other identifying information. I knew I was going to be a mom, period.
Meeting in China…and Sinai
I first met my daughter via a little piece of rice paper that was put at my place in a hotel restaurant in Nanchang, China. It listed her name–Fu Mian, her birthdate, and the date of her abandonment. Her first name meant “one who studies hard.” The FuZhou (now Linchuan) Social Welfare House gave every child they processed the last name of Fu, which means “lucky” or “prosperous.” As I stared at that little piece of paper, her name formed in my mind: Zoë FuMian Suni. I borrowed the Suni from another family in our adoption travel group because it meant “long-awaited little darling.” Chinese tradition values meaningful names, and Zoë has been given her share.
Zoë was converted to Judaism in an Orthodox ceremony on her first birthday. I chose an Orthodox conversion because I didn’t want her “Jewishness” to be questioned as she grew into adulthood. My father, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the Great Wall of China, carried her into the mikveh, or ritual bath, and dunked Zoë the requisite three times. A trio of rabbis joyfully proclaimed her to be a Jew. It was an incredible experience to see my beautiful daughter become Jewish from my father’s hands. It was as if her new religion was passed down from her ancestors.