My Chinese Daughter’s Jewish Roots

This is the final in a short series on adoption in Jewish families. Enjoy!

In 1988, I had my entire life completely worked out. I was ordained as a cantor, married the love of my life and moved from New York to a community just west of Boston. We would live in Massachusetts for a couple of years as I got my career going; then we would have a couple of babies and move back to NY and raise our kids near our families. We plan. God laughs.

By 1994, my husband and I had gone through thousands of dollars of fertility treatments and had experienced the physical and emotional devastation of five miscarriages. My sixth time expecting turned out to be an ectopic pregnancy which ruptured and resulted into being rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. When I awoke from the surgery, I was ready to find out when we could begin trying again. But my husband was at my bedside and said the following words, “That’s it. No more. I’m not losing you over this. Now we’re going to look into adoption.”

A year later, we found ourselves in Changsha, China, bringing home our daughter, Madison, who at six months old, weighed only 11 pounds. We could never have anticipated the joy and richness that this tiny baby, with her jet black hair and her beautiful almond eyes, would bring to our lives. From the moment she became ours, we began raising her as a Jew, but celebrating her Chinese heritage, as well. At her Hebrew naming ceremony, we included the traditional Red Egg ritual used for babies in China. We joined groups like FCC (Families with Children from China) so that she would see other families that looked like ours. And when she was five, Madison spent a glorious six months on Broadway in Miss Saigon. One of the reasons that we encouraged her to pursue that was so that she could spend time with other Asians and be around people who looked more like her.

But Madison’s identity was firmly entrenched in Judaism. Unlike many children of clergy, she embraced temple life and she forged her own place as youth group president and at Jewish summer camp. And it was her first summer in Israel that brought everything together. For the first two weeks of the trip, the kids spent time in Poland and Czechoslovakia and they visited Auschwitz and Birkenau. When she came home from this extraordinary trip, she told us that she had found her roots. We gently explained that while we were thrilled that she was embracing her Jewish identity, her roots were really in China, to which she responded, “I love that my hair and my eyes are Chinese, but my heart and my soul are Jewish. I feel it every day.”

Now finishing her sophomore year at UConn, Madison is the VP of Engagement at Hillel, and she will be spending this summer doing an internship in Jerusalem. She is quite lovely on the outside, but her real beauty lies within. We are blessed.

Discover More

Ina Garten’s 7 Best Jewish Recipes

Ina Garten’s birthday is today, and we can’t think of any better way to celebrate our favorite celebrity chef than ...

From Looking Jewish to Being Jewish

Cultural anthropologists call it ‘going native’. You find yourself in the field as a participant observer of your host culture ...

Is Mah-Jongg a Jewish Game?

This Chinese parlor game found Jewish enthusiasts in the Catskills.