Adoption advocate and left-wing rabbi pens book about creating her family
Susan Silverman began writing “Casting Lots: Creating a Family in a Beautiful, Broken World” 10 years ago, after she and her husband adopted their first son, Adar. “I found myself relating differently to the world after my son came home,” she said of her 9-month-old baby.
“I started to see how the Jewish paradigms and rituals were meaningful,” said the rabbi and mother of three biological daughters and two adoptive sons from Ethiopia.
Silverman, who lives in Jerusalem, is now on a mission to promote adoption, traveling around the United States and Canada.
She will sign copies of “Casting Lots” (Da Capo Press, 2016) and discuss her work on Tuesday, March 28, at 7:30 p.m. at [words] Bookstore in Maplewood in a program sponsored by the store and Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston.
In her book, she notes that “no institution can provide what children are innately wired for. Children are wired for love.”
Citing statistics that those who grow up in foster care suffer twice the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder as war veterans, she said, “One solution is adoption.”
She is eager to relieve the concern of many prospective adoptive parents that they will not receive the support they need, especially when they adopt and raise older children whose physical or emotional needs may have been neglected. “More people would adopt if they knew their communities had their backs,” she told NJJN in a phone interview from her hotel room in Montreal.
To assist adoptive parents, she founded Second Nurture, an organization that works with schools, synagogues, churches, and community centers to offer “concentric circles” of social and educational support for parents and their children.
Using a thesis borrowed from Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, she spoke of setting up an “I-Thou” relationship between Jewish parents and children. “It means we relate with the entirety of our being to another whole person…. The ultimate goal for every child, especially if we believe that every child is made in the image of God, has to be an ‘I-Thou’ relationship with a parent,” she said in a Limmud lecture in 2016.
Because she has a biracial family, Silverman is often asked whether her black sons experience any racism in Israel. She said “no,” although there is “racism and prejudice and bigotry and all that stuff in Israel and pretty much everywhere else in the world.”
As the oldest of five children growing up in a secular household in Manchester, N.H., it came as a bit of a shock to her progressive parents when — after she earned a master’s degree in education from Harvard University — she opted to become a Reform rabbi. “My father was really atheist and my mother was an agnostic”; after her ordination at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, “he said it was crazy but cool.’”
Her sister, comedian Sarah Silverman, would joke that “Susie is so Orthodox” — compared to their parents.
The rabbi and her family moved to Israel from Brookline, Mass., in 2006, settling at Kibbutz Ketura in southern Israel before relocating to Jerusalem. As a committed left-wing activist, she is highly critical of certain aspects of her adopted country and, at the same time, protective of its standing in the world.
“I don’t want to be pessimistic, but the leaders of Israel are only interested in perpetuating their own leadership and whatever that takes,” she said.
“The occupation is not defensible, but the worst of Israel is no worse than most other countries. To isolate Israel in the world as worthy of vilification is anti-Semitic,” she told NJJN. “Those of us on the Left are really disheartened by colleagues on the Left who are so anti-Israel.”
She is troubled by people who have branded Israel an apartheid state. “Within Israel proper you don’t walk around and see any separation at universities and hospitals and clinics and malls. But when you get in the territories, it is another world, and that’s why the occupation has to end; it is immoral,” she said.
Silverman is often asked about her famous sister, whose stand-up act is punctuated by frequent and funny obscenities.
“Sarah was the cutest little child, with bangs and giant round eyes and this little monkey face,” the rabbi said. “My father would sit her on his lap and she would spew curse words nonstop.
“The combination of her unbelievable cuteness and her vulgarity was hysterically funny. It set her on a path for her life, and I’d like to take some credit for influencing her dirty mouth.”
But the author admits that she is more linguistically restrained than Sarah. “I don’t speak like she does when I give my talks about adoption. But people who get upset if you say [expletives deleted] should get upset by something like hundreds of thousands of girls are sex-traded. Seriously, they should get some perspective.”