Rabbi Susan Silverman’s new memoir, “Casting Lots: Creating a Family in a Beautiful, Broken World,” charts the journey she and her family made adopting her son, Adar. Rabbi Silverman will be reading from her book at Harvard Book Store on Thursday, April 21, at 7 p.m.
How did you come to call your book “Casting Lots”?
The title “Casting Lots” has a lot of meanings. First, we were matched with Adar on Purim, and in the Purim story casting lots has to do with deciding what something is going to be. It’s the idea of taking your chances. But it also means the opposite, in that you cast your lot. We cast Adar’s lot with our family, and our own lot with the Jewish people. These contradictory meanings have to do with having children in general and adopting children in particular.
Tell us about your new non-profit, Second Nurture.
Second Nurture is still in process. I’m seeding the idea on my book tour, as well as finding congregations interested in exploring the idea of adopting as a community. I’m building relationships with people who might want to partner with someone who does adoption, people who are experts in post-adoption support. I’m essentially building Second Nurture outward while simultaneously finding the first communities to participate.
There are over 100,000 kids ready to be adopted in the U.S. foster care system. And there are over a million children worldwide who need permanent families. The question is how do we get families and adults to step up and adopt? Adopting feels radical to people, something that takes a lot of courage; in fact, the Hebrew word for “adopt” is the same as the Hebrew word for “courage”—la’ametz.
I also take the words from the founder of Taoism to heart—something to the effect that being loved deeply gives you strength, and loving someone deeply gives you courage.
How do you address someone’s hesitation about adopting?
If you’re in a position in life where you could have another child, you can do this. What I ask myself is what makes a more successful family in general and what would make people feel more comfortable, given the psychological barriers that people often have. What if multiple families from the same community adopted from either the local foster care system, the same country or even the same orphanage? A child would then grow up in his or her own family, but see there are other families in their community like theirs. Second Nurture would help to develop resources that would make adoption part of the norm of a given community. There are all kinds of ways this will give kids permanent, loving families in a devoted community and strengthen the community for everybody.
Did something in particular prepare you for adopting?
Since I was a little kid I knew that I would adopt. When I was 9 I said to my mom that I was going to adopt a hundred kids—one from every country, thinking there must be just a hundred countries. My parents also became foster parents for two girls—a teenager and a 9-year-old when I was 8 or 9. Each lived with us for a couple of years at different times. I only wrote about one of them in the book. But even as a child it was astonishing to me that there were kids who had no permanent home or permanent family. Rose, whom I remembered, had six brothers and sisters scattered in homes and facilities, and that seemed so wrong to me.
The book is a reflection of your activism, but also a very personal record of your life.
I’m a very open person—sharing the highs and lows of life are really important to me. I need to be honest about my struggles and my failures. Too many people and parents feel this pressure to put on their best face all the time—to present their kids as the smartest, most accomplished. Our kids just aren’t. Our kids are messes like the rest of us. If we can’t talk about that honestly, we’re sunk.
How long did it take you to write this book?
It was a 10-year process, but I really pushed ahead with it when we moved to Kibbutz Ketura in the Negev nine years ago. I also had a lot of help along the way, people who really pushed me to get to the heart of the book. For example, I talk about the death of my infant brother when I was 2. I never would have thought it had anything to do with this book until a friend pointed out to me the theme that a boy is lost and a boy is found.
Do you see adoption as a microcosm of the world?
Absolutely. The world was created based on loss—the upper waters were separated from the lower, and there’s a midrash that the waters wept at the separation. That loss is integral to creation, and loss is integral to adoption. There is tragedy behind every adoption. Heartbreak is part of every adoption. And that heartbreak is part of your family; part of the creation of your family is that primal shattering. Adoption is predicated on primal shattering, but no adoption parent would wish that—heartbreak is not for the sake of adoption, but it’s a reality. Adoption is a response to those broken pieces. It’s important to make the distinction that hearts did not break because of adoption.
Is Judaism amenable to adoption?
It really is. We’re not a race—we’re a people. My sons, just like my daughters, stood at Sinai in our collective imagination. And our most redemptive characters were adopted. Ruth was adopted by Naomi. Serah bat Asher was an adoptive daughter, and Moses was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter. These figures offer different kinds of paradigms of adoption, slivers that their stories are also our stories.