Dear Mrs. Bluth,
I am not sure this belongs in your column; however, with its “Life Chronicles” heading I am assuming my problem will not be out of place and, perhaps, you may be the one to help me.
Four and a half years ago we adopted a child born of an Israeli Jewish mother and an Ethiopian father (Jewish by conversion) who died in a tragic car crash in Israel. The adoption process was lengthy, as we needed to ascertain her mother’s Judaism. By the time our daughter came to us she was nine months old. She was sickly and malnourished, but we loved her from the second we laid our eyes on her and devoted our every moment to helping her become whole, healthy and happy. We named her Ayelet (which means morning star) as she brightened our lives and, Baruch Hashem, under our care she flourished. After sixteen years of childlessness, she brought joy and life into our empty home and transformed it from a tomb of silence into a bubbling stream of noise and laughter. Our whole family accepted her into their midst and all our lives became enriched by her presence.
This year, Ayelet began first grade and based on her reception in kindergarten, I was afraid she would encounter social obstacles because of both her skin color and her history. Although most of the children in her kindergarten didn’t make any issue, I saw the look on one of her teacher’s faces and this only repeated itself on the faces of parents who dropped off their children. After much explanation, proof of birth and adoption and many lengthy phone conversations with other parents who excluded Ayelet from after school play-dates with their children, much of the prejudice was dealt with and Ayelet had a few children she could play with on Shabbos and after school.
When I went to register her in Bais Yaakov, I knew immediately, that there would be huge obstacles. We met with both Hebrew and English principals, going through the dance of proving of her Jewishness, and convincing them that she would integrate well with the help and cooperation of her teachers and the administration.
After much pleading and begging, and with the intervention of our shul’s rav, she was finally accepted just as the school term began. I brought her in for orientation and experienced the same incredulous stares from her teachers and classmates. Sadly, none of the little girls spoke to her that day and when school began, not one of them asked her to join them at recess or spoke to her at lunch. I called her teachers and explained that she was miserable and lonely and asked if there was some way in which they could help her find others in her class who would strike up a friendship. One of the teachers very bluntly told me it would probably take some time before the other girls adjusted to her dark skin and physical differences; it’s not something that should be forced or provoked.
I was somewhat shocked at her flippant acceptance of the situation and her reluctance to undertake any initiative to try to find a solution to resolve this situation. Ayelet is such a sweet and loving little girl and her heart hurts each day she has to go to school and learn that because she is different from the other girls, she is not worthy of kindness and friendship.
I feel your pain and frustration! How sad that such a little one needs to learn the harsh truths about the ugliness of prejudice – that acceptance is dependant upon fitting into that rigid, identical mold we set forth. It is exactly this ideology that Hashem abhors! Where is ahavas Yisroel and ve’ahavta lerayacha kamocha? I must say I am deeply disappointed in the response you received from the teacher. She missed a marvelous opportunity to create an environment of cohesiveness and friendship amongst her young students.
Having been a teacher in my early years after graduating, I was faced with similar challenges when students didn’t interact well with one another. With older kids, this is a bit harder, but with the little ones just starting out and relying on adult tutelage and guidance, with the right instruction, beautiful things can happen. All that is required is a teacher who loves her job, cares deeply for what her little charges, and uses her imagination and innovation to make things great.
Please call this teacher again and ask her to institute a “Special Friends Day,” wherein she pairs two or three students to play and communicate with each other, rotating these groups every day so that all the children have a chance to get to know and be with each other on a more intimate and intense level. No one needs to wait to be asked to play, no one is left sitting alone during recess and no one will hurt because she is different. If the teacher displays no prejudice, the children will do the same and everyone will be accepted and equal.
I would also like to tell you how much I admire you for giving this child a loving, supportive and caring family. There are many different ways a woman can have a child, biological birth is only one of them. Being a “true mother” comes with the love, devotion and selflessness she provides for her child. You, dear friend, are a true mother in every sense of the word. May Hashem reward you a thousandfold for your compassion and may Ayelet bring you and your husband much joy and Yiddish nachas.Rachel Bluth