Dear Mrs. Bluth,
In a time when the world has turned upside-down and there is nothing normal about the ‘new normal,’ I have a story that would make you wonder whether real life is stranger than fiction.
I have lived all my life in the UK, where exactly I will not say for fear of exposing my identity and that of my family. I was the youngest child after my parents had six sons and my mother desperately longed to have a daughter who would care for them in their old age. I was born to them after my mother finally convinced my father to have ‘just one more.’ When I was born, I am told, the bells on Big Ben tolled to herald my arrival and I believed this well into my teen years. I had a wonderful childhood, lacked for nothing, had the protection and love of wonderful parents and six protective big brothers. Life was good and generally uneventful. What could I possibly be complaining about, a woman of sixty-five, a wife, mother and grandmother of fourteen grandchildren?
My husband and I decided that we didn’t need all the room in our big, old house, now that all our children were off and married and on their own. So, two years ago, we decided to rent out our basement apartment, up until then used for storage. As I cleaned out the basement, I fell upon an old steamer trunk that once belonged to my parents, a”h, filled with old picture, mementos and stuff from long ago. There was also a locked safety box. My daughters came by and we looked through everything to see who wanted what and we all tried to pry the locked box open, excited at the treasure that was hidden within. Finally, with a sharp file we opened the box. And my world took a 180-degree turn upside-down.
Under some trinkets, old letters and legal documents belonging to my mother, there was a sheaf of papers from a lawyer and a hospital that no longer existed. There was also a birth certificate for twin girls from an orphanage. In shock, it became apparent that I had been adopted at birth and my name changed. Already in shock at having discovered I had a sister, the question then was, what became of the other twin. My daughters undertook the search on the internet and phone directories to try to locate her and almost gave up after many months of frustration and dead ends, and the possibility that she may be deceased. My ‘Mindy,’ however, the most stubborn of my girls gave it one last try, and was successful.
Turns out, my ‘sister’ lived about 120 miles away in the countryside, and as my girls crowded around me, I rang her up. The woman who answered the phone was quite gracious as I explained the reason for my call and was delighted that I has found her mother (my ‘sister’) and put her on the telly. It took only a few moments to set up an appointment to meet. When we met ‘Cathleen’, aside from her red-dyed hair and offensive clothing and the large crucifix around her neck, we were the spitting image of each other. There I sat on the park bench, I in my shaitel, long skirt and long sleeved sweater, looking horrified at the mirror image of my alter-self. ‘Cathy’ also realized that this was not going to be a happy ending here, just a lot of new and troublesome question on my end that had to be answered. We parted ways as the strangers we were, knowing full well that there would be no closeness or bond-building between us and that we belonged to different worlds.
It came to light that we had been put up for adoption at birth. I had, somehow, managed to be adopted by Orthodox Jews, while Cathy went to a Christian couple. I asked my four brothers (my two oldest brothers had already passed) if they recalled anything having to do with my arrival into the family, but they had no recall at all. My elderly aunt also didn’t remember anything about my birth-mother or if I had gone through a ritual for giyoress when I turned twelve. So many questions needed answers!
Finally, our Rav settled the matter. Stating that since there was no documentation to indicate the religion of the birth-mother, or to indicate that I had gone through the proper ritual to become a giyoress, this needed to be done now so that I would be in compliance with Daas Torah. So there I stood in the mikvah which I had not visited since I had become free of my child-bearing capabilities, an old woman who was about to become a new giyoress after being an Orthodox Jewess all her life. Now you see that life is stranger than fiction and that some of us have just found out that we don’t really know who we are!
Every time I think I’ve heard the most bizarre, unbelievable story, event or problem, there comes one, like yours that shakes my world. I concur with you that life is, indeed, stranger than fiction, but that’s what makes the world go round. I’m glad that my input is not required here and that you seem to have your life under control and the good advice and direction of your Rav.
The very best of all things to you and yours and our sincerest thanks for sharing your amazing journey with us.