Our Family on Family Day in Israel

Marne Joan Rochester

This was not the way I dreamed it as a little girl, or teenager, or young adult.  I always imagined I would meet my basheret (soul mate), have a wonderful wedding with lots of dancing with family and friends, and have 4 or 5 children.  But this dream was not coming true, and I wasn’t willing to give up motherhood because I didn’t meet someone to have the family with.

Shortly after my 37th birthday, I went to the clinic and started the process.  I was surprised at how easy it was and how at ease the nurses made me feel.  I went to the sperm bank at the hospital and had an “interesting” conversation with the woman about how to decide on the right donor.  After I told her what I wanted, she insisted that, at the very least, I take a donor with some height (to counter balance my lack of height).

More after the jump.
The next month I went for the insemination (or as I called it “spermination”).  A friend came and held my hand. I cried because I had to let go of the romantic idea of how I was to get pregnant.  I cried because it was possible that I would be pregnant very soon.  As it turned out, I did get pregnant right away but had a miscarriage early on.  Shortly after that, I got back together with my ex-boyfriend, and by the end of the year, we broke up, again.  A week later I was back at the clinic.  A month later I was pregnant. 9 months later, a month before my 39th birthday, with my adopted mother from my kibbutz, a doula, and a midwife at my side (in Israel, doctors are rarely in the room for births), I became an Ima (mother).  Then there were only tears of joy and the only thing I could say for the first few minutes through the tears, with my baby in my arms, was “Oh my God!  Oh my God!”  I then gave her the traditional Jewish parental blessing.

May God make you like Sarah, Rivka, Leah, and Rachel
May God bless you and watch over you.
May God’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you.
May God’s face turn to you and give you peace.

Last week was Family Day in Israel, 30th of the Hebrew month of Shevat.  I love this day.  I love having another excuse to celebrate our family, the two of us.  Leora came home from kindergarten with a flower she made for me and a picture of her in a frame she decorated.  We made a family tree together by gluing pictures of our family onto leave shaped paper and pasting those onto a tree we made.  She knows she has no father but there was a donor who enabled me to get pregnant.  From the day she was born we’ve been very open about this.  (She knows more about fertility than many adults).  She knows her immediately family is she and I and her extended family includes her grandparents and uncles and aunts and cousins.  On Family Day we talked about our family, and we both agreed that we have the perfect family; we love each other and we love being together.  And if one day it gets bigger, it will also be perfect.  If it doesn’t, it will still be perfect.

Mother’s Day was started in Israel by the Organization of Working Mothers.  It was originally celebrated in 1951 on the second day of Hannukah and then moved to Tu B’Shevat (Jewish Arbor Day).  The name was changed a few years ago to Family Day, to include all the members of the family and in recognition that not all families are the same, and is now appropriately celebrated on the 30th of Shevat, the anniversary of the death of Henrietta Szold.

Born in 1860, Henrietta Szold was a woman ahead of her time.  She was granted permission to study Jewish texts at the then male-only Jewish Theological Seminary.  When her mother died and a male friend offered to say the mourner’s kaddish (a prayer said after someone in the immediately family dies), her response was “I believe that the elimination of women from such duties was never intended by our law and custom… It was never intended that, if they could perform them, their performance of them should not be considered as valuable and valid as when one of the male sex performed them.”

In 1909, at age 49, Szold traveled to the Land of Israel for the first time. Szold joined six other women to found Hadassah, which recruited American Jewish women to upgrade health care in Palestine (pre-State Israel). Hadassah funded hospitals, a medical school, dental facilities, x-ray clinics, infant welfare stations, soup kitchens, and other services for Palestine’s Jewish and Arab inhabitants.

In 1933 she immigrated to Palestine and helped run Aliyat HaNoar, an organization that rescued some 22,000 Jewish children from Nazi Europe and resettled them in Palestine.

Henrietta had no biological children of her own, but she was a mother to thousands of children.  However, in her later years, she confided to a friend: “I would exchange everything for one child of my own.”

Being a single parent by choice has been indescribably difficult – emotionally, financially, and socially.  But it was the most right decision I ever made and one that I celebrate every day.

Henrietta may have been too far ahead of her time; she didn’t have the same options.  I am so grateful that I am not ahead of my time.  I am grateful I will not have that one great regret.  I am grateful for the support of my family and friends.  I am grateful for the society that accepts our family.  I am grateful for the Israeli medical system that with ease and sensitivity, and almost no cost, helped me to realize my one greatest dream.  I am grateful for Leora Shirit, the love of my life, my one greatest dream, who was born 5 ½ years ago at Hadassah Hospital, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem.  

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