Sunday, April 15, 2007


As I have mentioned before, some adopted children appear to be a different race from their parents. Sensitive parents react to this by helping the child to embrace both her culture of origin and her family's ethnicity.

Since my children are very fair-skinned and German-looking, I assume their genetic sibling(s) will appear to be the natural child(ren) of my embryo recipients. That's why I worry they will not understand that they come from a 6,000-year unbroken line of Jewish ancestors. I think my recipients are wonderful but the only way I could avoid this problem is if my recipients were of Asian or African descent!

" A Chinese Orphan's Journey To a Jewish Rite of Passage

Published: March 8, 2007

Of the 613 laws in the Torah, the one that appears most often is the directive to welcome strangers. The girl once known as Fu Qian has been thinking about that a lot lately.

Three weeks ago, she stood at the altar of her synagogue on the Upper West Side and gave a speech about it.

Fu Qian, renamed Cecelia Nealon-Shapiro at 3 months, was one of the first Chinese children -- most of them girls -- taken in by American families after China opened its doors to international adoption in the early 1990s. Now, at 13, she is one of the first to complete the rite of passage into Jewish womanhood known as bat mitzvah.

She will not be the last. Across the country, many Jewish girls like her will be studying their Torah portions, struggling to master the plaintive singsong of Hebrew liturgy and trying to decide whether to wear Ann Taylor or a traditional Chinese outfit to the after-party.

There are plenty of American Jews, of course, who do not ''look Jewish.'' And grappling with identity is something all adopted children do, not just Chinese Jews.

But seldom is the juxtaposition of homeland and new home, of faith and background, so stark. And nothing brings out the contrasts like a bat mitzvah, as formal a declaration of identity as any 13-year-old can be called upon to make. The contradictions show up in ways both playful -- yin-and-yang yarmulkes, kiddush cups disguised as papier-mâché dragons, kosher lo mein and veal ribs at the buffet -- and profound.

Yet for Cece, as everyone calls Cecelia, and for many of the girls like her, the odd thing about the whole experience is that it's not much odder than it is for any 13-year-old.

''I knew that when I came to this age I was going to have to do it, so it was sort of natural,'' she said a few days before the ceremony at Congregation Rodeph Sholom, a Reform synagogue on West 83rd Street where she has been a familiar face since her days in the Little Twos program. Besides, she said with a shrug, ''Most of my Chinese friends are Jewish.''

As Zoe Kress, an adoptee in Mt. Laurel, N.J., said about her approaching bat mitzvah: ''Being Chinese and Jewish is normal for me. Thinking about being Chinese and Jewish is a little strange.''

Olivia Rauss, a girl in Massachusetts who celebrated her bat mitzvah last fall on a day when the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot coincided with the Chinese autumn moon festival, said she saw no tension between the two facets of her identity either.

''Judaism is a religion, Chinese is my heritage and somewhat my culture, and I'm looking at them in a different way,'' she said. ''I don't feel like they conflict with each other at all.''

Cece was born on Jan. 29, 1994, in Jiangxi Province in southeastern China. She was abandoned to an orphanage because of China's one-child rule, and adopted by a lesbian couple, Mary Nealon and Vivian Shapiro. (The couple later adopted another Chinese girl, Gabie, now 5.) Cece has been drawing double-takes for a while, like when she used to ride on Ms. Shapiro's lap on a packed crosstown bus and would burst into the Passover standard ''Dayenu.''

Ms. Shapiro, an advertising buyer, was brought up by atheistic Jews; Ms. Nealon, a school nurse, was raised a Roman Catholic. But after they met, they were drawn to Judaism and decided to give Cece a relatively traditional upbringing.

''That was my hope when I started her in day school,'' Ms. Nealon said, ''that when she got up on the bimah'' -- the lectern where the bat mitzvah girl reads from the Torah -- ''she would feel like she had the right to be there.''

The countdown to the big day was the typical blur of lessons and studying, sit-downs with cantors and tutors, caterers and party planners. There was a thick dossier of Jewish history to master -- history that Cece confessed did not feel like hers. ''I just really try to learn it,'' she said. ''I don't try to think of whose history it is.''

And, of course, there was shopping to be done.

''In my fantasy,'' Ms. Nealon said, ''we'd take her to Chinatown and have this incredibly beautiful Westernized Chinese dress made.''

But Ms. Shapiro said: ''She wanted no part of it. For her, this has nothing to do with being Chinese.'' "

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