Susan Silverman is a rabbi living in Israel, a mom to five kids (two of whom were adopted from Ethiopia), and the older sister of Jewish comedian Sarah Silverman. Recently, she spoke with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross about living Jewishly, creating a big family, adoption, how she deals with her anxiety, and her new memoir “Casting Lots: Creating a Family in a Beautiful, Broken World.”
She told Gross that being “Jewishly engaged” helped ease her anxieties, crediting a Hebrew song:
“Becoming more ‘Jewishly engaged’ gave me some meaningful stories and metaphors I could use to replace anxieties. [The song is] about risk and it’s about an uncertain world. It’s about having a vision despite it all, and that was very helpful—and so was Zoloft.”
As for her faith, Silverman describes how the threads all came together over the years gradually–as opposed to having an “ah-ha!” moment. For instance, when she talks about her husband, Yosef, she says it all started coming together when she moved to Israel:
“The truth is that I think there were a few strands that sort of came together. One was Yosef—who was then my boyfriend, now my husband—was living in Israel, and I wanted to find something to do for a year and live there with him. And I just thought, What if my first year of studying was actually in a rabbinical program? That’s crazy!
When it came to raising a family, however, Silverman always knew she wanted a big family, stating:
“My whole life that’s what I wanted, was to make a family. [Maybe] my family configuration—a child dying and divorce and all of these things sort of feeling like they’re falling apart—could make me want to focus on what I was going to build and create.
She cites the fact that because her own parents were foster parents, it opened her up to the idea of adoption as a young child–although that hasn’t stopped her from feeling her own anxieties as a mother:
I think part of it also, certainly in terms of adoption, was that my parents were foster parents to two different girls who were in the system…And I remember thinking, How is it possible that kids don’t have their own family? It was just not OK. And I thought, I want to help to change that.
I think it’s sort of been an undercurrent for him in a lot of his life of wondering who his birth parents were, and it’s not something we will ever know.
So I felt a lot of pain and I feel worry: Can I be enough for him? And you sort of realize that everyone has their struggles. And, you know, maybe for adopted kids they have their struggles plus adoption, or maybe it is adoption. “
Of course, when it comes to her famous sister, Sarah, she says they’re a lot more alike than many people initially realize, stating she and her sister are “two sides of the same coin”:
“I think that the things that Sarah and I care about are really the same things. We frame it and we name it using different paradigms, but they’re very similar and we’re both very interested in getting to the essence of what matters.”
It’s always reassuring when public figures, especially religious leaders, open up about the aspects of their life that aren’t always pleasant–you know, the parts we don’t always see on Facebook. In Silverman’s case, it can be particularly inspiring to know a person of faith can also struggle in the same ways many of us do.
Read the rest of the interview over at NPR here.