This Tradition Was the Perfect First Jewish Ritual for My Adopted Son – Kveller
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This Tradition Was the Perfect First Jewish Ritual for My Adopted Son

While I may not have gotten to share my genes, I am glad to be able to pass down Judaism’s rich and beautiful traditions to my son.

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photo via Unsplash, assets via Canva

At the end of my six-year journey to start a family, I sat in my rabbi’s office and asked: “Is the timing of a baby naming flexible? Like could we do one for a toddler?” 

It had been a tough few years. I was 29 when doctors diagnosed me with infertility. Despite the odds, we tried to conceive using various methods including in vitro fertilization. When I asked my spouse how he’d describe this time in our life, he said it was “horrible and ended in failure.” 

Next, we turned to adoption. That process begins with days-long training on abuse, neglect and the trauma experienced by families separated by foster care and adoption. After months of paperwork, we were finally approved, and our wait began.

During this time, I would often call my dad on my way home from work; the adoption process came up often. “You’ll be a great mom,” he once assured me as I drove down the highway. A longtime diabetic, he would not meet his grandchildren, as he died shortly after this conversation — the memory of which remains a blessing to me.

A few months later, as the grief of his death was beginning to lessen, we got a call that we had a potential adoption match. We met the birth mom and officially matched on a Thursday in late December of 2019. 

The following Tuesday, our son was born. 

We sped to the hospital and welcomed him. He wasn’t cleared to leave the hospital for 10 days; we changed diapers and heated up bottles to the sound of a heart monitor. For health and legal reasons, there would be no bris. When we did finally walk through the hospital doors, my spouse and I giddily looked at each other, amazed we were leaving a family of three. I know January, February and March followed — I have the pictures. But since I was sleeping in two- to three-hour intervals, my recollection of that time is poor. 

That brings us to March 2020. We had plans that included traveling, visitors and a baby shower, but none of those would come to pass. Instead, we were stuck at home, far away from family, with a small child who somehow had turned into a toddler. Like others in the pandemic, we reevaluated our lives and made the decision to move closer to family. 

Now settled in our “forever” home, we joined a congregation and began building our community. Between the last-minute nature of the adoption and COVID, we had missed all of the typical milestones: pregnancy announcement, baby shower, even the bris. Fortunately, with most of our parents healthy and the adoption finalized, our luck seemed to have finally changed for the better. So I ended up in my rabbi’s office to ask about a toddler naming ceremony.

The rabbi assured me that there were no time restrictions. We discussed what we wanted the baby naming to look like, and at the end, she asked me about the Hebrew names we were considering, which I responded to by crying.

On a cold February day, we hosted a naming ceremony in my in-laws’ living room. We were surrounded by close friends and family, many of whom had not been together since before COVID. In line with Ashkenazi naming traditions, we named our son Hershel, my father’s Hebrew name. 

While the ceremony met the unique needs of our family, I now realize why it is conventional to have a baby naming instead of toddler naming. Hershel has refused to wear “hard pants” for the past four months; the ceremony prep began with me using all of my parenting tricks to encourage him to not only wear, but keep on, “hard pants” and a button-up shirt, and his displeasure was heard for miles around. To encourage Hershel to stand with us for the 15-minute service, we allowed him to pick a treat from the buffet. A snacking toddler is a quiet and happy toddler. Out of all conceivable dessert options, he picked a wedding cookie covered in powdered sugar, which was, of course, all over my dress by the end. Midway through the ceremony, Hershel finished his cookie, tired of the talking and ran off. Minutes later, he reappeared, offering me a decorative bowl. Thank God for our rabbi, herself a mother of three, who navigated the whole ceremony without a pause.

This naming ceremony was a heartfelt ending to our years-long journey to grow our family — and a reminder that the joys of parenthood are just beginning. I am thankful that we could reimagine it to meet families like mine where we are. This ritual managed to fill needs I didn’t even know that I had. While I may not have gotten to share my genes, I am glad to be able to pass down Judaism’s rich and beautiful traditions to my son.

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