The Genesis:3 Project
And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house will be my heir.” Genesis 15:3
It is sort of an irony that Abram is agitated that a stranger brought into his household will inherit his estate. The story of his biological parentage is yet to unfold (and when it does, he becomes the progenitor of many nations). But long after he has been called to his eternal reward, he becomes the adopted father to more people than anyone else, each of whom immediately becomes his heir.
It is an overstatement to insist that adoptive parents are the happiest ones I know, but I have met remarkably few of them who have expressed regret at the make-up of their families. Even my acquaintances whose chosen children have followed unexpected and challenging paths consider the opportunity to love and to be loved unmitigated by those challenges.
I am certainly no expert on adoption and its aftermath. But I am a pretty good listener. A friend who was raised in a loving family that she adored married early and had a baby immediately because, as she told me, she only felt grounded in the world when she held someone of her own. Other friends whose children were born in places they would otherwise never have visited have described their conscientious attempts to give them an appreciation of the culture they would have absorbed in their native-born circumstances. But mostly, what I hear from adoptive parents is not so different than what I hear from biological parents raising their kids.
The bonds of belonging to each other are forged as strongly and willingly as they are between birth mother and newborn-babe.
I don’t consider George Washington to be my father the way we Jews consider Abr(ah)am to be the father of every convert who willingly chooses to enter the covenant. But my family is no less adopted into America than those who have become heirs of the founder of the Jewish people.
In fact, like Abram and Sarai and everyone forward, all of America is adopted into an idea greater than themselves. And like Abram and Sarai, all of America sits on land that was home to someone else before our arrival. What is important is that the bonds of belonging to each other are forged strongly and willingly. I am every bit a child of the United States, even if my grandfather was a little Yiddish-speaking European when his parents escorted him down the gangplank. Accents and old-world cooking notwithstanding, all four of my grandparents managed embrace and be embraced by this country.
So how am I to understand Abram’s concern that his household servant who was like a son to him might wind up as master of the house? How am I to understand the requirement of the Constitution that has prevented both Superman and Arnold Schwarzenegger from being considered candidates for President because they were not natural-born citizens?
I suspect, early on, the need my friend expressed to hold someone of her own was powerful. There is certainly something mystical about sharing DNA, especially when it is imagined without having been experienced.
But as Abram in his time and beyond, and America, lamp lifted beside the golden door, discovered, the gifts of new arrivals enrich the family and provide affirmation that the worth of our endeavors – the estate and legacy bequeathed to the heirs – is more than just as a private gift to a favorite child. Instead, it sustains all comers and is, in return, sustained and enlarged by them.
The bigoted nonsense that is being used to justify nativism in the United States is appealing only to the insecure. As much as adoptees or, as we call them, immigrants, rush to our country to share in and contribute to its blessings, adopters or, as we call them, patriotic Americans welcome them with open arms. Do they bring challenges? Some do. Do they bring bounty? Some do. They are attracted by the strength of our society to embrace and absorb their gifts and love.
And they become the parents and grandparents to thoroughly American children like me who bear no resemblance to George Washington any more than the Irish, Swedish, Argentine or Japanese Jews by choice are physically recognizable as children of Father Abram. They shower the generations with human rights and civil rights and civic opportunities rare and undependable in most of the world.
That’s our legacy – breathing free.