Interracial adoption extends the family but can also divide it

When Laura Gans, a single Jewish woman, decided to adopt a child from Vietnam, things looked bleak. Her mother opposed the adoption for several reasons: She had heard that adopted children didn't treat their parents well; she didn't believe in interracial adoption; and she didn't believe in single parenthood.

"I told her I was going to do it, and she pretended it wasn't really going to happen," said Gans, who lives in San Rafael. "I begged her to tell her friends in Florida [where her mother lived], and she wouldn't."

Jews who decide to adopt children outside their own ethnic background hope their extended families will accept their children. But like Gans, who shared some of her experiences at a conference on adoption earlier this month, they sometimes run into difficulties. The San Francisco conference was sponsored by Adoption Connection, a program of the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children's Services.

As the months and paperwork went by, Gans' mother never breathed a word to anyone. Meanwhile, Gans found the adoption process, which others have characterized as grueling and bureaucratic, "the most pleasurable and exciting thing I'd ever done," she said in an interview this week.

Finally, when her infant son, age 3 months, was arriving at the airport from Asia, and Gans called her mother in Florida to give her the news, "She burst out crying," said Gans.

Gans quickly shot two rolls of film and got pictures of her son to her mother's house in Florida within 34 hours. "She called all her friends and said, `You have to come over for coffee, and I can't tell you why,'" and then proudly showed everyone the first pictures of her new grandson.

Her mother was on a plane to California right away. When she met her grandson, "It was love at first sight," said Gans. In his grandmother's eyes, "he's the smartest, the funniest, the best — exactly what a grandparent is supposed to say," said Gans.

Her mother left Florida and moved to San Rafael just to be near her grandson.

Having passed that milestone, Gans still worries about her son, now 4. "The burning concern in my life is will my son be able to feel Jewish?"

It's hard to say what the future holds, but she tells a story about what happened on an Amtrak trip last year around the winter holidays, when he was 3.

"There was a Santa on the train who kept asking him what he wanted for a Christmas present," she recalls. "Gabriel said, `I don't observe Christmas, I want a Chanukah present.' And the Santa answered, `So would I — I'm actually Jewish.'"

Said Gans: "Here I am worrying about all this — my kid is so Jewish."