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Adopting Five Children in Montana

February 26, 2020 | by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller

Chavie and Chaim Bruk built their Jewish family through adoption.

In 2009, Rabbi Chaim Bruk and his wife Chavie had it all. The young couple moved to Montana to set up the state’s first Chabad-Lubavitch synagogue and headquarters, and they planned to start a family in their new home. But as time went on, the children they longed for didn’t come. “We were diagnosed with infertility,” Rabbi Bruk recalled in a recent interview, “and it was beyond painful.”

Creating a family through adoption was an option, but Chaim and Chavie hadn’t yet decided to embark on that route. Adoption can take a long time and be emotionally grueling, and in some corners of the Jewish world there is a potential stigma. The Bruks were weighing their options when Chaim travelled to New York for the annual gathering of Chabad rabbis around the world. That trip changed their lives.

The Saturday night of the conference, Chaim joined thousands of other rabbis to watch a series of previously unreleased videos of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe was speaking with several women who were struggling with infertility and advising some to build their families through adoption.

We didn’t forget about the challenges of infertility, but as soon as we held our new daughter the pain disappeared.

Chaim couldn’t believe it. He felt he was getting a very specific message that he needed to hear. Chaim immediately called Chavie and told her about the videos. "We've considered adoption for long enough – we felt it was time to act."

Chaim and Chavie adopted a baby girl and named her Chaya. She was born premature and faced grave medical problems, but Chaim and Chavie never hesitated. “We went from being an infertile couple to parents of a beautiful baby girl,” Chaim said. "We didn’t forget about the challenges of infertility, but as soon as we held our new daughter the pain disappeared,” Chaim recalled.

Once they became parents through adoption, Chaim began noticing the many instances of adoption in the Torah and Jewish history. Moses was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, Esther was an orphan and was raised by her cousin Mordechai. “The idea of adoption is not foreign to Judaism,” Chaim said. "In fact the Talmud teaches that anyone who raises a child – whether through adoption or as a foster parent – it's considered as if you gave birth to that child."

Meeting Our Baby Daughter at Car Rental in New Jersey

Soon after adopting Chaya, Chaim and Chavie got a phone call from a Chabad rabbi in New Jersey who heard they adopted a baby and wanted advice in placing another baby up for adoption. Chaim and Chavie immediately said they would take the baby, and a few months later they became parents to another little baby girl named Zeesy.

Zeesy was born on Shemini Atzeret which posed a challenge to the Bruks. They had only three days to show up and complete the paperwork for their new daughter and couldn't travel all the way to New Jersey in time due to the Jewish holiday. Chaim’s brother took care of the paperwork, and the first time Chaim and Chavie met their beloved little daughter was in Newark Airport the following day. “We met our daughter for the first time at Enterprise Rent a Car in Newark,” Chaim recalled with a chuckle. "It was a magical moment, despite the location."

It soon became apparent that Zeesy also had serious health issues. After four years she was finally diagnosed with Glut 1 deficiency syndrome, a rare genetic metabolic disorder that causes seizures. The Bruks have been able to manage Zeesy’s condition and today she’s a studious girl who loves discussing the weekly Torah portion with her parents, but she will have a lifelong journey of health challenges.

Our Biracial Son, the Only Black Jew in Montana

Three years after adopting the girls, the Bruks received another phone call: a biracial baby was going to be put up for adoption. Chaim and Chavie wanted to adopt another baby and discussed the potential challenges inherent in raising a biracial child. “Chavie was on board immediately,” Chaim recalled, "but I was concerned that a biracial Jewish child might face prejudice from within the Jewish community and from the wider non-Jewish community too."

Eventually, Chaim and Chavie decided to embrace this opportunity. “We decided that if God sends us a beautiful baby who needs a loving Jewish home, who are we to disagree?” In April 2013, they welcomed their son Menny into their family.

Instead of facing prejudice, Chaim has been blown away by the warm embrace Menny has received by the community.

Becoming a multi-racial family altered Chaim’s view of the world. “We live in Montana where the black population is next to zero. Here’s this Orthodox Jewish kid with a yarmulke and tzitzis, and he’s Black.” Instead of facing prejudice, Chaim has been “blown away" by the warm embrace Menny has received by the community.

“It’s been an incredible journey for us to understand what it’s like for a person of color to be in the observant community,” Chaim said. “We have not experienced racism, but there is some confusion. Menny doesn't neatly fix into people's typical boxes.”

“Throughout his life Menny is going to have challenges based on his skin color,” Chaim said. In addition to studying Torah, playing sports and music, Chaim and Chavie have make a point of talking about Black culture and emphasizing Black role models with their kids.

Menny recently told Chaim that he wants to be White. “I responded that I want to be Black and showed him photos Barak Obama, Colin Powell, Oprah Winfrey and Condoleeza Rice, emphasizing that many accomplished people are Black." The family also enjoys the music of Nissim Black, an American Black Hasidic rapper who converted to Judaism and sings about being Jewish and worshipping God.

Having Menny in their family has benefited the entire community in Montana. “People see me with my Black child and it reminds us that Black people are real people, not theoretical people living in New York and other big cities. They’re real, wonderful people who need to be treated well.”

Two More Daughters

After adopting Menny, the Bruks adopted two more girls, each with a unique compelling story.

Their oldest daughter, Shoshana, faced many challenges in her earlier life. When she was a preteen she spent some time staying with the Bruks so she could attend their summer camp. She then asked if she might become part of their family too. The thought of adopting a much older girl gave Chaim and Chavie pause. “We eventually realized that God literally put Shoshana on our doorstep and we had to make a choice: do we answer that opportunity that God put before us?”

They decided to adopt her and she chose the name Shoshana, which means rose in Hebrew, because of her resilience and determination. She felt like a rose plucked from amid the thorns of a difficult situation to join the Bruk’s family. Shoshana also chose the Yael as her middle name, like Yael in the Prophets who fought for the Jewish people. “We call her our Warrior Rose,” Chaim said. “She fought for what she has.”

It wasn’t always easy to expand their family but today they couldn’t imagine their family without their brave teenage daughter.

Their youngest child is their most recently adopted. Chaim received a phone call in 2017 saying a baby was going to need a home and Chaim immediately knew that he and Chavie would want to adopt this baby themselves. In August 2017 Chana Laya joined the family. She was named for Chaim’s mother who passed away in 2010 after a 12-year battle with breast cancer. All of Chaim’s siblings had been able to name daughters after their mother, and it meant a great deal to Chaim to do so as well.

When we talk about unity or respect for Jewish people, it shouldn’t be just for someone who looks and sounds like you. It should be respect for all people.

Chaim and Chavie have received phone calls from people all over the world with questions about adopting. Chaim believes that adoption is becoming more common in the Orthodox Jewish world and has seen more of a willingness to adopt non-white children. “When we talk about unity or respect for Jewish people, it shouldn’t be just for someone who looks and sounds like you. It should be respect for all people.” Adopting children, raising kids with special needs and becoming a multi-racial family have made Chaim more aware than ever before of the crucial need to be sensitive and recognize the inherent value and worth in every human being.

Sometimes people tell Chaim that they hope one day he’s blessed with his own children. “I don’t get offended,” he said, "and I explain that God has already blessed me and my wife with our own children.”

Chaim encourages couples facing infertility to consider adoption. "Infertility is one of the most painful problems a couple can have, but you don’t have to live a life in silence and inner pain, crying whenever you see a baby stroller.” Adoption isn’t easy, but for some families it is the right course.

"When I gaze at our family at the Shabbat table each week, I see the beautiful rainbow of the human experience.” Each of his children is different, with their own unique path by which they came to be a family. “Each one in this family has had a different background and set of experiences,” Chaim said, “and we embrace it.”

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