My Two Mothers // Adopted as a child, Dr. Hila Haelyon met her biological mother years later.

Parenting With Slovie Jungreis Wolff

When Israeli Dr. Hila Haelyon, who was adopted as a child, gave birth for the first time, she tells me she noticed herself behaving in ways that were different from the other women in the hospital. This prompted her to research a topic never discussed before: the experience of adopted women giving birth to their own children. In my conversation with her, she is open about the challenges she has faced as an adoptee at different stages of her life, as well as her journey toward Torah.
There is a glow on Hila’s face. It is a glow that springs from a rich inner well, and it transmits warmth even over Zoom. Her head is adorned with a richly colored, patterned turban, knotted in a creative twist. Her dancing eyes crinkle into a ready smile that fills my computer screen and reminds me of an exotic painting.

When her Ashkenazi adoptive parents received Hila, a two-month-old baby with velvet-black eyes and olive skin, they were so delighted that they celebrated with a party the size of a wedding. All their friends were invited to share their joy and admire the infant. In the 1970s, adoption was considered a charitable act in Israeli society, Hila explains. “My parents were respected by all for what they did. They then proceeded to raise me as if I were the queen of England.” Her father was a sworn member of the Palmach, her mother an art and culture seeker. The education they provided Hila was one of quality, though completely secular.
“I have known that I was adopted for as long as I can remember,” Hila says. “I was the baby of my parents’ dreams. My mother told me this early on, and she often emphasized how delighted and privileged my parents were that they could take care of me.”
“Once I started gan, my mother emphasized to me that there would be no secrets. She had heard of a child whose adoption was hush-hush and whose peers pressured him with threats to reveal his secret to his classmates. ‘You tell everyone outright,’ she insisted, neutralizing the secret that could have been used against me by other children. I proudly repeated to my friends that I was chosen by my parents, until it became a non-issue.”
Hila says that her mother’s decision to speak openly with her about her adoption when she was in preschool is an approach that is also recommended by researchers.
“Experts say to speak to the child about his or her adoption as early as age three, when he begins preschool, and the latest at the age of seven, when he starts elementary school. This prepares him to cope with questions from the outside world.”
Children can be cruel even at a young age, Hila says. One woman she encountered through her research recalled that when she started kindergarten, a classmate barred her from entering the classroom. The child said, “Do you know that your mother found you in the garbage?” The adopted child repeated this to her mother, who responded firmly, “Your friend is wrong. You don’t find children in the garbage. Children come from the heart.”
Another woman shared that when her classmates’ pestering became intolerable, her teacher devoted a special lesson to the subject of adoption. Afterward, a classmate said to her, “I won’t laugh at you anymore because you are a miskena (a nebach),” dragging her self-esteem below zero.
I ask Hila if she ever felt the need to test her parents’ love when she was growing up. “No,” she says simply. “I was so secure in their love that I never doubted it. I was sure that I was their choice. They hammered into me that when they first saw me, they knew I was exactly the baby they had wished for. My mother kept repeating to me that I should be proud of being adopted. She was an exceptional woman. I was very lucky to be raised by her.”
When Hila was seven years old, she asked her parents to tell her why she had been put up for adoption. They responded candidly that they didn’t know. “They had no information themselves,” she recalls. “All they knew was that my birth mother couldn’t take care of me, and so she was obliged to give me up for adoption. I didn’t really search to connect with her until my adoptive father and mother died.
“I did always try to guess my origins,” she reflects. “My adoptive mother was green-eyed and fair-skinned, while I am dark-skinned with dark eyes. I secretly wished I had her coloring. Some people told me, ‘You are probably Indian or Italian.’
“Although I lived with parents who were totally secular, I felt the need to be religious from an early age. When I turned six, without ever having met a religious person, I insisted that my mother throw away the T-shirts that all my peers wore and buy me button-down blouses with long sleeves. I somehow knew that I belonged to Hashem. It was something I felt deeply. And strangely, when I met my birth mother, I saw that although she lived in a secular environment, she would never step into a car on Shabbat. I consider her a real tzaddeket.”
When the time came to enroll in university, Hila decided to study social psychology, where one explores the connection among the body, the emotions and identity. She discovered a phenomenon known as inner body knowledge, the unconscious knowledge of the body that derives from early remembrances.
Interested in learning about this concept as it related to adopted children, Hila began speaking to other adopted women. One told her about a birthmark that she had repeatedly penciled onto her chin without knowing why. When she was later shown a photo of her biological mother, she saw that she had just that kind of mark on her chin. Another woman told Hila that she had always insisted on wearing a long braid, even when it was totally out of fashion. She later discovered that this was the way her birth mother wore her hair. “Your mother arrived here with a long braid,” the social worker she tracked down told her.
I ask how Hila explains her yearning to be religious in terms of inner body knowledge. Does she believe that faith is transferrable via DNA?
“I cannot explain it, except to say that every soul has its track,” Hila replies. “Hashem manages each person’s track. I believe this was my intended track.”

Opening the Adoption File


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