All I knew of Anat before we met was that she was a well-educated religious Jewish career woman who opened her heart and home to a unique foster care arrangement, and so I arrived at our first meeting. curious and excited. I was greeted at the door by a tall, beautiful woman, and I immediately noticed the immaculate home behind her. Anat and her husband are raising eight children, three of whom are fostered, and have demanding needs.
"Our story is compelling and powerful," Anat said with enthusiasm in her voice as she dove straight into their story and shared a particular moment encapsulating it: "Yesterday was the end-of-the-year party at our youngest foster-care child’s kindergarten. We sat by her side, noticing the joy on her face, which was remarkably different from the seemingly apathetic and withdrawn child we saw at the previous year’s party. The kindergarten children were all dressed in costumes and singing, and all I could do was look at her with tears in my eyes.”
While recounting the event, tears emerged in Anat’s eyes. "This is a girl who for months didn’t smile, who used to be frozen and detached, and I suddenly realized that she opened up like a flower, which validated the process we had been through together. With gratitude for the magic that unfolded before my eyes and through my tears, I could only say: ‘This girl is ours; she is already part of us. No words can accurately describe the way I felt sitting there, at the kindergarten party, next to a child who was participating and happy, how I sat there, overwhelmed with emotions, instead of her biological mother.”
“We are parents of five biological children, aged 11, 14, 16, 18 and 20, wonderful, loving and caring children. We always felt that our unified and functioning family was a gift. With this feeling of gratitude, we wanted to do something to benefit others who weren’t as fortunate.
My husband and I have been together since fifth grade. We discussed the possibility of fostering from a very young age. After we got married, and before we had our children, we spent two years heading a Group Home for boys in a youth village. When our five children grew up, we considered having a sixth child. In retrospect, nothing is incidental; when our efforts to get pregnant a sixth time were unsuccessful, we chose to see it as a sign and approached the ‘Orr Shalom’ organization about our decision to open our home to a child in foster-care.
A long time passed before the organization got back in touch with us. The waiting period was tense and difficult. However, today, I understand that there was something in this long waiting period which was necessary for the process, similar to the anticipation felt in the course of pregnancy.
During the first telephone call we received regarding foster care, we were introduced to the idea of fostering a two-year-old girl with special needs. We discussed with our children what it would mean to bring her into the family. We felt that our children should be partners in this journey, which involves making a commitment to a sensitive soul. We wanted them to internalize the meaning of this decision, to understand that life, as it had been, would change completely. At the end of the conversation, we decided to take the little girl in.
We were all excited, and prepared our home and hearts for the arrival of the little one.A day before the due date, while we were all anxious and tense, we received a telephone call that changed everything: 'We are sorry to inform you that the child's biological mother changed her mind.' We were all disappointed and upset. I didn’t sleep for nights. I dreamt about the helpless child, I was imagining her, it felt as though my pregnancy was terminated just before birth. The feeling of loss saddened us all.
Several months passed until we received another call, this time about a seven-year-old girl. I heard her background story, and although my heart ached for her, my gut warned me that she may not be the right fit for our family. I remember feeling a terrible sense of guilt for not giving a chance to a girl who I didn't even know. The decision not to say yes was difficult. Nevertheless, I decided to follow my intuition. At the time, I had no idea how powerful this journey was going to be.
Weeks passed, and one day, I received a telephone call from the social worker. She asked me to sit. I stopped breathing. I could tell by her hesitant voice that she had something significant to share with me. I remember that she began by saying: “I have something to offer you –but I know it’s not something you ever considered.” I inhaled deeply, as if I was preparing myself for something big. “There is an opportunity for you to receive three siblings,” she said.
I needed a minute to absorb what I had just heard. She sounded excited, but delicately shared their ages, as if she was allowing me time to digest it: “A year and ten months, four and five.”
What I just heard was nowhere near what I was expecting. It took me completely by surprise. The social worker suggested that I discuss this with my husband and children, as we were clearly presented with a considerable challenge. I told her my husband wasn’t with me at the moment, and immediately responded with the obvious answer I knew he would give; he would agree with an open heart. I was shaking with excitement. I hung up the phone and started to cry. The very next day, we called to confirm the YES.
It’s important to mention that before the foster children joined our family, 'Orr Shalom' repeatedly clarified during our meetings that we could change our minds. No one took our initial 'yes' for granted. After every meeting, we were requested again and again to reconsider our decision when we were back at home.”
“The three young children had two older sisters they were raised with. They biologically shared a mother, but had a different father. At a later point, the sisters revealed to us that the three younger siblings were kept moving from one house to another, and that the youngest amongst them spent all his life fleeing from one place to another. The welfare services had a hard time tracking the family. Finally, all five children were taken away from their parents in the middle of the night after being found severely neglected.
The three younger ones were transferred to an emergency foster family, and woke up one morning to a new reality, without knowledge what was or will be happening to them. They remained at the shelter for about six months, until they joined us.
The only belongings these children were left with from their biological parents’ home were piles of torn and smelly clothes. To this day, I keep them in our storeroom. The night they were separated from their parents is frequently discussed in our family, especially by the older child, who asks questions and makes drawings of that night.
After the initial period of enthusiasm, , we began to get to know each other. . It was important for the process to be gradual . I remember driving to our first meeting with the children, and parting quite shattered. They were visibly weak and suffering from extreme neglect. I will never forget the first hesitant smile the oldest boy gave me; his smile exposed his decaying teeth, telling his whole story. The girl was wild and appeared lost. I wasn’t sure I would be capable of loving them. Doubts crossed my mind: Did we make a mistake when we agreed to open our home and our hearts? What would happen to our children in this challenging situation?
And then came the day of their arrival. It will take us many more years to understand and make sense of the process that we experienced and are still experiencing. During quiet moments, I remember how our home operated two years ago when they arrived and how it functions today. I think of our journey and find strength.
I will never forget the morning my husband and I drove to pick them up. The three of them were waiting for us with three empty suitcases given to them by the social worker; we felt as if we were in a scene of a movie. They got into the car in total silence. Their facial expressions exposed their fear and shock. During the forty minute drive home, my husband and I cried, while they remained completely silent.
The first few months were unbearably difficult. At times, I felt that our home looked and felt like an insane asylum; the older boy cried and screamed non-stop, drawing us all into absolute chaos.
Our biological children fell apart. At once, we realized the heavy load we burdened them with, and soon after, we reached a breaking point as a couple. Our older girls were angry, and we weren’t available to them when they began their year of national service. Our entire family was on edge; the girls were in distress, and so were we calling out for help, each in our own way. With time, we learned how to each take some time off.”
“In the first months of adjusting as a family, our biological children created a WhatsApp group labeled 'The Biologicals'. They were making a statement. They later changed the label, and ever since the word 'biologicals' is no longer part of the diction in our family. It took us time to understand and accept that there are no groups in our home, and that, from now on, we are a family with eight children, all sharing the same parents. It was a challenging process that required endless time and patience, but that is the secret of successful foster families.
The three children needed to be taught basic life skills. They didn’t even know how to brush their teeth. The eldest was five when he arrived, but had the limited vocabulary and expressive skills of a two-year-old, who didn’t yet recognize elementary words in Hebrew. He didn’t even know what soccer was. The younger one never played any children's games.
They threw tantrums and displayed truly heart-wrenching evidently traumatic survival behaviors. They hoarded food daily and hid it in their pockets. It was clear they suffered from severe physical and emotional deprivation and neglect. I needed to constantly remind myself that their behavior was a result of tremendous hardship. We frequently opened the refrigerator doors to show them that there was enough food, promising each time, in an attempt to give them a sense of security, that they would also have food the following day.
We can admittedly credit their biological parents for gifting all three of them with brilliance and beauty.
We needed daily help in the house, so my husband and I put our careers on partial pause, and managed our work schedules according to what was going on at home on any given day. At times, I stop and think: if someone had told me a few years ago that this is what my life would look like today, I honestly would have laughed. This process is full of unsettling self-doubt, with many questions arising for which there are no answers.
Since this was not an official adoption, the knowledge that the biological parents had the right to call at any time and ask to see the children was always hovering over our heads. I constantly thought about what we would do if they demanded to meet them. What kind of upheaval could this bring to our family, which was already on shaky grounds and for whom we were trying to provide stability in a world of turmoil?
The children often ask us how long they would stay with us, and we always answer that they are here for good , even though we don’t know if it’s true. We assur them that, in due course, we would also be grandparents to their children.
We never thought about quitting to care for them, but, at times, we pondered if we understood the depth of the responsibility involved in the decision we made, and the implications that this decision would have for all of us in the long future ahead.”
“Our foste- children are ours at heart. Raising them makes us all of us better, more accepting people.
Today, I understand that we all fell apart at the seams, in order to be able to rebuild ourselves. We are not the same family we were two years ago. We have overcome a crisis, and currently, we have a routine that brings new challenges. Our foster children are preoccupied with many difficult questions and obstacles relating to separation anxiety and the need to receive positive reinforcement. Our mission is to provide them with a safe and protective environment.”
Being a Mother
“Often, over the years, I think about my mother. Our relationship was complicated. When she was 46, she was killed in a car accident, and she just disappeared from my life overnight. Perhaps something about her sudden death and my desire to be a present and meaningful mother contributed to my decision to open my home and my heart to these children. I wonder what she would say about me today if she saw the choices I made and the family I created.
The word 'Mother' means the entire world to me. A word that is a symbol of security and stability. A mother should be the one significant person whose unconditional love is undoubtful.”
In September 2021 - exactly two years after I met Anat for the first time, the children were granted the legal status of adoptable. In May of 2022, Anat and her husband legally adopted them. Their biological parents never made contact, and the adoption was finalized.
The part Anat shared in the interview about the children never having played games until they joined their family, prompted me to make her a piece of jewelry which is playful.
As the meeting with Anat took place only two years after the siblings joined their family, I felt everything was still very sensitive and fragile for them. Therefore, the spheres of the jewel on her neck or hand symbolically represent the family: how any little thing could still tilt it, unravel it, and maybe even, in an extreme situation, shatter it.
Photo: Zohar Ron