Author Susan Silverman and family picture
Author and Rabbi Susan Silverman with her family.

I receive a lot of books to review each year. In fact, I’m staring at a stack of them right now. I want to get to them, honestly I do, but I have no idea where to find the time. My work days are full, and the only time I have to read for pleasure is before bed each night. To be perfectly honest, reading adoption or infertility related books feels like work, and work is not soporific (best word I ever learned from Beatrice Potter). But every once in a while, I reach into that pile for a book, and find a gem. Such was the case with Casting Lost: Creating a Family in a Beautiful, Broken World by Susan Silverman.


Silverman was raised by atheists, but surprised everyone including herself by becoming a rabbi in her 20s. Her husband is an activist for Jewish rights. Their faith is woven throughout every day in their lives and in every page of Casting Lots. Or as Silverman would say—their jewy-ness is up front and center. The inclusion of their faith added depth to the book, and as a Christian, I appreciated the insight into another religious perspective.

 The Purim story begins with Ahasuerus, the king of Persia, choosing a new wife. His only requirement was that she be hot, a veritable Persian pinup, so he held an Ancient Near East reality show, Who Wants to Queen a King? From all the lovely young ladies of the land he chose the loveliest: Esther, secretly a Jewess, who had been orphaned at a young age and adopted by her older cousin Mordecai.

Even as young Esther donned her crown, the duplicitous Haman sought to slaughter the Jews. He convinced the king, who was like an empty vessel to be filled by cruelty or kindness, that the Jews were a threat to Persia. This genocide was to take place on the eve of the full moon of the month of Adar. The date was decided by casting lots—the translation in Hebrew is purim, which became the name of the holiday, Purim. Esther knew she had to approach the king, admit her Jewishness and convince him to change the decree, but she was afraid. Her uncle insisted she go. Mi yodea (“Who knows”). “Perhaps it was for just such a time that you became queen?”

Who knows? Is not the most striking motivational message. No fortune-telling promises, no voice from a heavenly GPS (Godly Prophesying System?). It offered only a possibility. A simple question that in its quiet, practical way calls us to imagine possibilities and take risks for them.

Esther took a deep breadth, approached the king, and revealed her true identity.
Esther, an adopted child, revealed her true self and brought redemption.
We, too, asked, “Who knows?” If we find courage to approach the unknown, we, too, might offer redemption. And, in turn the revelation of an adopted child was the key to our own moment of redemption. But our son would not appear to us. We had to narrow the world down to him. …

And this:

 Aliza and Hallel [Silverman’s two biological daughters] were playing with the Barbie and Ken dolls they got for Hanukkah. It was my mother who had insisted, over-ruling my objections. When Aliza opened her gifts at her grandmother’s house, she was awash in joy. “A Bawbie!” she whispered in astonishment when she viewed the contents of the first box. When she got to the package containing the brown-skinned doll in a gold sari, she burst out: “Jesus Chwist! Anothew Bawbie!”

“Do your dolls have names yet?” I asked, plopping down beside them.
“Rivka, Tzipora, Rafael, and Charlie,” Aliza answered dutifully.
Charlie?” asked Hallel, looking up at her big sister in disbelief. “Dat’s a name?”
Oh God, Maybe I should introduce them to a non-Jew sometime. …

I held up one brown and one pale doll. “How about if Rivka and Tzipora get married”? I asked hopefully. A Jewish-identified, mixed-race, lesbian plastic couple will surely redeem my progressive ideals from Barbie’s clutches.

Author Susan Silverman and family picture
You know it’s a good book when it has this many sticky notes.

So often in the popular media right now, most “we adopted” books are written from a Christian perspective, and I appreciate the inclusion of books by people of other faiths.

Didn’t Gloss Over the Messy Part

I’ve never written a memoir, but I suspect if I did, I would be sorely tempted to skip over my less than stellar moments, my times of confusion, or pettiness, or worse. I appreciated Silverman for including at least a few of these moments.

When Adar, adopted from Ethiopia, said that he prayed to God to make him white:

I had two urges: First, I did not want to argue with him. I wanted him to feel heard and to know that I could accept his feelings.
Second, I wanted to object so that he didn’t interpret my silence as concurring that he would be better with white skin.
When we first decide to adopt form Ethiopia, the color difference was far from being a deterrent—it was romantic. We would appear on Oprah: Families Who Have Transcended Race. As Oprah prepared to introduce our family, I would adjust my halo in the dressing room mirror and rehearse a gracious smile.
But it was my bedroom mirror that reflected me now as I stood there trying to think of something not stupid to say and watching my angry, sad son climb onto my bed. His voice was loud and his enunciation purposeful, each syllable a small geyser, primal cries given phonic shape. “I hate this family,” he shouted. “It’s a big fat idiot family. I hate Abba, Akiza, and Hallel. I wish they were dead. Not pretend dead, really dead. I hate me.”…

“I want a brown family,” he continued. “I don’t want to be in this family. I hate this family.”
“Sweetie,” I said, trying to remonstrate with Adar as he threw his tantrum. “Our family wouldn’t be our family without you.”
“I don’t care.”
Now books hit the floor as he threw my small stack of novels one by one as if he were smashing glass. “It’s a big fat idiot family. I want a brown brother. Two of them, then we can be triplets. Then there will be three boys and three brown so it will be fair.”
The unfolding realization of his differences from the rest of his family -–his color, and that he had a tummy-mommy who was different from his mommy—was world altering.
I picked up the clothes and began to refold them. He was like Adam in the Garden of Eden; he was suddenly ashamed and self-conscious, no longer part of an organic, perfect world.

[Adar fell asleep.] I pictured him waking, like Adam when he rose for the first time after God blew breath into him, still innocent of life outside the spontaneous, natural world of our family garden. But now my four-year-old will furrow his brow and begin to forge a path and place for himself outside of a safe but superficial simplicity.
But not alone. His parents and sisters will walk out of the garden gate with him. Arguments, laughter, frustration, and enduring love would accompany us as we built a world for ourselves—a world with less innocence, but with, perhaps, a larger measure of wisdom. One with blemishes that must not be concealed—even with the most expensive cosmetics.

Silverman also admitted to doubts about the wisdom of adopting. Like Silverman, at one point before the adoption of our youngest child, I took a look at our family and thought “don’t we have enough to deal with”? It’s not like our kids were without “issues”. Did we have the time to add another child? Were we part of the reason our other kids were less than perfect. Were we crazy to be considering this? These are not the unicorn and rainbow emotions that adoptive parents often fess up to.

I appreciated Silverman’s confession to the flaws and fears. During the adoption of their second son, one daughter was suspended from school for hitting others and running away; another was miserable and turning inward. Both were in therapy, even though money was tight and their credit card was regularly being refused at the grocery store. Silverman tries to tune in her spiritual antennae to find her clarity in life and this adoption, but clarity is often elusive when you are stuck in the trenches of parenting. These are not flattering events or emotions, but they sure felt real to me.

Threw Out the Books on Transracial Adoption and Moved to a Kibbutz??

At one point in the book, almost in passing, Silverman says she got tired of being guilted by the unread stack of how-to-raise-a-transracially-adopted-kid books, and she threw them out.

As the Executive Director of the national adoption education organization, I cringed. In other places in the book, she mentions going to Jewish transracial gatherings, so I suspect she incorporated a lot of the best practices for white parents raising kids of color, but I questioned what felt like a dismissal of adoption education, even if unintended. Maybe Silverman is enlightened enough to not need them, but I firmly believe most adoptive parents benefit from adoption education in general and transracial adoption education in specific.

Silverman was very clear that the culture she was raising her family in, including her two Ethiopian adopted sons, was the Jewish culture. The Jewish identity was at the heart of this family, and I don’t think there was likely a lot of room for any other culture.

Later, after the birth of a third daughter and adoption of a second son from Ethiopia, the family moved to a kibbutz in Israel. I’m guessing her two black boys were amongst the few or only black kids in this environment. The book does not include their life in Israel or how the boys fared in this homogeneous environment, but Silverman is self aware enough that if they struggle, she will make changes.

Funny, Poignant, and Real all Rolled into One

In short, I loved this book. Yes, this is a feel good adoption book, but it is so much more. This lady can write! I know where her sister Sarah Silverman gets her humor.

We’re Giving a Copy Away!

We’re very excited to announce that you can enter the Rafflecopter give-away below to win your copy of Susan Silverman’s book. And Good Luck!

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Image credit: JWI