For Renée and Andrew Dain, the concept of adoption comes down to two of their most cherished values – family and Judaism.
The Dains, who live in Ellicott City and belong to Pikesville’s Temple Oheb Shalom, recently adopted Renée’s three half-siblings, Raquel, Gregory and Giselle, who lost their parents. The adoption was finalized in November, just in time for the annual observance of National Adoption Day, which is held on the Saturday before Thanksgiving to raise awareness about the adoption process.
The Dains also celebrated the b’nai mitzvah of their adopted children – twins who are in the seventh grade and an eighth grader — on Oct. 27, the same day as the synagogue shooting massacre in Pittsburgh.
“I must tell you, there was not a dry eye in the house,” said Oheb Shalom’s Rabbi Marc Disick. “These three young people wrote divrei Torah [Torah commentaries] that truly spoke from the heart. They don’t take for granted the gift they’ve been given in their lives. They are three beautiful neshamas [Jewish souls].”
For the past three years, the Dains – who also have two biological children, Hannah and Eli, ages 8 and 4 — served as foster parents for Raquel, Gregory and Giselle.
“We stepped up immediately,” said Renée Dain, who works for The Coordinating Center, a Millersville-based nonprofit community care organization. “When you lose a parent at an early age, you might not believe that there is a God, and you can fall off the path. We wanted to give them a sense of stability and an opportunity to live a meaningful Jewish life. Had we not taken them in, I’m certain they would have been separated, and most certainly would not have continued their Jewish identity. …
“We believe in Jewish values and connecting our children to the larger Jewish community,” she said. “[And] we saw the community step up at their b’nai mitzvah.”
Dain noted that Maryland’s legal system this year finalized more than 100 adoptions on National Adoption Day. Through her family’s story, she said she hopes to spread awareness about the need and importance of becoming foster and adoptive parents.
“We are excited to be part of a national movement to raise awareness,” she said. “There are children who need loving, stable caring adults.”
Dain noted that providing access to mental health care is particularly critical for foster and adopted children. “There is a huge gap in behavioral health and services for kids in foster care,” she said. “One of our children went through three therapists in less than two years.”
Jennifer Grossman is the co-founder of Shalom Tikvah, a local nonprofit that supports Jewish families facing mental illness and other challenges by providing intensive services promoting individual and family healing.
“Mental health is invisible and does not discriminate against anyone, the Jewish community included,” Grossman said. “Each family member living in an unstable home is impacted. There is nothing more tragic than a family torn apart. By providing support within a familiar cultural framework, trained mental health professionals can assist greatly with the healing process and move a family toward happiness.”
Dain said she feels her brood of seven now feels like a true, cohesive family unit. She recalled a time two years ago when her adopted children went to Camps Airy and Louise, Jewish summer sleepaway camps in western Maryland. She said her biological daughter, Hannah, was initially excited that they were away for a while, but “then Hannah missed them and wanted them to come home. And this continues to be the case, which is awesome.”
In retrospect, Andrew Dain, director of IT systems at Erickson Living, said his family was quite fortunate to be able to foster and adopt the three children, as well as receive guidance and assistance from the general community.
“We were tremendously fortunate to have the means and resources necessary for these three amazing children, to have every possible advantage with a very difficult transition,” he said. “I spend a lot of time thinking about the hundreds of thousands of children in foster care homes that long for the sense of permanency who don’t have people advocating for them.
“On top of the excellent resources the Jewish community provides in Baltimore,” he said, “there are some fantastic organizations that can provide support for these children, such as the National CASA [Court Appointed Special Advocate] Association. CASA provides volunteers to spend time with them, build up a relationship, and act as a voice for them in legal settings that they might not otherwise have.”
Rabbi Disick said he was greatly moved and inspired by the Dains’ story. “By sheer dint of love, strength and belief, they have really built a family,” he said. “In a sense, they have had to build a family from scratch, with their own bare hands. They have created their own model and path.
“These children have a deep and intense sense of Jewish identity that has been nurtured by their parents and, hopefully, by the synagogue,” Rabbi Disick said. “They’re a beautiful family.”
Anna Lippe is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer. Editor-in-Chief Alan Feiler contributed to this article.