Since our daughter Miranda was adopted, I did not get to see her enter the world. We heard she was born from our social worker and excitedly packed up our car and headed a few states over to meet her. She was a day old when we first laid eyes on her. The very next day she was discharged to our care.
What I did get to witness, however, was her entrance into the Jewish world. And it was magical.
Just two years before we adopted Miranda in 2013, her older sister, Allison, was stillborn at 37 weeks. I had a relatively easy pregnancy and we could not wait to meet our daughter. To say we were excited is an understatement. Tragically, I realized one day that I was feeling her less and less, so we rushed to the hospital to see what was going on. She was already gone.
The grief was so intense that I had trouble conceiving again. All sorts of fertility treatments failed until my husband and I both decided that we wanted to be parents and did not care how our child came into the world. We called an adoption agency the next day.
Fate was on our side. We were picked by Miranda’s birth mother just a few weeks after we had completed our home study and piles of paperwork, and our second daughter was born just a few weeks later.
We had to wait until everything with the adoption was finalized before we could convert Miranda. Then I had to find a mikvah that would perform the ritual ceremony. It was a little difficult as I was not a member of a synagogue. That, combined with the fact that my husband is not Jewish, made it a little tricky. So I called backup (my mom), and within a few days we were all set. The rabbi at the local synagogue where we used to belong said he would be honored to convert our daughter to Judaism.
The mikvah was in a synagogue about 45 minutes from our home. It was essentially a little pool. When we entered, the woman who runs it greeted us warmly and showed us where to go. I changed into my bathing suit and we stripped down Miranda. This happened during one of the coldest winters in 20 years, so it’s a good thing the pool was heated.
When it was time, Miranda and I entered the warm water. My husband and mom were there to witness the joyous occasion. Once we were in the water, three rabbis came in to witness the ceremony. There were a few prayers to say and I stumbled through them; I was so nervous. Before I knew it, I dunked Miranda underwater — I had to let go for a second so she would not be touching me at all. Talk about nervous! But she loved all the attention and did not seem to care. One more prayer, one more dunk, and then lots of applause.
It was over. Miranda was converted.
I felt proud, excited and jubilant at the same time. I felt that I had done right by my daughter.
Afterward we met with the rabbi and his wife to tell them a little bit about us — how we came to be on this journey. I explained that the journey to Miranda, and her conversion, started with her sister, Allison. I explained Allie’s story — how she was Jewish because she was born to me — and it was hard to think Miranda wasn’t Jewish because she was not born to me.
The rabbi said not to look at it like that. Rather, Miranda is what we want her to be and this conversion just made it “official.” His wife, also a rabbi, said Miranda’s soul was Jewish and now the rest of her was as well.
I was practically floating on the ride home. It was such a wonderful and beautiful experience.
A few months later we had a naming ceremony as well. All of these traditions are a way to keep the celebration of her conversion going and to continuously welcome our daughter to the Jewish community more and more.
I got to witness a beginning for Miranda — the beginning of a commitment to a religion that means so much to me.
Samantha Koellhoffer is a freelance writer living outside of Philadelphia with her husband and daughter.