Haredi couple fights abandonment of special needs babies

Haredi couple adopts Down syndrome baby, encourages biological parents to raise their own Down syndrome children.

Chana Roberts,


A haredi couple that has adopted a child with Down syndrome are looking to change the minds parents of special needs children considering putting their kids up for adoption, hoping to inspire more parents to raise their own special needs children.

In an interview with Kan 11, Yossi and Rivki told the story of how they began encouraging parents to raise their special needs children.

"Our biggest trouble is that we can't have children of our own," Yossi said. "During the years we waited, Rivki would quote the [biblical] matriarch Rachel and tell me, 'If I don't have children, I [may as well be] dead. I want to be a mother.' We were married ten years without children, and apparently, we will never have biological children."

"About six months after our wedding, our doctor sat with us and said, 'You've done everything, you've been through a lot of suffering, and as your doctor I have to tell you that you will never have children of your own.'

"When we told our parents that we wanted to adopt a child with special needs, they weren't supportive. My parents agreed, but warned me not to expect them to act like grandparents."

Rivki added that for her father, a special needs child was like a "Holocaust, the end of the world."

"He begged me, crying, not to do it," she said. "He forbade me to adopt a child with special needs. But in the end we decided to go ahead with it, regardless of the potential consequences."

"Rivki came to the Welfare Ministry and told them she wants a child who no one else wants," Yossi recounted. "She told them, 'If someone else wants the child, it's not for me. I want someone who no one else wants.'"

A few months later, they were told to prepare for a baby boy with Down Syndrome, who would be released from the hospital a few days later. Yossi and Rivki bought the necessary items, only to be told at the last minute that the adoption would not work out.

They were heartbroken.

A few days later, the couple received a call from an Ezer Mizion volunteer.

Ezer Mizion helps hospitalized and chronically ill patients and their families.

The volunteer told them about a baby girl who was about to undergo complicated heart surgery - and was all alone.

At first, Yossi and Rivki tried to go the official route, calling the Welfare Ministry to inform them of a match. However, the response they received was that the Ministry "would inform them where there are children, and a situation should not come up in which they inform the Welfare Ministry about an adoption."

That night, at 4:00a.m., Rivki decided to go to the hospital anyways.

"I told Yossi, 'I'm going to the hospital, you're welcome to join me,'" Rivki said. "I had this feeling in my stomach, I felt like a girl this tiny can't go into an operation alone. Someone has to be there to give her strength. Even if she's not meant for us, we have to be there, because she obviously can't be alone."

"What I didn't realize was that she's in the preemie ward, and you can't just walk in. We stood and rang the bell, we pressed down, but no one answered us, because they didn't recognize us. After a few minutes the head nurse came out and said, 'Who are you?' And I instinctively said, 'I'm Tamar's mother.'"

"The staff said, 'You're Tamar's mother? Why didn't anyone tell us?'" Yossi recounted. "Rivki said, 'Listen, it's 6:00a.m., she's undergoing an operation in an hour, and now you're talking about who said what? I want to see my daughter.' They let us in, and showed us an incubator. Tamar was very cute, weighed less than four pounds, pale as a sheet, and hooked up to a lot of machines."

"Rivki picked her up and held her close, and said, 'Tamar, Tamar, Mommy is here. I promise I won't ever leave you.'"

Yossi and Rivki were told Tamar would never walk or talk. Today, at three years old, she does both.

When Yossi, Rivki, and Tamar finally arrived home, both sets of grandparents visited, and fell immediately in love. Rivki told Kan 11 that her parents "have 150 descendants, including grandchildren and great-grandchildren - but Tamar is undoubtedly and unarguably her father's favorite, even if the rest of the family doesn't want to admit it."

Today, Yossi and Rivki see it as their mission to convince parents not to abandon babies who are born with special needs.

"It's really important that parents make a true decision, their own decision, based on what they want to do," Yossi explained. "Most of the parents we meet, we manage to convince to take the child home and raise it themselves. They aren't making well-informed decisions. Their decisions were made, 'because Mommy said,' 'because Grandpa said,' or even 'because the doctor said.'"

"Sometimes there are parents who are unable to raise a child with special needs. Sometimes there is no choice other than to give the child to other parents, who can raise him."

Rivki says the parents of such a child are painted a very bleak picture. They hear what the child won't be able to do, about a shortened lifespan, about difficulties to the family. They don't hear about the bright spots, about the unique joy of raising such a child.

Both Yossi and Rivki see it as their mission to change this, to get rid of the stigma.

"Our goal is that parents should keep their babies, even if it means we'll have to wait longer of our own second child, because they're all with their parents."