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Fostering Across Generations: A Letter to our Foster Daughter

As part of a ritual we created to say farewell to our foster daughter, Dafna, below is the story of my family’s history of fostering across the generations, from escaping the Nazis to offering shelter to teenagers fleeing Vietnam. We read this during the goodbye ceremony.

Photo by Nomad Nirvana Photography

Dafna, the Torah of how you came to our family begins before anyone in this room was born. In 1938 my grandfather, Walter Fried, was a teenager living in Vienna. As the situation for Jews become more and more dire, his family became more and more desperate to get him out of Austria. Shortly after Kristallnacht in November of 1938 my great-grandparents were able to get a sponsor for my grandfather in England and a ticket on the Kindertransport, a train that travelled out of Nazi Germany, filled with Jewish children being brought to safety. Walter was sponsored by a Jewish family named the Adlers. In a very real way, the Adlers were my grandfather’s foster parents, and they saved his life. Without them I would not be here today.

Walter spent six months with the Adlers, but he felt bad about draining their resources during wartime, and after he felt confident in his English, he transferred to a technical college in Leister. In 1943 he went to Cincinnati where he was able to meet up with his parents, who had also been able to escape the Nazis. Shortly after arriving in the United States Walter was drafted into the army, and went back to Europe first as an engineer, and then as a translator for the War Crimes Investigating Team which took statements from former concentration camp inmates, camp guards, and commanders.

My mother grew up knowing this story, and was always very aware of the way her own life had been saved by the Adlers. We stayed in touch with the Adlers, and when I was a child my mother always took me to visit Mrs. Adler when we visited England.

In the winter of 1979, when my mother was 26 and a young, very poor social worker, she and my father sponsored two refugees from Vietnam. Mai and Thai Tran escaped Vietnam on a boat in 1978. They went to Indonesia, where they lived in a refugee camp for about a year, until they were sponsored by my parents though the Jewish Federation in Chicago. It was Hanukkah of 1979 when Mai and Thai arrived in Chicago. For a month, they lived in my parents’ living room. Mai and Thai were siblings and teenagers. My parents helped them find a place to live, and my dad got Thai a job at the electric company where my dad was a computer programmer. Mai and Thai still live in the Chicago area. Thai still works at the electric company, and he owns a nail salon. He and Mai have flourished, building families and enjoying freedom and success in America, in no small part because my parents sponsored them.

So Dafna, becoming a foster parent was something we did to carry on the legacies of our families. I would not be here today if the Adlers had not decided to open their home to my grandfather. Today I thank them not only for that incredible act of kindness, but also for inspiring my mother to do the same, and your Papa and me to become foster parents to you. I am so grateful for the strange history that brought you to our home.

Photo by Nomad Nirvana Photography

See the farewell ritual Tamar and her partner created here.

Tamar Fox is a writer and editor living in Philadelphia with her partner, step-daughter, and foster daughter. Her writing has been published in the Washington Post, the Jerusalem PostTabletLilith, and many others. Her children’s book, No Baths at Camp, was published in 2013 by Kar-Ben and is a PJ Library selection.

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