Mothers of Down Syndrome Babies Have Options in Ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem

Some Give Up Children in the Insular Religious Community

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By Leslie Kolbrener

Published July 18, 2013, issue of July 19, 2013.
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How did she feel about her own work? “Frankly,” she informed me in a whisper, glancing admiringly at her children, who were now tumbling over each other and into us in their revelry, “their real parents are missing out. I don’t judge, however,” she added hastily. And then, pulling herself up, she recited the story she reserved for the ambivalent and the unconvinced, the one she had told so often that the facts were probably no longer accurate — a story by which to lend an air of propriety, even of sanctity, to her charitable dealings.

“There once lived a family,” she began, “whom you and I both know,” and here she broke off to indicate the street we were passing. “They were blessed with 13 strong and healthy children. When, by the grace of God, the 14th child arrived with Down syndrome, and ill to boot, the mother was compelled to be so often in the hospital tending to this, her weakest of children, that the whole family fell to pieces, and the father, unable to handle the ruination of his life, made off to America, or to Honduras.”

“I was about to object — “But you can’t honestly believe that the life of that child was not worth caring about!” — when the family planner was distracted by the sudden flight of one of her children and ran off in bemused pursuit of him.

I was left to consider that we were probably indebted to the ultra-Orthodox for the practice of “planned parenthood” in at least one of its oldest forms. But just as God is said to cry as a couple prepare to divorce, so I’m certain he cries when a mother, in a blindness that has been inspired by fear and ignorance, parts from her child and sends him, unloved, into the world.

Leslie Kolbrener lives in Jerusalem with her husband and children.


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