March 03, 2000

…BETH has come halfway around the world to be Jewish. She was born in Guangxi, the Chinese province north of Vietnam, six months ago and came to Britain with an adoption agency. Her parents were poor city workers who desperately wanted a boy. Chinese law permits a couple to have only one baby in a campaign to bring the world’s biggest population under control. Many baby girls are smothered at birth, human rights workers believe.

Beth was luckier. Her parents gave her up to be adopted abroad. Her new parents are also city workers Londoners. One is a newspaper executive, the other a shia tzu therapist.

They already had two boys and they desperately wanted a girl. Now Beth has two brothers, one ready for his barmitzvah this summer and one a PlayStation fiend.

“It’s a miracle,” her mother Anat told me. “Looked at in one way, it seems so impossible a child from 7,000 miles away, born in a place where most people haven’t even heard of Britain and certainly can’t speak English and her destiny lies here with us.

“That seems to me so wise, so wonderful, that it can only be an act of God.

“But then so many obstacles, for no real reason, to benefit no one, were set in the path that brought her and us together.

“Most of the objections have been raised by people who cannot understand that Beth is a human little girl.

“And that’s all she is she isn’t Chinese, she isn’t Oriental, she isn’t a Communist. She’s a girl and she’s going to be brought up in London, just like a million other girls.”

Anat and her husband have been tormented by loaded questions and barbed inquiries. Her mother-in-law raised the first objections. Was it really fair, she kept asking, to bring a poor little baby all that way and bring it up in a country “where she’ll always be a foreigner?”

“As if there are no other faces like Beth’s in London!” snorted Anat. “What David’s mother really means is, ‘I don’t want to have a grand-daughter who looks Chinese’.

“Well, tough. If she’s upset, it’s her own bigotry that’s upsetting her.”

Friends said some strange things. “You couldn’t bring her up Jewish, it wouldn’t be natural,” claimed one.

“Who is she going to marry a white man or a Chinese boy?” asked another, and Anat answered that there had been no firm proposals of marriage so far.

But the ones who really gave Anat and David the creeps were the professional people the social workers and the immigration officials.

She believes her adoption procedure was shorter than it would have been if the family were taking on a child born in Britain, perhaps one living in a British care home.

But there were still many hoops to jump through and the officials made it flesh-chillingly clear that Anat and David had to prove themselves worthy winners.

“It was like a competition — one wrong answer and we don’t get the prize,” she said. “And this prize was a human one.”

Social services had Anat’s medical file, which showed her first pregnancy had been fairly straight-forward, and the second had nearly killed her.

Two gynaecologists both warned that another pregnancy would probably kill both Anat and the unborn child. They made up their minds to settle for two, and be glad but the dream of a daughter still lingered.

When a colleague told David about the Chinese agency, they decided not to hold back. “Both the boys have been totally supportive,” said Anat. “You’d think they were proof enough that David and I were fit parents.

“After all, if we could have kept on having children, we would have done it years ago and no red tape could ever have stopped us.

“But these form-fillers came and inspected every corner of our lives. I don’t mind divulging our earnings or our diet you have to tell these things to tax inspectors and doctors, after all.

“But some of the questions were totally out of order. Like: “Did we expect her to observe the Sabbath? What if she wanted to learn about Chinese religion? What if she wanted to eat non-kosher Chinese food?

“Then they insisted on a private interview with the boys, from which we were excluded, and they wanted to know, ‘How do you feel about having a sister who isn’t white? What will your mates think?’

“I was really proud of their answer that ‘we don’t have a hang-up about race, so why should you’?”

The cycle of form-pushing was broken when David wrote to the head of Social Services, challenging the department to show that his family’s Jewishness was not being held against them.

Did the officials feel a white Christian family in Britain could adopt a child from China, but a Jewish family could not?

Two days later, approval came through. All the boxes were ticked and counterfoils were signed and dockets were stamped. By the weekend, Beth was in her nursery.

Two centuries ago a baby might be shuttled across a village, from one sister to another, from a mother to a grandmother.

Now a newborn is whisked around the world, from a family of one race and religion to another quite different. But the love is the same. The desire for a child is the same. These are the things that matter most. All loving parents will understand this.

Maybe one day the bigots and form-fillers will wake up too.

Uri Geller’s novels Dead Cold and Ella are published by Headline at £5.99. Mind Medicine is published by Element at £20.
Visit him at and e-mail him at [email protected]


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