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My Jewish Youth Group Friend Allowed Me to Become a Parent

My Jewish Youth Group Friend Allowed Me to Become a Parent

The author with his husband and son

One day my son Jacob will ask how he was made, and I have the answer ready for this inevitable question: “God, science, and a whole lot of love.” Of course, there are many more details to his story…

My husband Zach and I found our place as teens on opposites sides of the country as leaders in NFTY, the Reform Jewish youth movement. Back then, our society did not excel at making room for the other. NFTY defied norms by defining itself as a place for all Jewish youth, an inclusive haven where everyone’s Godliness – b’tzelem Elohim (created in the image of God) – was celebrated. It was also NFTY that championed our potential as young people to make our world a better place as social action - tikkun olam - trail blazers. For Zach and me, NFTY became our social core, the place where we made lifelong friends and felt accepted as our true selves. Alas, it would be many more years before we came out to ourselves and our communities as gay.

Fast forward to the 21st century. As a young man in my 20s, I was a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. I became comfortable and confident in my skin, eager to serve as a spiritual leader for our people. I can also thank NFTY and the Reform Jewish summer camps for helping me find my professional calling.

Years may have passed since I was in NFTY, but I was still close with my circle of friends. In fact, I had the honor of officiating the marriage of a number of these friends, and later, naming their children. I accepted this special role, understanding that my life path was different.

Sure, I hoped to find my bashert (intended one), but I never thought marriage – and especially children – was in the cards for me. My friends were not convinced.

They assured me that a nice Jewish boy was nearby, and they would often share that one day I would make a wonderful abba (Hebrew for “dad”). Kate, one of my closest friends from NFTY, shared that she would feel privileged to help me have kids when the time came. I remember feeling so grateful for this unbelievable offer, but I couldn’t imagine taking her up on it.

A well-known Yiddish proverb teaches that “man plans and God laughs,” but I could not possibly have planned for the most recent steps in my life journey. Soon after moving to Toronto, I connected with Zach. It appeared that we had been following parallel lives on opposite coasts! After dating for two years, we were married.

Both of us were open to parenthood, but neither of us expected to be dads. Upon the advice of a friend, we took a class offered at the LGBT community center about options for gay men to have children, and we quickly pinpointed surrogacy as our choice. But then we wondered: Who could we possibly ask to carry our baby?

Then I remembered my conversation from 10 years earlier.

I reminded my still-close friend Kate about our conversation, and after careful thought and many discussions, she agreed to carry our baby. The process was not easy, but with the help of family, friends, doctors, and a whole lot of love, our son Jacob was conceived. As scientific as this process was, God was a large part of it, too. We are especially appreciative that Auntie Kate gave of her whole self as she nurtured Jacob’s life. She inspires us each day. Kate has three of her own children, and when asked why she served as a surrogate, her answer is simple: “I want to demonstrate to my kids the importance of kindness and love in our world!” Both Kate and I attribute this key life lesson to our time in NFTY.

Jacob was born as our world is in a tumultuous state. On the surface, it is a scary time to begin one’s life journey – there is too much talk of walls, and terrible stories of discrimination. However, Jacob’s birth models an alternative story of a land filled with hope, care, and generosity.

Soon Jacob will be off to summer camps and NFTY conclaves; he will celebrate his place in the world, the culmination of his fathers’ hopes and dreams. His smile already represents the important Reform values of b’tzelem Elohim, tikkun olam and community. May his light always beam bright and inspire kindness.

Photo: Anne Marie Comte

Rabbi Daniel Mikelberg serves Temple Sinai Congregation of Toronto. He was ordained at the Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College –- Jewish Institute of Religion in 2008. Growing up, he was active in the youth group at Temple Sholom in Vancouver, British Columbia, as well as in NFTY Northwest and URJ Camp Swig-Newman.

Rabbi Daniel Mikelberg
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