Two Men and Three Adopted Kids: How Parenthood Changed Israeli LGBTQ Families

Nontraditional families discuss their habits, identities, struggles and dreams. 'Co-parenting is the most effective way to get around the obstacles and discrimination that exist against us'

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The Chesir-Teran family.
The Chesir-Teran family.Credit: Micahel Liani
Vered Lee
Michael Liani
Vered Lee
Michael Liani

The Dolinger-Ratson family

Members: Ido (left, 43), Michael (40), Uri (6 1/2), Itamar (1 year and 2 months)

The Dolinger-Ratson family.Credit: Michael Liani

Residence: Bat Galim neighborhood, Haifa. Ido: “We live by the sea in Haifa.”

Gender: Male

Sexual identity: Ido and Michael are gay

New family: Surrogate parenthood

Occupation: Ido: “Musician, writer, composer and singer and a third album will be released soon. In addition, I’m a life coach specializing in relationship trust issues.” Michael: “Educator, language teacher and class coordinator at Leo Baeck High School in Haifa and doctoral student in education.”

Background: Ido was born in the central city of Petah Tikva. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history and film and is a graduate of the Adler Institute in the fields of coaching and mediation. Michael: “I was born in Ukraine and I immigrated to Israel with my family when I was 8 years old.” Michael grew up in Haifa and moved to Tel Aviv at 24. When their eldest son was born, they returned to Haifa. Michael has a bachelor’s degree in nursing and film and a master’s degree in education and is currently a doctoral student in education at the University of Haifa. Ido: “Each member of our household was born in a different country, including the children – Uri was born in Thailand and Itamar in the United States.”

The wedding: Ido: “After four years of marriage, we had a civil wedding party on December 21, 2012. [Israeli singer-songwriter] Keren Peles, who is a friend of ours, officiated, and married us in a loving ceremony. Since she became friends with us, she herself refuses to remarry until gay marriage is legal in Israel.” Michael: “It was at The 4th Floor in Tel Aviv. It was beautiful, exciting and joyous.” They are recognized as a de facto couple but not as married. Ido: “On a personal level, it doesn’t impact my life, but on a collective and philosophical level, it’s time we become a country that recognizes the full equality and rights of the LGBTQ community and legally recognizes LGBTQ marriages.”

When did you make the decision to become parents?

Michael: “I really wanted children. When I went on dates I would always check if potential partners were also into having kids.” Ido: “I didn’t think about it. For me, it came up thanks to Michael, who is the one who plans our life adventures. I embark on them with him.”

What obstacles from the government did you encounter on your way to becoming parents?

Ido: “The state piles up many difficulties. We cannot initiate a surrogacy process in the State of Israel like straight couples, so we are forced to look abroad. We’re forced to spend a huge sum on every surrogacy procedure and be cut off from our home, our family and our country during the most sensitive, complex and joyous process there is. We have to experience all this in another country. Our families cannot be with us.”

Uri was born through surrogacy in Thailand in 2014. Ido: “The whole process took three years. Uri was born on the 13th attempt. The tests were wrong and didn’t reveal any issues, and he was born with Down syndrome. I could already see this in the hospital. And yet, I have to emphasize that Uri is the most amazing thing that happened to us. And he is a perfect child and lights up our life.”

How did you initially react?

Ido: “At first, when we received the news, it was as if the sky fell on us and we had no real idea what it all meant. It was very sad and difficult, and we had a lot of questions, but it was clear to us that he was our son. We hugged him immediately and loved him immediately, and the love only grows. Uri is a captivating child, and he was a captivating baby. He stole our hearts right from the start. And above all, this is our son, so the love and the acceptance came very quickly.”

Why did you choose surrogate parenthood, and did you have any doubts?

Ido: “We were hesitant at first. Michael preferred surrogacy and I was initially in favor of co-parenting, but I was gradually convinced that a child needs love, attention and investment, and it really doesn’t matter if he has two fathers rather than a father and mother. I was gradually convinced that adding a third person into the relationship – in this case, a woman in the role of mother – is adding an entire complex world to the family. I want my family to myself, without this additional factor. And in any case I don’t want to share the kids between houses – three days with me and the rest of the week with their mother. I want my children with me every day without anyone else, except my partner, being responsible for our decisions and the choices that impact our lives. Michael and I are a house and a home, and the children experience this in the most beautiful way.”

Dreams: Ido: “World peace. I dream that we will have leaders who care about the people, who see both sides, understand the complexities of the two peoples and understand that people on the other side also have a desire to live in peace and quiet. I wish that it will be possible to live here in peace and quiet.” Uri: “Pizza, ice cream and being a cop.”

Favorite family pastime: Michael: “We like to go to the beach, eat ice cream, hang out with friends, fly abroad for family vacations.”

Happiness Index: Ido and Michael: “After the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent war [with Hamas in the Gaza Strip], and the army reserves service Michael had to do, and a child with special needs and a baby who pushes boundaries: 8.”

The Gal-Landau-Grunberg family

Members: Roni Landau (right, 47), Arnon Gal (center, 43), Gidi Grunberg (left, 37), Maya (7) and Roi (4 1/2)

The Gal-Landau-Grunberg family.Credit: Michael Liani

Residence: Everyone lives in Tel Aviv. Arnon and Gidi share an apartment and Roni, who “is not currently in a relationship,” lives in a separate apartment. Maya and Roi divide their time equally between the two houses.

Gender: Arnon: “We are all the same gender as we were born with.”

Sexual identity: Arnon and Gidi are gay, Roni is straight. Roni: “We are all attracted to men.”

New family: Arnon and Roni brought Maya and Roi into the world through a co-parenting arrangement. Gidi and Arnon have been together for four years.

Occupation: Arnon: “Editor of [television program] ‘Zman Emet’ at [public broadcaster] Kan 11 and lecturer in media studies at Tel Aviv University.” Gidi: “Pedagogical coordinator and educator for citizenship and the Bible at Ankori High School in Tel Aviv.” Roni: “Nurse for adults, children and women at the Maccabi Healthcare Services.”

Background: Roni was born in Ra’anana into a religious family, but is currently secular. Education: M.S. in public health. Arnon was born in Moshav Moledet in the north and comes from a distinctly secular background. Education: A degree in media and political science. Gidi was born in Ramat Gan. He came from a religious background and was educated in religious settings such as yeshiva high school and Bnei Akiva, a religious Zionist youth movement. He holds a B.A. in education, specializing in at-risk youth, and an M.A. in education systems management. “I feel that teaching the Bible today is a correction of how I learned it as a teenager in a religious setting, where it was not possible to be critical and the study was mostly halakhic,” he says.

Religion and tradition: Gidi maintains a religious-traditional lifestyle but does not wear a kippa “for political reasons,” he said. “It’s not because I don’t define myself as a religious person, but because I don’t want to be identified and grouped with the religious Zionist public.”

Arnon and Gidi are members of a liberal Orthodox community called Kehilat Yahad, which has a synagogue on Tel Aviv’s Zeitlin Street. Gidi: “Strait people and LGBTQ people pray together in the same community. We maintain a lifestyle on the inter-traditional continuum within our home. We partially observe Shabbat: We don’t use electricity, we use a hot plate, we say Kiddush on Shabbat evening – but the children watch TV.”

Arnon: “We respect each other’s beliefs. I am secular, even an atheist. I have no affinity for religion, but we had no problem bonding on this issue.”

Roni: “We agreed we would lead a secular life. In my house there is no observance of kashrut, and the children are allowed to eat chametz [leaved bread] on Passover. I don’t educate them to be contrarian and recalcitrant, but to be respectful.”

How they met: Roni: “I was 39 and Arnon was 35. I was courted by many single guys and men in relationships looking to co-parent, but I was hesitant and resisted. When mutual friends suggested that Arnon and I meet, it felt right. We met and very quickly felt that there was a great intimacy between us, and on my [40th] birthday we signed a co-parenting agreement.”

On choosing to co-parent: Arnon: “I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a parent. I wasn’t in a stable, long-term relationship at the time, and I thought that surrogacy was expensive and economically nonviable. I thought that someone like me, with a demanding career, should get another parent involved. Co-parenting is the most effective way to get around the obstacles and discrimination that exists against gays when it comes to parenting.”

Roni: “The last relationship I had wasn’t ripe for starting a family. I was already approaching 39 and didn’t want to be a single mother. I really wanted to have a parenting partner. I preferred a gay partner because I thought it would be a less complicated relationship. The benefits of co-parenting are that you are not alone, there will always be someone in the family unit who is totally committed to the children and to you.”

Gidi: “My nuclear family unit is relatively dysfunctional; I’m the son of divorced parents. So my relationship with Arnon, who is a co-parenting father, somehow meets my need to raise children and have a family. For all intents and purposes, I am Maya and Roi’s parent, even if I am not their biological parent. I can really see how they are shaped in the image of the three of us and I think they have it good – they have three significant adults in their lives who love them, care for them and really want what’s best for them.”

When did you make the decision to become parents?

Roni: “When I was born. I always wanted to be a mother.” Arnon: “It was always clear to me that I wanted to be a parent, even when I was young. It became more a question of how and if it was even possible, because when I was 20 there was no model of a ‘new family’ and the idea of co-parenting was hardly a thing.”

What obstacles from the government did you encounter on your way to becoming parents?

Roni: “In general, the state creates lots of difficulties for people who are not married and don’t share the same last name. All unmarried couples, whether they are gay or straight, experience difficulties. I’m often treated like I’m divorced, although I often explain that I’m not divorced because we have never been married. It’s easier for the state to treat a man and a woman who run two separate households as divorced.”

Arnon: “The bureaucracy in Israel always goes backward in relation to the rest of society. If God forbid something happens to me tomorrow, my partner Gidi has no official status with the children. So Roni and I arranged it through a personal contract. We bypass the bureaucracy.”

Gidi: “As far as I’m concerned, I am Roi and Maya’s parent in every way, but in Israel it’s not possible to be a third guardian, that is, I cannot legally adopt them. I’m thinking of adopting children, but the adoption law amendments in Israel and the Social Services Ministry policy discriminate against LGBTQ people in terms of waiting list priority in relation to heterosexual couples. In other words, it is basically impossible to adopt a child as an LGBTQ parent in Israel. It’s now possible to adopt abroad, but it’s expensive and very complex.”

Dreams: Arnon: “I dream that a family will become something that’s not defined by a state and not defined by politicians, but by each person, according to the family they want to establish, without anyone else having a monopoly on defining what a family is and which kind of family is better.” Gidi: “My dream is that there will be a complete separation of religion and state in Israel.”

Roni: “I feel that I have fulfilled the dream of being a mother and that I do it the best I can.” Maya: “To fly, be a veterinarian or a pilot and that the whole family will go up in a hot air balloon.” Roi: “My dream is that everyone turns into couch potatoes and that I become a policeman.”

Favorite family pastime: Maya: “Vacation at a hotel, with a preference for a suite because of the Jacuzzi.” Arnon: “We all like to go out to restaurants, the kids really like to eat pizza and visit their grandparents.”

Happiness Index: Arnon: “9 – We have fun with the kids, they are perfect but I believe we should strive to be even better.” Roni and Gidi: Agree with Arnon, 9. Maya: “Happy to 1000.” Roi: “I’m watching TV, stop bothering me.”

The Zur-Weisselberg family

Members: Orly (left, 39), Ravit, who everyone calls Titush (38), Mori (5) and Asia, who everyone calls Asi (2)

The Zur-Weisselberg family.Credit: Michael Liani

Residence: Hadar Yosef neighborhood, Tel Aviv

Gender: Orly and Titush are female

Sexual identity: Titush: “Mainly lesbians.”

New family: Titush and Orly both conceived from the sperm of the same donor. They are raising their two children together.

Background: Orly was born in Tel Aviv, and holds a B.A. in law and media studies and an M.A. in art. Titush was born in Afula, and holds a B.A. in business administration and an M.A. in family studies from the College of Management.

Occupation: Orly: “Lawyer and senior adviser to the mayor of Tel Aviv-Yafo.” Titush: “For 15 years I was a human resources manager. I quit last year, and I now focus solely on NLP treatment for adults, emotional therapy based on mindfulness techniques, in my private clinic. I would be happy to combine the two areas.”

The wedding: Orly: “From the first moment we met, Titush told me: ‘Put it in writing that I’m giving birth first.’ After a year and two months together, I proposed to Titush. We married on September 12, 2014, in a ceremony that remains unrecognized in Israel. We had a ceremony at Babai, in Jaffa, by the sea.” Titush: “Orly’s best friend and my best friend married us in a special ceremony. Friends and family participated in the seven blessings and the last blessing was a sing-along of ‘Can’t take my eyes off you’ with all the guests. It was a magical and exciting atmosphere.”

When did you make the decision to have children?

Titush: “We both wanted kids even before we met. We both entered the relationship more than ready. About a year after the wedding, we started trying.”

What obstacles from the government did you encounter on your way to becoming parents?

Orly: “We were both impregnated with a sperm donation from the same donor. The state doesn’t recognize any aspect of our co-parenting. We have to fight for every right. We petitioned the High Court in June 2016 together with the LGBT association [the Aguda – Israel’s LGBT Task Force], represented by Hagai Kalai. We want to make the registration procedure for same-sex couples the same as for heterosexual couples, meaning that we too would be able to register as an additional ‘mother’ and ‘parent’ without a court order. Titush was pregnant and we applied to the Interior Ministry, asking that once the baby was born, I would be registered as another parent, without a court order. Today, the situation in Israel is that another mother can only register after she has been issued a court order – a parenting order or an adoption order.

“It’s important to explain that in the case of a heterosexual married couple, the man is automatically registered as the baby’s father, and in the case of an unmarried heterosexual couple, the mother comes to the hospital registry and the man can register as a legitimate father without being asked about his relationship to the mother. When it comes to two women, however, to become the parent of my child I have to go to court, prove actual parenthood, prove my relationship with the mother – that we are in an established relationship, for a long time. And I have to prove that I have the ability to parent – that is, that I don’t have a police record.”

Titush: “The state has no right to enter such a sacred and private place and challenge the relationship between a child and his mother just because he was born to two mothers.”

After four years of hearings, the High Court of Justice rejected the petition. Half a year ago, Kalai filed a request for another hearing. The request was accepted, and another hearing is expected before a panel of seven judges.

Orly: “It’s a miracle for us, but I do not want to be too optimistic.” Titush: “We hope to make a change, but I’m afraid our hearts will be broken again.”

Dreams: TIitush: “To win at the High Court and make history for all who come after us.” Orly: “That the Zur-Weisselberg precedent is taught in law faculties and students will say, ‘Wow, we can’t believe it used to be like that.’”

Mor: “I want to be an astronaut.”

Favorite family pastime: Titush: “Cycling to the park”.

Happiness Index: Orly: 9.5. Titush: 9, for now. Mori: 8. Asi: 12

The Marom family

Members: Yonatan (left, 40), Daniel (35), Tomer (5), Ori (4 months)

The Marom family.Credit: Michael Liani

Residence: Ramat Gan

Gender: Daniel: “Fluid, depending on what year and which authority is asking.” Yonatan: “Transgender.”

Sexual identity: Yonatan and Daniel are gay.

Occupation: Yonatan is a social worker and works as a psychotherapist at the Aguda’s clinic. Daniel is a DJ and event producer. For about a decade he specialized in producing LGBTQ pride events around the country, and also produces drag shows. “I came to [event] production thanks to the Pride Center. I worked in administration and culture. It was just before the pride parade, and they told me, ‘Here’s our budget, let’s see what you can do with it,’” he says.

Background: Yonatan was born in Haifa and has an M.A. in social work. His thesis topic was “Transphobia in the public space and its impact on mental health.” He scored a 94. Daniel was born in Tel Aviv. He graduated from high school, where he was known as “queen.”

How they met: Yonatan: “We met by chance at the Pride Center. Daniel was an administrative worker there and I was leading a group of trans youth there. Then Daniel hit on me and I said no.” Daniel: “Is that what you want written in the paper? That you said no?” Jonathan: “I rejected him several times. Eventually I said yes, and we went out.” Daniel: “In retrospect I found out he was excited and even bought a new shirt for the occasion, but didn’t wear it.

“I should explain – Yonatan had just started transitioning and didn’t want to think about a relationship at this point, so when I hit on him, he rejected me because he couldn’t understand what this handsome guy wanted from him. He eventually came to his senses and thought it was worth it to give it a chance, that at least it would be a nice story to tell our grandchildren.” Yonatan: “I confirm this version. I went on the date. The guy was 20 minutes late and I thought of leaving. But he showed up in the end we had a really nice date at Suzanna in Neve Tzedek [in Tel Aviv], and it continued to this day.”

When did you make the decision to become a parent?

Yonatan: “We debated if it was the right move and how to have children. It was clear to me that if the possibility exists, then I do want to get pregnant and give birth. But I didn’t know if it was possible because there was not much information around at the time, and I had been on hormones for six years and wasn’t aware of all the possible effects.”

Daniel: “It was after a year and a half of therapy. I had big doubts about having children. Bottom line: I am very happy that we made the decision that we did.”

What obstacles from the government did you encounter on your way to becoming parents?

Yonatan became pregnant with Daniel and gave birth to their eldest son, Tomer, in March 2016. Yonatan discovered that after giving birth, his gender was changed without his consent from “male” to “female” in the Population Registry, and that he was registered as the mother of his son. Israel refused to register Daniel as the parent of his child, thus depriving the Marom family and their son of social benefits.

The couple petitioned the High Court through attorneys Hagai Kalai and Daniela Yaakobi to order the state to register both Yonatan and Daniel as fathers of their children. Last month, the High Court ruled that transgender parents are eligible for non-gendered registration on the child’s birth certificate, allowing them to be listed as “parent” instead of “mother” or “father.” Supreme Court President Esther Hayut ruled that “the birth certificate is intended to provide information about the newborn and not about the gender identity of its parents.”

Daniel: “This is an exciting and welcome precedent, but it contains a compromise – the court ordered the issuance of birth certificates where transgender people will be registered as parents and not fathers [or mothers], as we wanted. This means that children of transgender parents will receive birth certificates that are different from children of non-transgender parents. If there is a precedent here, it contains discrimination.”

Yonatan: “The court ruled that transgender people, before becoming parents, are obligated to contact a medical committee at the Health Ministry to examine whether they have changed their gender identity, otherwise the registration of a gender change for transgender parents may be canceled. So alongside the satisfaction, I wonder: Why there is a need for such a medical committee at all? This is a demand that sends the message that transgender people are different from everyone else.”

Dreams: Daniel on behalf of the whole family: “More sleep!”

Favorite family pastime: Yonatan: “A pastime that developed during the pandemic – we blow up an inflatable mattress, put it in the living room and watch a Disney movie with popcorn. Ori is too young to join in at this point.”

Happiness Index: Daniel: “Currently 10.” Yonatan: 10

The Chesir-Teran family

Members: Ian (50, right), Daniel (51), Eli (second from left, 19), Yona (17), Tamar (15)

The Chesir-Teran family.Credit: Micahel Liani

Residence: Kibbutz Hanaton

Gender: Daniel, Ian, Eli and Yona: Male; Tamar: Female

Sexual identity: Ian and Daniel are gay. Eli, their eldest son, is also gay. Eli: “I’ve always felt gay but only said it outright at the age of 14-15.”

Background: Daniel and Ian were born in the same Manhattan hospital. Daniel grew up in an Orthodox family and Ian is the son of secular parents who studied in an Orthodox yeshiva. Daniel: “We met in 1995 through my ex, who studied with Ian.”

Education: Daniel holds a Ph.D. in Community and Developmental Psychology. Ian, a lawyer, is certified as a Reform rabbi.

New family: Daniel and Ian, a married couple, adopted their three children. Eli was born in New York and adopted through an organization that helps birth parents locate and select adoptive parents. Yona and Tamar were adopted after the family moved to New Jersey, through a state-run program that offers families to foster and subsequently adopt children. Daniel: “We have been their first and only home from the moment they left hospital.” The family immigrated to Israel in 2010, when Eli was 8, Yona was 6 and Tamar was 4.

Occupation: Daniel works as an education director at Kibbutz Hanaton, “and also as a father.” Ian practices law through his U.S. license and also works as a rabbinical educator for T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.

When did you make the decision to become parents?

Daniel: “I always wanted it. When I came out of the closet at the age of 18-19, I thought it was impossible, but then I met parents from the LGBT community in New York and realized I don’t have to compromise.” Ian: “I was always open to it, but I became more committed to parenting after we met.”

Why did you choose adoption?

Daniel: “There was no possibility of either of us getting pregnant. We wanted to be parents. We were not particularly attached to our DNA, we knew there were children in the world who needed warm and loving homes, and we did not want to contribute to population growth and the surrogacy process seemed more complicated. Adoption seems the more ethical option.”

Why did you decide to adopt African American children?

Daniel: “It was a deliberate decision. We had many reasons, and some were very practical – there is a long waiting list for white babies up for adoption in the United States and on the other hand, there are many Black babies who need a home, but very few interested families, which was unbearable for us. After we immigrated to Israel, we experienced more racism about our children’s dark skin color than discrimination because of our sexual identity. Sometimes it was both of course. Israel is not a country that accepts the ‘other.’ Israeli society has a long way to go on the issue of diversity.” Eli: “We encounter a lot of racism. For example, we went to the doctor, and they shamelessly asked my dad if he was my boarding school instructor and if I was his apprentice.”

Did you have to come out of the closet to your friends and tell them about your family and what reactions did you get?

Eli: “I never tried to hide my family or who I am. But the reactions are often tactless and ignorant. Alongside that I also get a lot of support from home, from our environment and from my friends.”

What obstacles from the government did you encounter on your way to becoming parents?

Daniel: “Not many. From the moment the adoption was approved by a court in the U.S., which is a process that lasts about a year for each child, then both of us were registered on the birth certificate as parents. The law was already equal for gays. The moment we arrived in Israel, the Israeli Interior Ministry recognized the adoption. At the airport we already received ID cards that noted us as married to each other, and all the children were registered as ours. We actually have a clear advantage over new LGBT Israeli families. It’s possible that our children, who have all converted to Judaism, will experience challenges when they want to get married, but we hope that things will change by then.

When did you tell your children about your unique family structure?

Daniel: “From the moment they were born. Always. From before they remember.” Eli: “We’re a cool family. We’re special. We’re beautiful inside and out.”

The wedding: Daniel and Ian were married in 1997 in Connecticut. Daniel: “The marriage was only recognized in Connecticut, so same-sex marriage was legal in Israel before it was federally in the U.S. It was a miracle because it was clear to us that if we married in Israel in a civil ceremony, it wouldn’t be recognized by the Interior Ministry. Since then, the U.S. Supreme Court has approved same-sex marriage in all 50 states. So we are legally recognized in the United States and in Israel.”

Dreams: Daniel: “I wish that all our children will have a life full of joy and love, that they will know how to give love and receive love, that they will believe in their abilities to positively influence their society and environment.” Eli: “I wish that there will be a shift in how the LGBT community is treated and how the ‘other’ is treated in society.”

Favorite family pastime: Daniel: “We’re a bit boring. We like to watch movies together at home.”

Happiness Index (on a scale of 1 to 10): Daniel: “8 – we still have three teenagers.” Eli: “10 and even 100 – you caught me straight after finishing my matriculation exams.”

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