Schechter parents adopt Ethiopian brothers after two-year struggle

Yabi Silvers popped up from a classroom desk at Solomon Schechter Day School upon hearing a familiar voice calling his name.

“Mommy?” said the 11-year old, walking and putting his arms around her, grinning.

His mother, Katy Silvers, and Yabi soon found his younger brother, Biruk, in another classroom.

It’s the last day of instruction at the Jewish school in Northbrook before Passover and spring break. The exuberant singing was loud in class, spilling out into the hallways.

Eight months ago Yabi and Biruk arrived in Chicago as the adopted children of Katy and her husband, Josh, ending a two-year process.

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The boys are Ethiopian and after years of living homeless in the capitol city of Addis Ababa, an orphanage took them in.

Their father became ill and lost his job, Katy explained, then their mother disappeared.

“Even though living on the streets, they still got to school somehow. Villagers brought them to the orphanage,” she said.

Yabi spoke English, but Biruk, 8, knew none when they arrived at O’Hare International Airport July 16 with Josh to meet their new family.

Katy met the boys in June in Ethiopia.

The Silvers live in Highland Park and have four biological children — between 8 and 18 — who met with a therapist before the boys moved in.

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The Silvers eventually found help from Holt International Adoption Agency in Oregon and Lutheran Social Services in Illinois.

The agencies represented the Silvers to the Ethiopian government and the orphanage.

Because international adoption is often pushed by a large demand for children, unethical practices can be common, Katy said.

“Many infertile couples want to adopt children. Because of that need and language barriers, corners get cut and avenues taken not in the most ethical way. Child trafficking is a problem,” she said, adding she and Josh were determined to carry out their adoption correctly and legally.

Former U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Deerfield, helped the Silvers in the international adoption, as did the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia, Katy said.

She also noted while her boys will be raised Jewish, she wants them to maintain their Ethiopian heritage and culture.

In fact, everyday an Ethiopian woman visits the Silvers’ home to cook Ethiopian food and teach them their country’s culture, as well as instruct the Silvers family in her native language.

“My new boys have converted, and I felt Solomon Schechter could show them why I love being Jewish. I love the community and what we are,” Katy said. “We’re proud to be Jewish, and the boys will get a wonderful education here.”

Katy’s friend Maryl Dayan was with the Silvers when Yabi and Biruk flew into O’Hare Airport.

“It was beautiful when the boys arrived. We’ve been with Katy during the two-year adoption process, and now she had these two little boys,” Dayan said.

From eating ice cream to seeing grocery stores filled with food, to flying on a plane and sleeping in a bed or riding a bike, “everything is so new to my boys,” Katy said. “Even touching and human interactions are new to them.”

For the first time, Biruk will formally celebrate his birthday April 27.

“I’m happy to have a mom and dad and have good brothers and sisters,” he said.

“I like it here because it’s much better than Ethiopia. People are really nice here,” Yabi added.

Asked why she wanted an international adoption, Katy cited three main reasons.

“What if something happened to my children? I would want someone to step up to raise them. Also, every child deserves a home,” she said. “And I was raised in Rogers Park in Chicago to believe you only receive if you give.”

Her 18-year-old daughter, Carly, said her siblings understood that adopting the brothers was something her parents wanted for a long time.

“But it also was nerve-wracking because there’s not a lot of diversity in our community, so you never knew what people may think,” said Carly, a student at Chicagoland Jewish High School in Deerfield.

“But my close friends love them. They come over to see them,” she said. “What I’ve learned is that if these two boys can overcome what they did, we can as well.”


Copyright © 2015, Chicago Tribune

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