I became an aunt when I was just seven years old. I was the youngest in a family with three older brothers. The eldest married when I was five; two years later, I had a little nephew. His name was Bruce and I adored him. When Bruce was nine years old, he contacted rheumatic fever and was left with a badly damaged heart. The doctors said he would not live past his teens. I was heartbroken.
As the years went by, Bruce became more and more frail. The doctors now said the cold Canadian winters were too hard on him, so my sister-in-law moved to Florida where, for a while, Bruce flourished. He lived well past his teens, but in January 1961 he contracted pneumonia and his heart gave out.
Fifty-eight years later, I received a large brown envelope. Inside was another smaller envelope addressed to me, and postmarked Marietta, Ga. This is what I read:
I recently took a genealogical DNA test and learned that I am descended from your parents, Israel Olanow and Berta Moldaver. The match I have is of a close cousin through the Olanow family.
I was born April 18,1960 in West Palm Beach, Fla., and adopted shortly after my birth. I am searching for my biological father to learn my heritage, and especially my medical family history. I do not believe my father knew of me or that I was placed for adoption.
Of the four children of Israel and Berta, I have been able to rule out three – you, Max and David, meaning Samuel was my grandfather. I hope you have information on my birth father and are open to contact with me. I don’t wish to upset anyone’s life; my purpose in searching for my birth father is to learn my medical history and perhaps see photos or maybe meet biological relatives, as I have not met anyone who looks like me.
I am now married with two daughters… Please reach out to me if you might be willing to assist in my search.
Jane Ballard Ben-Hashal.
I immediately telephoned my son, Robert, and read the letter to him. “Don’t answer her,” he replied. “It’s a scam. It happens all the time.”
But something about her story brought back memories of Bruce. He had been engaged to a girl in Toronto before moving to Florida. Her parents had convinced her to break up with him because he was so sick. I decided to reply.
What followed were dozens of emails back and forth. With time, I was firmly convinced that Jane Ballard Ben-Hashal was the daughter of my ill-fated nephew. This is her story:
Her adoptive parents could not have children but they longed for a family, so they adopted two boys and Jane. When Jane was three years old, her mother told her that she was adopted. From then on, Jane walked the streets of Palm Beach looking into peoples’ eyes and wondering whether they might be her mother or father.
She was brought up as a Roman Catholic and went regularly to church with her parents. She did not question this, she simply adhered to her parents’ beliefs. When she was 19, Jane went off to college where she found that she was always attracted to Jewish boys. She didn’t know why. After college, she met Guri Ben-Hashal, a Jewish-Israeli. They fell in love.
Jane still had no idea who she really was. When Ben-Hashal asked to marry her, she accepted. But first she wanted to convert to Judaism – if they had children, she felt both parents should be of the same religion. They were married in a civil service in the United States and then went to Israel for a religious ceremony. (Her mother did not attend the wedding because Jane was marrying a Jew and had converted.) They have two daughters – one lives in Israel now and the other works for a Jewish agency in Atlanta.
A few years ago, Jane decided to try to learn about her heritage. She felt certain she would discover that she is Native American, but to her amazement the DNA tests told her she was 50 per cent Jewish. She was matched with a grandson of my brother Max, and so now she had the name “Olanow” to go by. When she searched the Internet for that name, she found numerous references for Charles Warren Olanow, a famous neurologist and Max’s son. One online entry – Max’s obituary – mentioned that he leaves behind his beloved sister, Evelyn Wolfe. So now Jane knew my name. And when she searched me on the web, she discovered my book. Jane contacted my publisher and voila!
On May 3, Jane flew from Atlanta, Ga., to Toronto to meet her relatives. I am the only one of my immediate family who is still alive, but my children and grandchildren greeted her with much love and admiration for her courage in making this long journey of awareness. She is now one of our family – welcome, Jane, we love you.