In early September 2017, I rode my bike four short blocks to the Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach. I’d lived near the intersection of 17th Street and Washington Avenue for three years — next to a synagogue — and drove past the haunting memorial and sculpture most days on my way to and from work.
I eyed the outstretched hand rising from the ground, the centerpiece of the sculpture. From a distance, the arm looked to be covered in woven, sculpted vines. I was wrong. After a closer look months later, I instead saw a thousand or more smaller hands clinging to the larger one. The tension in each hand — tendons strained, veins bulging from bony fingers — spoke to the implied horrors. Of unconscionable evil, and the life and death fight of Jews to escape the Holocaust.
I arrived at the memorial with burdens that night; rudderless, adrift on waves to nowhere. Months prior, I learned that I am Jewish via an Ancestry DNA test. I stood at the memorial — sought it out, in fact — at a frustrating stalemate as I sought an explanation for it.
In the absence of one, I’d perhaps ridden to the Holocaust memorial looking for a place. Somewhere to be, to bring along an identity that had undoubtedly become mine, yet felt like someone else’s.
In the presence of structures built to remind Jews and Gentiles of this human abomination, I felt an odd comfort. Maybe it was the quiet of solitude. Or just as simply, maybe it was the first place in weeks where my mind could quiet and just be, albeit in a subdued state of horror because of what the place represented.
For a night, time slowed. I allowed myself to be equal parts untethered and anchored; disjointed from who I ‘was,’ and conscious of who I in fact always was.
A week later, I gained a degree of clarity in learning how I became Jewish — I was donor conceived, according to my parents, and my presumed donor was —is — an Ashkenazi Jew. And ever since, the identity of that donor has been the loose thread in my story, albeit one that I knew I could weave back together in time.
Two weeks ago, I stepped boldly (and blindly) forward in my attempt to tie off that thread once and for all.
Five weeks before that, I received an email from a writer at The New York Times inquiring about this very blog, and my quest to name my donor. Or more specifically, the (alleged) fertility doctor. Our conversation set off a chain of events that have me on the cusp of confirming his identity. (Side note, a call from The New York Times felt so expected that instead of responding, I Googled her to confirm she wasn’t a fraud and/or a Nigerian prince attempting to scam me through a PayPal scheme. Imagine my surprise when I learned she was, in fact, legit.)
In short, here are the important details:
- I was introduced to a woman named Eve Wiley, who has gained a degree of underground celebrity for being A) a donor child of her fertility doctor, and B) a leader in the passage of fertility fraud legislation at the state level throughout the U.S.
- She turned me in the direction of a team of ‘search angels,’ who are essentially expert DNA family tree genealogists who help people like me piece together the missing pieces of their heritage.
- This group, called DNAngels, immediately responded to my inquiry for help on Monday, April 19. They accessed my Ancestry account that night, asked questions about what I thought I knew, and were in fact able to confirm a fifth generation DNA connection to my alleged donor by the following morning.
- With a history of Jewish intermarrying, and four missing generations (many likely due to the Holocaust), it became clear to them that I’d need a close relative of my donor to take a DNA test if I were to learn more.
In the spirit of honesty, I can admit that nerve would’ve otherwise stopped my here. But in that same message, these Angels had tracked down a name and current phone number for one of the fertility doctor’s known children.
If I had been serious about uncovering the donor’s identity, I was now face-to-face with an opportunity to test just how serious I was.
I took thoughts of the phone number to bed that night, hopefully naive that rest might prove a useful tool to clear my mind and reveal the depth of its intentions.
At 11:45am the next morning, I dialed the number.
I fully expected to hear a voice message. Instead, on the third ring, a woman answered. Whatever message I had prepared — and thankfully, the DNAngels had guided me a bit — was going to be delivered live, for better or worse.
I introduced myself, and in my quasi-prepared message, I shared the reason for my call. I was honest, though not to the extent that I showed all my cards. I explained I was donor conceived and seeking the identity of my donor (true), and that my search angels believed we might be at least first cousins (not untrue, but…).
My request to her was this — that she’d take an Ancestry.com DNA test, if she were comfortable, to help me confirm the identity of my donor. She said she didn’t have any objections, even after I encouraged her to take a day or so to think about it if she needed to (she said she would).
We hung up no more than 10 minutes later.
What I hadn’t accounted for at any point in the past four years is that I might have a phone call like this, and that the person on the other side of the line would be so warm, kind and earnest.
If I am right, thought, I have now unwittingly allowed myself to blow up the life of a complete stranger in the process. And that feeling didn’t sit well with me, at all.
Less than two hours later, I got a text message from her.
I may have replied with what appeared to be a sense of cool. But she had found this blog, the same one you’re reading. And her first instinct wasn’t to call me crazy, but instead to suggest the opposite.
We agreed to FaceTime each other at 5:30pm that night.