The new Israeli family: Once upon a time in four same-sex households

Advocates say gay rights have come a long way, but what is absent is recognition – in the fullest sense – of unions, families and parental rights

The new Israeli family (photo credit: RINAT GILBOA)
The new Israeli family
(photo credit: RINAT GILBOA)
Little Irad is curled up quietly on his father Eran’s lap, watching the story of his birth unfold onscreen. His other father, Roy, sits a few feet away, his T-shirt covered in smudges of red sauce, remnants of Irad’s lunchtime adventures.
“He has seen this many times, and he will see it with us many, many more times,” Eran says as the clip starts playing.
It was one year and two months ago that Irad, an energetic boy with a full head of curly brown hair, was birthed by a surrogate mother in a small Minnesota town. Eran and Roy Mor-Cicurel – respectively a 39-year-old journalist and a 42-year-old engineer – had begun the process of trying to start a pregnancy five years before. After thousands of shekels spent, three unsuccessful attempts at pregnancy with a potential surrogate mother in India, and one lost pregnancy with the American surrogate mother who eventually carried the little boy, Irad now snuggles contentedly in his father’s lap.
The Mor-Cicurels are one of 18,000 same-sex households in the country today, according to numbers released by New Family, a family rights advocacy organization in Israel. While Roy says he “would not define life in Israel as a gay man as complicated or difficult,” and while his husband describes being gay in Israel for the most part as a “non-issue,” they do believe there are things that need fighting for.
“We are lucky for what we have, but we are very determined to work for what is absent,” Eran explains as they watch their son, who is now playing with toy trucks on the floor.
What is absent, the two say, is recognition in the fullest sense – of their union, of their family, of their rights as parents. The men, who have been together for 16 years, were legally married in Canada in 2005, having already held a wedding ceremony for family and friends in Israel.
“After we returned to Israel, we registered with the Interior Ministry, and we are listed as married in the population registry, but that still isn’t considered formal recognition by the state,” Roy says.
“I think before we had a child, it wasn’t as much a matter of rights as it was of it being more difficult to deal with certain bodies,” he adds.
He gives the example of an insurance agency that required them to send in their marriage certificate before it would allow both of them to make decisions regarding a policy on their co-owned vehicle.
“Okay, it’s not the end of the world, but for a straight couple, this would not happen,” he says.
The Mor-Cicurels are the couple who originally wrote to the Tax Authority and requested tax credits equal to those of a heterosexual couple.
“In the past few months, we really got an education when we raised the point of the tax credits,” Eran says, adding with a chuckle, “We are patient zero.”
Yesh Atid MK Adi Kol got behind them, and in late December 2013, a directive was issued (though the issue is still in the legislative process) that same-sex couples must receive the same tax credits that heterosexual couples do. However, the directive’s implementation did not include bestowing recognition of couples as same-sex, due to opposition from factions within the government such as Bayit Yehudi.
Says Roy, “When a party like Bayit Yehudi refuses to have the words ‘a couple of the same sex’ appear in a book of law, then they are essentially saying that our partnership may exist, but it is less good than theirs.”
GUY AND Udi Ledergor, who have been together seven years, also went the Canadian wedding route in 2009.
“I proposed in Paris,” Udi, 39, recounts. “It was snowing and zero degrees outside... and in this beautiful café on Rue de Rivoli, over our hot cocoa and Mont Blanc desserts, I finally proposed – ring and all – and fortunately Guy said yes, or we wouldn’t be here today,” he laughs.
Their daughter, Tom, born of a donor egg and carried by a surrogate mother in California, plays happily between her fathers. She is a little over a year old and vocalizes her opinion on the things going on around her in a very clear way. Udi, a hi-tech marketer, explains, “She mumbles with passion, we figure it out.”
He smiles as Tom proceeds to eat his watch.
Like the Mor-Cicurels, Udi and Guy – a 32-year-old doctor who is currently doing his residency in internal medicine – returned from their Canadian wedding and registered as a couple at the Interior Ministry, then held a celebration for their loved ones at a reception hall. Israel only allows surrogacy for heterosexual couples (although Health Minister Yael German has proposed a bill, now it its preliminary stages, that would enable same-sex couples to go through the process in Israel), so they were forced to go abroad to fulfill their dream of becoming parents.
As with many other families who go the surrogate route outside the country, they had their daughter converted to Judaism shortly after her birth in the US and before they brought her home, in a ceremony by a rabbinical court that included a female rabbi.
“We asked them to help us convert Tom after she was born, because we knew that it would make it much easier for us to register her as our daughter in Israel,” Udi says.
Any child born to a non-Jewish surrogate mother must go through conversion to be considered Jewish.
Yet even then, there is the issue of the type of ceremony performed (Orthodox, Reform, etc.). And though the Interior Ministry accepts most legitimate conversions for purposes of identification as a Jew, there is still the question of whether the rabbinate will accept the conversion.
“It was wonderful to see a different side of Judaism that we don’t often meet, especially here in Israel where the Orthodox basically have a monopoly over religious services,” Udi explains. “It’s one very narrow and conservative side of Judaism, which prevents us from getting married and having children and doing things as we would like to here in Israel.”
Other obstacles the couple faced were genetic testing to prove that one of the men was Tom’s biological father.
Tom was conceived with artificial insemination, d r a w i n g on sperm donations from both men. The couple did not want to know who the biological father was because, as Udi explains, they are both her father.
Yet a stumbling block remained in parental recognition, and Udi and Guy were told they had to adopt Tom formally for the state to recognize both men as her parents.
“We refuse to go through this process,” Udi says, adding that they have requested that a Parental Order be issued. “We filed a claim against the State of Israel, demanding that we both be recognized as Tom’s parents without needing to adopt her, which I find ridiculous and [which] has nothing to do with our family.”
There is already a precedent that may help their case: A High Court of Justice ruling in late January recognized the partner of the biological father of a child born through surrogacy as the child’s other parent.
The fact that a social worker must evaluate their home and declare it suitable for their daughter, Udi continues, is “blatant discrimination against couples who go through surrogacy abroad. This is a child which we had, and which one of us is already recognized as the biological father of.”
Still, he explains, he does not call it homophobia, because heterosexual couples who do surrogacy abroad go through the same procedure.
“Couples who go through surrogacy in Israel have a much, much simpler process. The only reason we did this abroad is because Israeli law discriminates against us by not allowing us to go through surrogacy in Israel,” he says. “Then they add insult to injury by not only making us use up our entire life savings, take out a second mortgage, and be away from the pregnancy, but even when we get back, they make it as expensive and bureaucratic as they can.”
DANA ZIV Dror, 34, and Einat Dror, 30, say they felt the twinges of something – which they later realized was love – almost from the very beginning.
“We started talking on Messenger,” remembers Einat.
She had actually been chatting with a friend who happened to be a coworker’s of Dana’s and who eventually left the conversation, leaving Dana and Einat to continue.
“I was in a relationship at the time, and Dana had just gotten out of a relationship.”
“And I just wanted to be alone,” interjects Dana, a producer and marketer of events in the LGBT community.
“And she just wanted to be alone,” Einat repeats, laughing. “And I was in a relationship and didn’t think about an alternative.”
“And I said, ‘Oh my God, this isn’t happening to me,’” Dana laughs.
That was in 2008. Today, the two are raising their six-month-old son, Ilay, in the cozy apartment they share in central Tel Aviv.
On this cold January evening, a cat lies across the sofa, plopped in front of Einat, who, having returned from a long day at her hi-tech marketing job, has got her stockinged feet up in front of her while Dana sits beside her on the couch’s end.
Ilay is in bed and is clearly visible on the baby cam, at which both women glance now and then.
“We are totally [soul mates], you know, every one of us has their soul mate, their best friend, but we are the parts of a puzzle that connected,” Einat says.
The two married while on vacation in New York, after the passage of the Marriage Equality Act by that state’s legislature. Then they returned to Israel and began the process of trying to get pregnant, with a homosexual friend as the father and Dana as the birth mother.
With Ilay already a half-year old, the women both readily admit that their family construction is not traditional, or even something that will be easy to explain to a child. They have a family psychologist who is helping them through the process, and say they find themselves thinking about what the future will bring – especially since Dana, as Ilay’s biological mother, and his biological father are the only ones the state will recognize as his parents.
“We have a legal document we drew up with a lawyer,” Einat explains, “but it is not recognized by the state.”
Says Dana, “It is between us; it is for our security [with one another], but in terms of the state, there is no recognition [of Einat as Ilay’s other mother].
That is exactly what we want to fight for, because from our point of view, there needs to be legal recognition [of the other mother].”
This lack of recognition was something they took into account before the pregnancy, Dana adds, “but we want the state to recognize her, so that she will have rights and so that she will have obligations.”
From their point of view, Dana says, they are both equally Ilay’s mothers.
“When they ask us who the biological mother is, we do not say. Our fight is that they [should] recognize the non-biological mother as a mother in every way.”
THERE IS a lot to consider when selecting a sperm donor, as Adi Kaizerman, 35, and Yael Peled, 28, can attest. The two women share an apartment with their big white dog in a quiet neighborhood in north Tel Aviv. Together for nearly four years, the couple married this past autumn in front of friends and loved ones in a ceremony on Kaizerman’s family’s moshav. The wedding ceremony, Peled explains, was “sort of our small fight to make things normal for those around us.”
Now, the two newlyweds say, they are moving on to the next step – children – and they are thinking about the best way to do this. After going through genetic testing, the couple is in the process of ordering sperm from an online website.
“It’s the most commercial thing you have ever seen, and if it sounds very planned out, it’s because it is,” says Peled, a master’s student in criminology, shaking her head.
“We don’t want our child to go around the world thinking that every man may be his father,” she explains.
“So you can pay more money to get a donor who agrees that your child have access to their file at the age of 18.”
And if one wants to have additional children in the future and ensure that they are biological siblings, one must order additional sperm, to make sure it doesn’t run out.
As with the other couples, Kaizerman and Peled are looking at the possibility of getting married somewhere outside Israel, in order to be recognized as married on their identity cards.
“We will get married there and come to the Interior Ministry with our marriage certificate and say, ‘Here, list us as married,’” Kaizerman says. “And so that she will be the mother of my children or I will be the mother of hers, we will have to go through that horrifying process of adoption, where they come to your house and check your standard of living to see if you are deserving of adopting each other’s children, and in the end they will be the children of both of us.”
But as matter-of-factly as she says this, a hint of disillusionment is evident in the conversation. Kaizerman notes that recently, when she was starting a new job with a wine distributor, she had to fill out a tax form listing herself as single.
“This is something that is not correct,” she says adamantly. “I am married and I had a wedding and I wear a ring, and I am obligated to my partner in every way, but when I fill out a tax form, I need to write ‘single,’ because if I write married, it confuses the system, because on my identity card, I am listed as single.”
These issues and their effects on the two women’s lives are very much on their minds, Peled explains, because “we are in the process of trying to have children, so it is hard to say that we do not think about the future.”
STORIES LIKE these are common, says Gil Kol, spokesperson for the Israel National LGBT Task Force. Even with the Yesh Atid party’s submission of the civil union bill, which would apply to any persons wanting to marry outside a religious framework; German’s in-development surrogacy bill, which would enable same-sex couples as well as heterosexual to go through surrogacy in Israel, as well as establish regulation of the process both inside and outside the country; and the initial successful directive for the Tax Credits changes, among others – Kol says there is still a fight ahead to ensure equality.
Asked to comment on the matter, coalition member Bayit Yehudi – which holds veto power in matters of religion and state and which is considered a possible roadblock to passage of legislation on issues affecting the LGBT community – provided the following statement: “The party respects every person in their own right and does not get involved in the citizens’ personal issues. We support granting benefits that will equalize the rights of LGBT citizens. However, we oppose attempts to change the status quo [via] LGBT citizens.”
The bottom line, Kol says, is simple: “Those in the LGBT community are like any other citizens – they have the same obligations, and they need to have the same rights: to be recognized by law.
We’re not talking about religious rights, we’re talking about civil rights.”