Building Families

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In November, after watching a television movie about a woman returning to her heritage after being adopted at birth, Mara Addison of Scottsdale was determined to find her birth mother.

She went on-line to see if she had received any response to her previous postings on adoption web sites. There were none.

A year earlier, in Santa Fe, N.M., another woman, Donna Benjamin, had posted information on a web site started by an adoptee of the Louise Wise Services agency in New York - the adoption agency where she had been adopted as a baby. She checked the site regularly at first, and then forgot about it after not receiving any response.

As Addison scrolled through listings of other adoptees on this same web site a year later, she read Benjamin's posting, which included information similar to hers.

Addison and Benjamin e-mailed each other back and
forth, comparing notes.

"Between the information we shared in e-mails, it sounded like we were a match," says Benjamin. "Plus, it felt like I was talking to myself - it was very unusual."

The women each called the adoption agency, which confirmed they were sisters.

"You wake up, you have your cup of coffee, you get on the internet and find you have a sister you never knew existed," Benjamin says.

Addison flew to Santa Fe to meet her sister that week.

"Donna's skin, her body type, her mannerisms, her expressions are so similar to mine that it's eerie, " Addison, 44 says. "It's surreal."

Soon after, Benjamin, 42, spent Hanukkah and New Year's with her newfound sister, brother-in-law, niece, and nephews. Rabbi Maynard Bell at Temple Solel in Paradise Valley gave the sisters a special blessing during a Shabbat service.

The sisters discovered they were raised 20 - 30 minutes apart from each other in Queens, N.Y., and believe they both attended the same Elton John concert at Central Park in the early 70's.

Addison moved to Arizona from New Jersey in 1991; Benjamin moved to New Mexico in 1994.

"There are a lot of similarities," Benjamin says. "We were together for a week - there were times we spoke at the same time, said the same thing. Looking at her is like looking in the mirror."

It was the first time either of them had ever met a blood relative.

"I feel no resentment about being adopted; I had a good life," Addison says. "But I always had this burning question: Are there other people on this planet that look like me?"

She says it's not so much that she wanted to find her birth mother, but that she wanted to meet someone that looked like her - "to feel that connection," she explains.

Benjamin says she also feels no resentment; her search always had been to discover her ancestry and genealogy, rather than to find her birth mother.

In January, Addison hired Kin Solving Investigations in North Carolina to find her birth mother.

Less than 48 hours later, she heard back - her birth mother died in 1995, and she and Benjamin have another sister and brother, both of whom were raised with their birth mother in New Jersey. Addison had moved to New Jersey when she was 15 and unknowingly lived two towns from her birth family until she moved to Arizona in 1991.

Addison and Benjamin are flying in New Jersey later this month to meet with their brother, Ken Kollinsworth, and sister, Sharon Robertson. All four siblings have different fathers, and the two in New Jersey "did not have an easy childhood," Addison says.

Learning more about her birth mother, Addison says, led her and Benjamin to "call our adoptive family and tell them how much we love them and to thank them for the wonderful lives they gave us."

Their birth mother had also been born to Jewish parents and adopted by Jewish parents. Before seeing a picture of her birth mother, Addison "thought it was going to be a big emotional event because you wait for it all your life, but it wasn't...It was closure for me."

During the years Addison and Benjamin were adopted, the Louise Wise Services agency dealt with only Jewish children and parents; therefore, the sisters were both raised by Jewish parents.

Before 2000, adoption agencies in New York were prohibited from confirming or denying sibling relationships, Addison says. But the state law changed that year, which allowed Addison and Benjamin to confirm their relationship.

Because she feels that "when you're given gifts in life, you've got to give back," Addison has founded The Sibling Connection, to inform adoptees and the public of the laws concerning sibling identification.

Credits: Leisah Namm

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