Jack Decker and Joyce Kotler, both 17, were high school sweethearts and planned to get married after finishing high school in 1965. But when Joyce got pregnant during her senior year, her parents, prominent members of the Chicago community — her father, Louis, was a doctor and her mother, Nathaly, was the president of her Hadassah chapter — were determined to hide her pregnancy and sent Joyce to Phoenix to have the baby and put her up for adoption. Eight months after the baby was born, the couple got married.
“For years, my wife, Joyce, and I were heartbroken, wondering how our daughter was doing and if she was happy,” Jack Decker, who still lives in Chicago, recently wrote in a letter to Jewish News. “However, we were determined not to interfere in her life and decided when she turned 18, we would try to make contact with her.”
“Unfortunately, that was not G-d’s plan,” Decker wrote. “Back in 1973, one day before her 25th birthday, Joyce died from leukemia. She never lived long enough to find her daughter.”
If their daughter had attempted to search for her birth parents, she would have had a difficult time, Decker told Jewish News, because by the time she was old enough to do so, her birth mother had already died and his phone number was unlisted because he was a police officer.
Earlier this month, Decker contacted Janette Silverman, the youth and education director at Beth El Congregation, who teaches genealogy classes, and she referred him to Hillary Kaminsky, a confidential adoption intermediary in Phoenix who took on his case.
“I promised [Joyce] before she died that I would find [our daughter],” said Decker, who turns 66 next week and has a serious heart condition.
“My daughter is now 49 years old and I must let her know that we loved her and wanted to keep her, but we were only teenagers and the decision to put her up for adoption was not ours, it was forced upon us,” Decker said. The baby was born at Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix and was born sometime between December 1964 and February 1965. Everyone involved in the adoption was Jewish, including the attorney Syd Wolfe, who is now deceased, Decker said, and he and his wife were told that their daughter went to a Jewish adoptive couple.
“Over the years, my daughter had friends, classmates, neighbors and relatives. There are people there who knew her and probably still do, but unless they know that there is a father looking for her, they cannot help,” he said. “The more people that know this situation, the greater the chance we will connect while I still have time.”
Kaminsky has submitted the necessary paperwork to start the case and once she receives the adoption record, which she estimates will take a week or two, she can begin the search.
When children are put up for adoption, they often wonder why their parents gave them up, Decker said. “I want her to know that it wasn’t our choice. I want her to know that she was loved.”