Making Babies: Ep. 16
Hosted by Carrie Keller-Lynn and Aliza Landes
How come Israel honors gay marriage but impedes gay couples from building families? Why can a single woman employ a gestational surrogate in Israel, but not a single man? And what are the real consequences of going abroad for surrogacy?
Carrie and Aliza speak with father, journalist, and media company owner Grig Davidovitz, who together with his husband made three babies ..... with a little help from a foreign surrogate.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:00:06]
Hi, I’m Carrie.
Aliza Landes [00:00:07]
And I’m Aliza, and you’re listening to Us Among The Israelis.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:00:11]
We are two friends who moved here over a decade ago. And this would be like, what, our 12th Pride parade, Aliza?
Aliza Landes [00:00:18]
Yeah, I believe something like that. I mean, I haven’t hit every single one, but I’ve been to more pride parades over the past decade-plus that I have not been to the pride parade. You know what I mean?
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:00:30]
Fair enough. And so Tel Aviv’s pride parade is going to be June 25th. It’s like the biggest party in the region. I’m already trying to get into the cool side parties. I’m not getting invited to them because I’m not cool enough. Jerusalem also has a pride parade. It is less fun. It’s more significant that this deeply religious city has a pride parade that runneth through it. But basically, Pride Month is a really, really big deal in Israel.
Aliza Landes [00:00:58]
It’s a big cultural statement about how welcoming culturally Israel is of the gay community, especially in, you know, major metropolitan areas, especially the secular capital of Israel, Tel Aviv. Right. But that doesn’t really touch on the way that the state, from an institutional perspective, interacts with the gay community in Israel.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:01:20]
Yeah, because while Israel is super progressive in certain pockets, like the secular community of Tel Aviv, it is still very conservative in others, especially how Knesset-level politics work. And so it’s interesting because on one hand, I think you rightfully could say that Israel is very progressive. And one sign of that is that, look, Israel has gay marriage and has had it since 2006, making it the first and.
Aliza Landes [00:01:45]
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:01:46]
Country region in this region to have recognition of gay marriage. But the reason why we have recognition of gay marriage itself is kind of a window into
Aliza Landes [00:01:55]
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:01:56]
Into that paradox. Exactly.
Aliza Landes [00:01:58]
And it’s similar to marriage for intermarried couples
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:02:03]
Intermarried religiously, right?
Aliza Landes [00:02:05]
But like gay couples are sort of, fall into the same category. And it’s not that you can get married in Israel as a gay couple. You have to go abroad. And if you go abroad and get married in any country that does recognize gay marriage, you can then come back to Israel and you’ll be registered and recognized in the same exact way that a couple who wanted to get married outside of the religious establishment.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:02:31]
Which is frankly what you did.
Aliza Landes [00:02:32]
Yeah, it is exactly what I did. And, P.S. I’m illegally still not registered as a married couple because we had our certificate and we need to get it sealed before the state of Israel will recognize it. And because of Corona, blah, blah, blah, it still hasn’t happened, which actually complicates every interaction that I have with the state.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:02:53]
Right. So like you just brought up two great things. One, the second one you brought up, number two is like there’s all this frustrating bureaucratic stuff that happens regardless of your sexual orientation or status with the state of Israel that gay couples also have to deal with. But the first point you brought up is this point that, you know, we have gay marriage in Israel, but it’s more of a consequence of the religious/secular divide in politics than it is between progressive values and conservative values. Right. We have gay marriage because the religious establishments in Israel are the only establishments that can control marriage and family events. And because they needed a secular alternative and the Supreme Court basically decided, OK, we have to apply the idea that marriage recognized abroad is performed equally within Israel and that’s how we backdoor it into gay marriage. But this whole divide, and this whole reach of religious conservatism into politics also interacts with a really big life event, which is having children. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today, is how gay couples, specifically male gay couples, because men can’t birth their own children, how men have their own biological children while being gay in Israel.
Aliza Landes [00:04:01]
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:04:02]
Aliza Landes [00:04:04]
Yeah, which is a thorny topic for absolutely every country in the world, I think. But especially in Israel when it comes to gay couples, the way that it interacts with the precedents established by the state and the court system, as well as what is socially acceptable, it all gets into a little bit of a jumble. So in order to help us understand it a little bit better, we invited Grig Davidowitz, who is the CEO of RGB Media and was a senior reporter at Haaretz for, I believe over nine years, who is articulate and lovely and the father of not one, not two, but three children born through surrogacy, which is a serious accomplishment. Without any further ado, Grig. Hi, Grig. Hi, Grig.
Grig Davidovitz [00:04:54]
Aliza Landes [00:04:55]
It’s so nice to have you on this show. Thank you for joining.
Grig Davidovitz [00:04:59]
Thank you very much.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:05:00]
So, Grig, can you just kind of give us a better sense of who you are and your family?
Grig Davidovitz [00:05:06]
I’m the proud father of three children, two twins who are almost six years old.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:05:13]
Aliza Landes [00:05:13]
That’s a lot! That’s more than halfway to ten, just saying. That’s how I used to count as a child.
Grig Davidovitz [00:05:19]
And what they say it’s true, it’s passing very, very fast. And a baby girl that is a year and five months old.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:05:26]
So three children.
Grig Davidovitz [00:05:27]
Yes. And me and my partner, we create the children in surrogacy. So that’s why I’m for this specific podcast.
Aliza Landes [00:05:34]
No, but you and your partner are both very exceptional and accomplished professionals. You have great careers. And on top of it, you’re proud parents have not one, not two, but three kids.
Grig Davidovitz [00:05:47]
Yes. So I have my own company called RGB Media. We do strategy for media houses and then implement a strategy online. And my partner is a senior manager at Similar Web.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:05:58]
Which is going public this year.
Grig Davidovitz [00:06:00]
Which went public, actually, went public three weeks or four weeks ago.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:06:06]
Which went public this year! oh, sorry. Well, I think we’re going to get into the cost of surrogacy, so hopefully that helps cover it on the back end. So, Grig, you know, you and your partner, you live in Tel Aviv. You have three children. In 60 seconds or fewer, what is your opinion of Israel’s approach to the gay community?
Grig Davidovitz [00:06:23]
Well, I would say Israel is in many things is diverse, so there are some things that are very progressive and they work very good for gay people like us, and there are a lot of things that they don’t. So I think this comes also from the legal background, because what happens is that usually the parliament is very conservative in terms of human rights, but the Supreme Court through the years was very progressive. So there are a lot of verdicts that give quite a lot of rights, even for parents. But on parallel, there are a lot of things missing. If I start with one of the things that is missing and I think it’s maybe one of the most crucial ones, is the fact that gay couples cannot do surrogacy in Israel.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:07:03]
Could we actually step that back?
Grig Davidovitz [00:07:04]
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:07:05]
Are you and your partner married?
Grig Davidovitz [00:07:07]
No, actually, we never married. We are together for 21 years. Yes. So like a very, very long time. But we never married.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:07:19]
Grig, how old are you? You don’t look like you could be with someone for 21 years at this point.
Grig Davidovitz [00:07:22]
I was 46 a week and a half ago.
Aliza Landes [00:07:26]
Oh, my God. Mazal Tov.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:07:29]
Mazal Tov. You were endlessly preserved.
Grig Davidovitz [00:07:31]
Aliza Landes [00:07:32]
So, Grig, you guys decided not to get married. What is your status as a couple and as parents in Israel?
Grig Davidovitz [00:07:40]
So what happens is that actually there’s kind of a balance because what happens is that all marriages in Israel are religious marriages. That doesn’t only create a problem for gay people, that creates a problem for many people. For instance, people who have different religions cannot marry in Israel because none of the religious institutions will marry them. And this became a problem, obviously, through history. We had the huge immigration from Russia, for instance. There are quite a lot of people that are not Jews from the Orthodox perspective. So they want to marry a Jew. They can’t marry in Israel, for instance. So the Supreme Court created a solution. And that goes back to what I was saying before about this tension that exists between the laws and the Supreme Court. So as the laws were not allowing people to marry, there was a very important verdict of the Supreme Court that basically said that the state has to recognize any official document that comes from abroad in terms of marriage.
Aliza Landes [00:08:35]
So you mean like the legislation that’s coming out of the Knesset is the problem? And then you have the legal precedent being set by the Supreme Court?
Grig Davidovitz [00:08:45]
Yeah, that happens a lot throughout the history of Israel. So this is an example. So one solution for that was that the Supreme Court said that if someone comes with a certificate from abroad stating that they are married, the state has to list them as married. So then it’s quite common actually in Israel for people who do not want to have a religious marriage. They go to Cyprus, which is very close to Israel or to other countries. But Cyprus is the most convenient location because it’s so close and they come back with a certificate saying that they are married and they are recognized by the state as being married. So that’s one solution that is open and it’s also open for gay people.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:09:23]
So it’s interesting, you know, abroad, Americans like to say Israel is so progressive because it allowed gay marriage earlier than most other countries. But basically what you’re saying is that because Israel only has religious marriage, it had this loophole created, this separate system for civil marriage. And they the Supreme Court basically said, yes, that has to apply to same-sex couples as well, rather than being a specific outlet.
Grig Davidovitz [00:09:46]
Exactly. That even in a civil marriage, is that the fact that you’re coming with someone with a document from a different country that says that you are married and then you can go to the Ministry of Interior and just list yourself as married and the state has to recognize that. So that’s one solution.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:10:01]
So, Grig, if we’re basically doing some sort of scorecard between the experience of being a heterosexual couple and building a family in Israel and the experience of being a homosexual couple and building a family in Israel, you’re saying this is like half a point, right? Like if you were a heterosexual couple who wanted to get married religiously and were of the same religion, then you could get married in Israel?
Grig Davidovitz [00:10:24]
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:10:24]
Any other heterosexual couple has to go through the same process. However, the option to get religiously married in Israel or married all within the borders of Israel is not open for gay couples.
Grig Davidovitz [00:10:34]
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:10:35]
OK, so how does that work when you get to children?
Grig Davidovitz [00:10:38]
So but even before I want to say that the other option that you are having, which is basically what we did, is that there is a very comprehensive recognition of couples that are known in the public. It’s called in Hebrew, maybe you have this special meaning, I don’t know.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:10:56]
Grig Davidovitz [00:10:58]
Yiduim BeTzibur, exactly.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:10:58]
So it’s common law marriage. It’s vaguely common law marriage.
Grig Davidovitz [00:11:02]
So so this is also a very elaborated establishment in Israel. And what happens is that basically, once you are recognized as common law marriage, you get almost all the rights of a married couple. And what we did before having the kids is that we listed ourselves as common law marriage. And then we have quite a lot of the rights of normal couples. So, these are the two things that people are doing that don’t go for any reason through the religious system, even. Either they go abroad and marry or they have a common law marriage.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:11:32]
Wait a second. Aliza, are you common law married in Israel?
Aliza Landes [00:11:35]
No, we’re not common law married. No. So, Grig,
Grig Davidovitz [00:11:39]
And by the way, by the way, the common law, when you say common law married, you don’t have to do anything. There are all kinds of verdicts that say that if a couple is together for enough time and they have the same bank account and they run the house together, then they can be recognized just by that. It’s not like you need to do something. It’s automatic once you live as a couple for a certain amount of time.
Aliza Landes [00:12:00]
This leads to the next question about parenting as a non traditionally married couple in Israel, which applies to gay couples as well. Like, for example, I have to take my daughter to go get her first passport tomorrow. And because my husband and I are not registered with the Interior Ministry, mostly because of Covid and not being able to get an apostille document, yada, yada, yada, whatever, we both have to go there. And if I was a single mother and he wasn’t on the birth certificate, it would be easier than it’s going to be because we both have to be there. We both have to miss work in order to be able to do this.
Grig Davidovitz [00:12:39]
It’s a good point. But what happens here is that this is a point that works quite well for gay people in Israel. So, again, because of all kinds of court rulings, it is not complicated to become the father of the child that is not biologically yours.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:12:55]
Wait, hold on Grig, let’s talk about how you built your family. So when you were getting ready to build a family, what were the options available to you in terms of like adoption, surrogacy, any other option that was available?
Grig Davidovitz [00:13:07]
Adoption is not really an option for sure. Not in Israel. There are almost no adoption cases in Israel. So even as straight people that adopt, usually they go abroad. And that was not an open option. I think I have many friends that are having children with, you know, having a partnership with a woman for any reasons. And then, you know, they just grow the child together. That’s another option.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:13:33]
You mean just friends platonically having a child together?
Grig Davidovitz [00:13:36]
They might be friends. Sometimes they just meet for that purpose. You know, people are searching for people to have children with. So that’s also an option. I know many people that have had children in this way.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:13:46]
Oh, my God, don’t tell my mom.
Grig Davidovitz [00:13:49]
It runs a bit like divorced couples. You know, they have like arrangements that are set from the beginning, how many days the child spends with each of the members of the couple and so on. So that’s also very outspread in Israel. And actually, in terms of having the baby, it’s easier because you don’t have to go through this very complicated process of surrogacy.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:14:12]
Wait, so this process is so complicated that you’re saying people are just
Aliza Landes [00:14:16]
Having babies with strangers!
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:14:19]
They’re coparenting with strangers, rather than going through surrogacy?
Grig Davidovitz [00:14:22]
Yes, and I wouldn’t say that this happens only because surrogacy is very complicated. Some people prefer these options. For different people there are advantages and disadvantages for any of theoptions. So it’s not like surrogacy is better. And people who can’t do surrogacy, they do that.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:14:35]
Grig Davidovitz [00:14:35]
Different people have different choices. It’s a different way of raising the kids. For us we wanted a family that is just our family without having another agent. But I’m not saying it’s in any shape or form a better decision. It’s just what we felt that is right for us, and to understand people who like to do it differently.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:14:54]
So you went through surrogacy. How did that work? Like how does surrogacy work in Israel and was that an option for you?
Grig Davidovitz [00:15:01]
So, yeah, that’s the problem, surrogacy is not open for a gay couple in Israel. It is open for married straight couples in Israel.
Aliza Landes [00:15:10]
Married through the Rabanut, like married through the religious authority.
Grig Davidovitz [00:15:13]
No, I think that once, you know, once you are married, you are married. So that’s the ruling that I was referring to before. The state recognizes you as married once you are married. But the, but they have to be a straight couple. I don’t remember how was exactly formulated in the law, but in any case, it’s not open for gay people.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:15:31]
It’s a straight couple of the same religion. And the surrogate herself has to also have been of the same religion.
Grig Davidovitz [00:15:37]
Oh, really? OK, I didn’t know that. So yeah, they found ways of making it very, very specific.
Aliza Landes [00:15:43]
Grig Davidovitz [00:15:45]
Yes. So it was totally not an option. And that’s actually a big problem for gay people because it makes the process much more complicated and much more expensive than doing that within Israel.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:15:57]
So then what did you do?
Grig Davidovitz [00:15:58]
So then, you know, it’s a gradual process, as I told you, are together twenty-one years and our kids are like six years old, almost.
Aliza Landes [00:16:07]
When did you guys decide you wanted to do this? And how long did it take from that decision to when you were actually able to have your kids?
Grig Davidovitz [00:16:16]
It was a long process. I think we discussed it a few years before, before doing that, actually. Then my partner was very much wanting it, and I was a bit afraid. I’m a very stable person in my life, but somehow I like to know that, you know, you have the freedom to change your mind. And I knew that this is something that you don’t want to change your mind on. So I was very afraid of taking the step of having kids. I’m very happy now. But again, you never know. So I was a bit reluctant for a few years.
Aliza Landes [00:16:44]
I mean, it’s pretty permanent.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:16:45]
Grig Davidovitz [00:16:47]
Well, what seemed as a disadvantage in the beginning actually became an advantage because I have this theory that, you know, one of the problems of non-religious people is that you have a lot of doubts. You know, am I doing the right thing? Do I have the right job? Am I living in the right city? Do I have the right partner? And there are a lot of doubts in your mind. And then when you have kids, you have something there’s no doubt about. So it’s like a column in an ocean that you can hold. So what I was afraid of before became actually an advantage after the kids were born. But anyway, I was afraid of this step that is like non-changeable. And in the end we decided to do it and then we started the process. Obviously, in the beginning, there were a few conferences here that we attended and we met with people that have done that and heard from their experience. And we met with a few of your companies and in the end decided on an American company and started the process.
Aliza Landes [00:17:44]
But you knew you were going to do it abroad and you had, I assume, a bunch of different options for you. And it was just sort of out of convenience, price point? Like what was it that led you to choose the U.S. as opposed to, I don’t know, Nepal or India, which were very popular for a while.
Grig Davidovitz [00:18:02]
So the price is actually a disadvantage for the US because it’s much more expensive there than doing it in the,
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:18:07]
How much is it?
Grig Davidovitz [00:18:09]
Well, it depends, but it’s way north of one hundred thousand dollars.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:18:14]
Grig Davidovitz [00:18:15]
So yeah, it’s a lot of money. But the advantage for us, I mean I can’t compare because I really don’t know a lot about the other things. For us it was very, very important to have everything very clearly organized. Everything was open. So we know who the egg donor is and we have great relations with our dear surrogate Rachel to this very day. And the kids met her when they had their second birthday. She came here with all her family and like we have an ongoing relation and we opted for this, which seemed better for us.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:18:51]
What is that tie between a surrogate and family or surrogate and the children? Because I’ll share how I feel about it. Someone who’s never gone through surrogacy, has never really deeply thought about what it would feel like to go through surrogacy. I kind of think of it as a transaction, like somebody does a service for you. That’s a deeply personal service, but it’s a service you pay for and then the relationship ends when the baby’s born. But that’s not the experience you’re describing.
Grig Davidovitz [00:19:16]
No, so I think it’s a very, very complex relation. Of course, it’s also a service relation from at least at the beginning. But then obviously things evolve. I don’t, I can’t say what happens in all the cases, but in our cases, our families are connected. And we’ve seen each other a few times since the birth of the boys. And I think we will always have a very, very strong emotional connection with Rachel in our family.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:19:44]
Yeah, it’s interesting because it almost makes you think, if that’s a possibility for the type of connection that can develop between a surrogate and a family and the amount of connection that you had with Rachel while you were going through the process, it seems like a strong disadvantage to not be able to go through the process in your home country.
Grig Davidovitz [00:20:03]
Obviously, it’s easier also for the relation because, you know, then you’re very close, you can see each other all the time. It’s easier to communicate. So I would say that’s another advantage of allowing that to happen also in Israel, not making people go, you know, to the other side of the world to create the family.
Aliza Landes [00:20:21]
But did you have to go abroad for a period, for a substantial period, not a week or two, but months in order to complete the surrogacy?
Grig Davidovitz [00:20:29]
Yes. So what happens exactly? You have to go for quite a long time. First of all, we opted to go there before because having, like the first surrogacy was a twin surrogacy. So there are very high chances of having an early birth. So we went the month before, but that was our choice. We arranged that very well with our jobs. What you have to do is that after the birth, you have to stay there for something like seven to eight weeks for all the legal procedures to complete in order to be able to come back. So what happens actually for the American babies is that you have to issue a passport for the baby. And then only once you have the passport, you are able to travel.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:21:11]
Wait, is the baby American? Like are your sons American?
Grig Davidovitz [00:21:14]
Yeah, of course. And my daughter, all three children. We are a very international family.
Aliza Landes [00:21:18]
That’s a great reason!
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:21:21]
Whoa, whoa! Wait, hold on a second. You just made anchor babies! And wait, are either you or Dan American?
Grig Davidovitz [00:21:28]
No, no. Dan has a German passport and I have a Romanian passport. So we are both EU, have EU passports but the kinds have American.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:21:38]
Sorry, my, my, mind is not working.
Aliza Landes [00:21:39]
Mind is blown!
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:21:41]
Are, are families choosing to have surrogacies in certain countries in order to also leverage citizenship?
Grig Davidovitz [00:21:48]
I don’t know. It was not a major consideration for us, but it’s of course very nice to have that. And it’s nice to think that, you know, both Europe and the States are open for the kids if they will want to do something in the future.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:22:04]
They could just leave you behind.
Grig Davidovitz [00:22:07]
Yeah, so. So that’s about it, but it was not a major consideration.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:22:11]
Sorry, sorry. Sorry to distract you with that. It just it’s interesting to me because you’re basically saying something about American law, which is, you know, if a baby doesn’t matter the genetic heritage, if a baby is born on American soil.
Grig Davidovitz [00:22:24]
It’s funny. You know, we were in Texas two years ago. We were entering through Texas and the person checking the passports was just shocked. You know, it seemed like two Israeli passports. And then, you know, the kids were like two and a half years old and they were both American. So it seems like, how is that happening?
Aliza Landes [00:22:39]
And neither parents.
Grig Davidovitz [00:22:41]
Two Israelis, two Israelis going with two kids that are American, actually. So, yeah, it’s sometimes it seems strange, but yeah, it’s nice.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:22:50]
That’s interesting. So then how did they interact with Israeli law? Like you mentioned, you had to ,seven, eight weeks of paperwork in the States.
Grig Davidovitz [00:22:57]
In the States.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:22:57]
In the States. Was any part of that registering the children or how did that process work once you were back in Israel?
Grig Davidovitz [00:23:02]
Yeah. So what happens is that the first phase is that you have to have passports because without passports, you can’t fly. Once you come to Israel, then the process of taking the DNA and making the DNA match starts again.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:23:17]
Grig Davidovitz [00:23:18]
Because the Israelis do not trust any foreign conclusion on that. But that’s a very simple process.
Aliza Landes [00:23:24]
Wait, how long did that take you? Because we also just had to do that with my stepdaughter and her father so that she could be recognized by the state officially as my husband’s daughter. And it has taken us like nine months to get a court order for paternity test. The excuse was Covid, so I don’t know.
Grig Davidovitz [00:23:43]
No, no, it was very quick. I think, I don’t remember, I think maybe you can have the appointment when you are already in the States or when we came back, it was very, very quick. And then what happens is that the first phase is that the biological father is listed as the father of each of the children and then it goes to court. It’s a very, very simple process. We didn’t even have to go to court at all. Only the lawyer representing us went. And then you have a court order that is actually making the other father a father.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:24:16]
And that is based on what? Based on your partnership?
Grig Davidovitz [00:24:19]
Yes, exactly. Based on the partnership and the fact that everything was done together. And then the other father is also recognized as a father. So it’s a very, very quick process. And that’s actually a very big advantage, because normally, if you didn’t have that, you would have to adopt. And adoption is a very complicated process. It takes about two years. You have to meet all kinds of professionals that are proving you and criteria and so on. So it’s nothing of a kind. It’s very, very simple and quick and like in about two months after we came, we were both registered as fathers, first of the twins and then of our baby daughter.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:24:58]
I also understand that this is like a relatively newer legal development. It wasn’t always this way, that same-sex parents were able to go through this court order process versus an adoption, is that, is that right?
Grig Davidovitz [00:25:11]
Yes. Again, I’m not a legal expert though I studied law, but I don’t remember all the verdicts and stuff.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:25:17]
Lapsed lawyer here, too.
Grig Davidovitz [00:25:20]
But I think the very fact that a child can have two fathers, it’s something that was set by the Supreme Court. So it’s not the father and a mother. It’s actually two fathers. Now of course, there are sometimes problems with that. So I’ll give you an example, now that I think of that. What happened is that once I went with both kids to Romania and Dan was joining us a day after. And then I came to the getting out of the country and the person says for each of the, we do have a daughter, each of our sons was just listed in their computers with the biological father because there’s no option for a second father. So what happened is that he said, you can’t take my son, who is not my biological son. You can’t take him out of the country. We need the father here. I said, I’m the father. And he said, can you prove it? And luckily, I had my Israeli I.D. with me because, you know, when you go abroad, you go with the passport. You don’t need the Israeli I.D. But I had my Israeli I.D. and in the I.D. he was listed as my son.
Aliza Landes [00:26:25]
On your Tzefa.
Grig Davidovitz [00:26:26]
So he let us leave. Yeah. So he let us leave the country. Other than that, based on his computer, because he was not yet adopted to include two fathers, he wouldn’t have let us leave the country.
Aliza Landes [00:26:40]
All of these bureaucratic indignities. So let me ask another question. Speaking of bureaucracy, at what point do surrogate babies get national insurance?
Grig Davidovitz [00:26:53]
Immediately after they become citizens. So once you come to the country, when they are recognized as the children of the biological father in the first step, even before they have the recognition of the second father, once you’re an Israeli citizen, you get everything. We, one of the advantages in Israel is that you don’t have all these huge complications that you have in the States with the with a health system. I mean, for us, it was just unbelievable how it works. You know, on the one hand side, you know, very good service. And the level of the hospitals was excellent. But to see, like, how the billing works and also that’s a big problem, by the way, for Israeli people who go to the States. There’s no insurance. You can’t do any insurance for the kids for the period that they are in the hospital.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:27:37]
Grig Davidovitz [00:27:38]
Because nobody’s willing to, nobody is willing to insure that. And just one second, one of the kids is coming for the door, just a second. *Speaking in Hebrew to child*
Aliza Landes [00:28:04]
So what you’re saying is that nobody’s willing to insure surrogacy babies while they’re in the hospital?
Grig Davidovitz [00:28:11]
Yes. Because what happens now and it changed to the worse I think since we had the boys, like we had the last process a year and a half ago. So what happened is that there was absolutely no insurance because also the insurance of the surrogate was not willing to recognize the kid. So you can’t pay for it. There’s no insurance. For us, everything was fine. And the bill is very, very big. But it’s something that you can handle. I think it was like five, six thousand dollars. Nothing happened, you know, just for two days in the hospital. The service is very, very good. But, you know, it’s a lot of money. But, you know, there are people who have real problems and they go into the intensive care unit and they got bills of two hundred thousand dollars. They couldn’t do that. And that’s a possibility because you can’t know.
Aliza Landes [00:28:58]
And if your kid is premature or whatever.
Grig Davidovitz [00:29:02]
Aliza Landes [00:29:02]
And they have to be, you know,
Grig Davidovitz [00:29:03]
You can find yourself with a bill that is unpayable. Huge sums!
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:29:08]
What happens? Can you leave the United States in that situation?
Aliza Landes [00:29:11]
With what? You can’t leave with the baby! The baby’s in the hospital!
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:29:15]
No, I’m serious. Do they hold the babies hostage? Like that is insane. Like you don’t, you think about the cost of the surrogacy. You think of the cost lawyers, think of the cost of it. You don’t think about the cost of a hospital stay for a child who is?
Grig Davidovitz [00:29:27]
The problem is that you can’t anticipate it. I mean, if everything is fine, you know, as it was in our case, then great. And what happens is that once the baby leaves the hospital, you can make an insurance with different companies. We have an Israeli company insuring Eli now that was born a year and a half ago. So you have insurance from the moment that she left the hospital, but there was no insurance for the time that she was there. And there was not, no insurance for any problem that might have been with during the birth or before the birth. So that’s a big problem.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:30:00]
You know, I pay an absurd amount of money every month, even though I live in Israel, just for the times that I’m back in the States to visit my family because I will not step foot on American soil without having American health insurance.
Grig Davidovitz [00:30:13]
Yeah, yeah. Your health system is very strange. From my perspective, I mean. I was just discussing that with a friend a few weeks ago, you know, in Israel we have our problems with the health system, of course, it’s not the perfect system and it needs budgets also and so on. But from a customer point of view, you, like in a very basic way, you don’t think about money. You might think about the money if you have a big problem and you want to go to a specialist, so you want to go to a private doctor or something like that. But you don’t think about money for basic stuff. Like if I need to go to a hospital, I go to a hospital, I don’t think about money. It will be covered. Everything is fine.
Aliza Landes [00:30:52]
And that is not the case.
Grig Davidovitz [00:30:53]
And when I met Americans, you see, like all Americans like bothered with what kind of terms they have and where can they go. And, you know, the first 10 visits to the doctor are free and then the next 10 visits cost 200 dollars each visit. They are constantly dealing with money and doctors. And that’s something that is very strange for an Israeli and I think that’s a big advantage for us, even though when you have the insurance, the level of the medical system in the States, I think it’s higher in average than in Israel. But I prefer to have something that is more equal than having the situation which you constantly deal with of, how are you going to finance your medical needs?
Aliza Landes [00:31:31]
OK, so when Ricki interrupted earlier, you mentioned at the end what we talked about earlier, surrogacy, like we spoke about earlier.
Grig Davidovitz [00:31:39]
He asked me what am I interviewed about. So I said about surrogacy.
Aliza Landes [00:31:43]
So how do you talk to your kids about surrogacy? About how they’re made, about, you know, if you run into situations like you mentioned, you know, being stopped at the border because of a passport or, you know, even if that doesn’t apply anymore, if you know, you could run into those situations also at schools or basically anywhere, you meet state institutions.
Grig Davidovitz [00:32:05]
So basically what we decided to do and again, I think there are different approaches, but that’s our approach. I think it’s, I’m sure it’s good for us. And that was our decision is, basically to have it always open and always on the table. So we never wanted to have the discussion. Obviously, the level of understanding of a child evolves through the years, but we wanted to always have it on the table. So from very, very early age, when they were asking or even they don’t ask, like what’s happening? How did we come to the world? They knew as I said, they met Rachel on their second birthday. So we brought her whole family to Israel to a trip. And they also participated in the birthday of the kids. So they always knew in a sense and obviously the story gets repeated because the level of understanding of a six-year-old is completely different than a level than the level of understanding of a two-year-old, obviously. But that was our decision. And everything is open and everything is on the table and there are no secrets.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:33:08]
All right. So if we had to use your experience building your family as the part representing the whole of the experience of being in a same-sex couple in Israel, how would you describe your feelings towards Israel’s attitude towards you?
Grig Davidovitz [00:33:26]
It’s a complex question. Israel is very heterogeneous, so we have very different communities and very different places here. We have the secular Jews and we have the ultra-Orthodox and we have the national religious Jews and we have the of course, the Arab population that is also, has its own groups. So it’s extremely diverse. I think that to answer that question, I would look from two perspectives. One is like the immediate personal perspective. I live in a very liberal city. I have great friends, and this is not an issue in my life, in my day to day life. Of course, that’s because of where I live and the connections that I have. And it’s very, very clear to me that there are many people that are just, not necessarily across the street, but let’s say three miles from my house right now that live in a completely different world that is not accepting, accepting them at all. And it’s literally three miles from my house. It’s not something like in the States that you say, OK, you fly for hours and you get there.
Aliza Landes [00:34:33]
You’re referring to Bnei Brak, for instance.
Grig Davidovitz [00:34:36]
Bnei Brak, just as an example. Yeah. So that’s what I’m saying. It depends where you are. And I think people build their worlds around them. So we are able to see immediately things that are fine, but it’s not fine. One of the things that I’m afraid of in this interview is to make very, very clear that, you know, there are a lot of positive things and a lot of negative things. For us is good in the day to day life. And that’s very important. And I think there are a lot of people in Israel that feel like that. But we can’t forget that for many people, it’s not good. And there are many people that even before thinking of children, can’t even think of being out and telling people that they are gay. And that happens here and it shouldn’t be forgotten. So that’s one point. And the second point is the state point, and the laws that are here. And here, we obviously have a problem that is reflected for gay couples, but not only for gay couples. The fact that the law in Israel is that you have to marry through a religious court means that many things are happening with things that are very difficult to comprehend in the 21st century. Yes. So I have a relative that was divorced. The divorce is a ritual that is taken from like 1500 years ago or two thousand years ago. It’s something that is completely unconnected to the way people live today and the fact that that’s the only option for people. I mean, I’m perfectly fine for people who want to marry on a religious court to marry there. And I’m perfectly fine for the state to recognize that. I have no problem with that. But the fact that everybody has to do that creates a lot of problems. So, and, you know, even if you go to something simpler, you know, Israel doesn’t have public transportation on Shabbat. It’s unbelievable. You know, to have friends come to Tel Aviv, you know, to have parties. And if they happen to land between Friday evening and Saturday evening, the only way of getting from the airport to the city is with a taxi. And if you don’t have the money for a taxi, you can just walk.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:36:32]
Because you just paid a really expensive American hospital bill.
Grig Davidovitz [00:36:36]
If you want to walk 20 miles, you can walk. And of course, it’s not walkable because it’s just, is just highways. So there’s no way. There’s no bus. There’s nothing. So this is Israel. I mean, Israel has a lot of things that work in completely different ways, in many aspects. And I think that’s totally true for gay life here and for the gay community here.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:36:55]
So, meaningfully so. This is the first time in quite a while where we haven’t had the ultra-Orthodox parties in the government. So maybe there will be hope that we’ll have movement on transportation and surrogacy and other issues that affect daily life in Israel. And Grig, we just want to say thank you so much for joining and for sharing your story.
Aliza Landes [00:37:14]
Thank you so much. That was fantastic.
Grig Davidovitz [00:37:16]
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:37:26]
I don’t think I fully appreciated how much it is a financial, emotional, time, energetic burden to have a surrogacy process go abroad.
Aliza Landes [00:37:38]
And logistical. It is a logistical operation.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:37:42]
Because from outside, Aliza, you know, I would have thought, like, OK, you fly there and you pick up your kid and you return your kid. Like there’s some paperwork and like, all good. But no.
Aliza Landes [00:37:50]
Instead of the stork it’s El Al. Yeah. Good, go. Right.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:37:53]
Exactly. Exactly. But hearing Grig’s story, like I’m almost embarrassed to say how much he made it come to life. And, you know, it’s not just those horror stories you’ve heard. You know, back when I think it was like in 2015, a bunch of Israelis had been going to Nepal for surrogacy and there was this huge, devastating earthquake there. And basically they were in the situation where they had to figure out how to get their babies safe and some of their babies were still gestating in Nepali and Indian surrogate mothers. And there was this whole controversy of how they could get their babies out or, and it was just this huge horror story.
Aliza Landes [00:38:29]
And what about the surrogate moms? All of the things?
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:38:32]
Yes, everything. Everything was terrible. And, you know, you hear those first stories and are like, wow, that’s that’s really stressful about surrogacy. But even the ones that go well, like Grig said, he and Dan had to fly to the states a month early just in case, to be there. That’s like a month from work. That’s a month from your life. That’s relocating your other kids for a month. It’s expensive, right? Like that is not trivial. And the fact that the state forces couples to go abroad to create their families seems like a big problem to me.
Aliza Landes [00:39:01]
On top of that, which I didn’t fully appreciate, is unless you’re going to be relocating for the entirety of the pregnancy, you’re also going to be removed from the surrogate and the entire process of the baby growing, going to doctors appointments, all of these things that otherwise you could be involved with, especially if you’re in a country as small as Israel, where even if you have a surrogate in Eilat and you’re all the way up at the other end of the country, it’s still feasible to make sure that you meet up on a fairly regular basis.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:39:35]
To be a part of the process of your child’s development. Oh, absolutely.
Aliza Landes [00:39:39]
As an extension of that, looping back to what we were talking about at the beginning and during the intro, it’s really interesting to see the sort of gaps that develop in terms of gay rights or other issues as well, because it’s not like it was in the U.S. or other places in the world where you had this big, heavy political push, that it was one of the main topics for elections. I mean, here in Israel, we just had the formation of this new government, which is weird on so many other levels. We have the first openly gay head of a party, Meretz, and he’s now the health minister. And so it’ll be very interesting to see.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:40:19]
Which is super interesting because by law, gay men aren’t even allowed to donate blood still in Israel.
Aliza Landes [00:40:26]
So you have all of these contradictions where things that you would expect to be way more progressed because we have things like gay marriage here. You would expect that other issues had already been addressed for the gay community. And in point of fact, they haven’t, because the way that we have gay marriage isn’t because there was a push for it. It’s because there is a de facto application of the law equally across the board. And this all stems from this delicate balance or imbalance between religious control of state institutions and major life events versus a pretty liberal society and a pretty implacable reliance on equal application of the law.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:41:09]
Well, speaking about that equal application of the law, in 2018, there was an update to the circusy law, which originally had said surrogates are only applicable for married couples who are a male and female. And in that 2018 law, they said, OK, single women can also use surrogates, meaning that lesbian couples could use surrogates. But what they did not say was that single men could use surrogates.
Aliza Landes [00:41:30]
Hence excluding all of the gay male couples.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:41:33]
So the Supreme Court last year said that’s not fair, that’s not equal application of the law. And the Supreme Court threw it back to the Knesset and said, you guys have one year to fix this. And so there should actually be legal domestic surrogacy for gay male couples right now because as of February 2021, that timeline expired. But Corona excuse one, and two,.
Aliza Landes [00:41:54]
We didn’t have a government!
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:41:56]
Right. The Haredi parties that were in the coalition had successfully blocked this up to this point. And so now that we have a coalition that does not include Haredi parties, I think it remains to be seen what will happen. Will we actually have that equal application of the law? And gay men could be fathers to children born via surrogates in Israel.
Aliza Landes [00:42:15]
So that brings us to the number of the week, which is 32,000.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:42:20]
Which is the average amount of money that you will end up spending in addition to what you would have spent Israel had you gone to surrogacy in the US or Canada. So if you were forced to have your baby via surrogacy in the U.S. or Canada, it would cost you at least an additional thirty two thousand dollars, not including hospital stays.And any other complications that your baby, Chas VeChalila, might have when born in the States before repatriated to Israel?
Aliza Landes [00:42:45]
Yeah, the States or anywhere else. But it’s just mind blowing. From us, be fruitful and multiply. Sometimes in Israel, sometimes out of sight of Israel. See you next time.
Aliza Landes [00:43:02]
Us Among the Israelis was created and written by us, Carrie Keller-Lynn and Aliza Landes,
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:43:07]
Our awesome producer is Josh Kross, our sound editor is Paul Rueste. This is a production of the Joshua Network.
Aliza Landes [00:43:15]
If you want to keep making these episodes, please give us all of the stars on whatever platform you’re using to listen to your podcasts.
Carrie Keller-Lynn [00:43:24]
From us, among the Israelis. This is Carrie Keller-Lynn and Aliza Landes.