Uncovering a family secret


Pictured above: Allison embraces her new found siblings, Victoria Yegehiaian and Mark Beekman.

Imagine checking your Facebook messages and discovering a note from a woman who claimed to be your long-lost sister, yet you know you grew up an only child. What would you think?

That exact situation happened to Rabbi Allison Lawton almost seven years ago.

Her sister, Victoria Yegehiaian, had been searching for her since she was 14 years old. Her father and mother had divorced when she was a toddler, and he had remarried. She had tried to reach out to him, but he told her that he wanted nothing to do with her.

Then Victoria got the clue she was looking for. Before Allison was a rabbi, she spoke during Yizkor at a temple in Los Angeles, and they published what she said, including her father’s name. “My sister got a hit on the internet from that, and then she knew my last name and was able to find me on Facebook,” says Allison.

The circumstances were complicated. It seems that Allison’s parents were trying to cover up their previous identities when they married, and her father had changed his name slightly. This name change further confused the situation as her father’s name did not match the one that Victoria was telling her was her dad’s name.

“Victoria Facebook messaged me and said ‘This is my name, this is my dad’s name, this is my grandmother’s name’ which I had known (was) my dad’s mother’s name,” says Allison. “She said she thought she was my sister. I assumed at the time that she was younger than me and that my dad probably had an affair or something.”

Then Allison learned that Victoria was older and that she also had a brother. The truth was that her father had been married before and had children. “Everyone knew but me,” says Allison.

The siblings discovered that they all lived not too far from each other in Los Angeles, CA, so they decided to have their first meeting at Casa Vega, a popular Mexican restaurant in the area. “It was surreal. We all look alike – it was obvious we were related,” remembers Allison.

“The first couple of years we did a lot of catching up,” says Allison. “They would feel bad for me because I grew up with this lie, and I would feel bad for them because they grew up without their dad – we did a lot of that.”

Today the siblings are very close. Allison’s Brother, Mark Beekman, moved to Scottsdale a few years ago, so she stays with him every other weekend when she comes to the Valley to perform her duties as rabbi at Beth Ami Temple.

She currently resides in California and is director of Jewish life at Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School during the week. Before becoming a rabbi, she taught both elementary and special education for 23 years.

Allison was raised Jewish, but Mark and Victoria were not. “My brother has been to temple a few times, because he has a sister who is a rabbi, and he thinks that’s funny,” she says.

Allison has three children and her sister has five, so they all try to get together for holidays “It’s fun for the kids because some of the cousins are the same age,” she says. This summer, her older son even accompanied her sister and her family to Hawaii on vacation.

“I went from being an only child whose parents were deceased to having a brother and sister and nieces and nephews and great nieces and great nephews,” jokes Allison. “We are always working to create a family tie at this point.” One of those nieces even shares her name.

Since Allison’s parents had already passed prior to the siblings’ reunion, she will never know her parent’s need for secrecy.

“At some point, there are things in life that are better left alone, and I think this is one of those things,” she says. “You learn in Judaism about forgiveness constantly. The ultimate form of forgiveness is just being understanding of the circumstances – even if you don’t understand the circumstances.”

Every only child wishes they had a brother or sister. Now Allison has both.

 

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