Laurie Saidiner grew up in the same Sherman Oaks house in which she is now raising her children. But the family that fills this home with Legos and books and the scent of Shabbat dinner today is somewhat different from her childhood family. Laurie, 50, is married to Nina Jacobs, 55, and together they are raising Hannah, 11, and Avi, 7, whom Laurie conceived with the help of a sperm donor. April marks the couple’s 22-year anniversary. This is how the Saidiner-Jacobs family celebrates Shabbat, in their own special way.
Read more about Hannah and watch a video of Avi.
Laurie, who works as a teacher and is finishing up her master’s degree, picks the kids up from school every day. Hannah loves to help her around the kitchen, and for Shabbat they are preparing roasted chicken, carrots and potatoes with an arugula salad. And for Avi, pasta. “We weren’t sure we would have Avi,” said Nina, an educator who helps place special-needs children. “But, being older parents, we wanted them to have each other.”
Laurie and Hannah light the Shabbat candles using candleholders that Laurie received on the day of her bat mitzvah at Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village, the same synagogue they now attend as a family. Laurie’s family had a hard time accepting her life, and her parents last saw Hannah when she was 9 months old. They have never met Avi.
All four family members recite the blessings over the candles, the wine and the challah. Laurie, aka Mommy, says it took 10 years for her to convince Nina, aka Mama, to have children. Nina never saw herself as a mother; Laurie always wanted to be pregnant. Both children are from the same donor; in fact, the date on Hannah’s vial and the date on Avi’s vial are exactly the same. The family joke is that they are fraternal twins, born 4 years apart.
The two moms have developed a ritual of sitting outside by the fire pit every evening before dinner for some one-on-one time. “We catch up, discuss the kids, reconnect,” Nina said. “It’s how we’ve stayed married for 22 years.” About a year ago, they signed Avi up for a Jewish Big Brother. They felt he needed a male influence in his life. Hannah struggled in the past, but seems to have made peace with her family’s uniqueness. When asked why she has two moms, she replies, “Because they’re perfect together.”
Photos by Courtney Raney and Anthony Bui.