Eli Omer Azulay, 39, works as vice manager of a bank in Haifa. He decided to start a family and commit to it as a single father. His daughter Ori, only 7 months old, was born in Nepal right afterthe destructive earthquake in the city earlier this year. She’s now at his home in Kibbutz Yagur with brothers Arad (5.5) and Ofek (3.5).
Azulay was the first Israeli to actually have a child with the help of a Thai surrogate. Most of the gay Israelis who go through the surrogacy process do it with the help of an agency, but Eli wanted to be involved in every step of the way. He himself contacted a local medical clinic that was authorized to do surrogacy in Thailand, interviewed women and selected the surrogate with the help of the clinic’s doctor.
Nine years ago, Eli got divorced from a woman who he was married to for two and a half years, and since then he says that he hasn’t found his ideal partner. He decided that he wants to have a family regardless. When his first surrogate was pregnant, Eli’s father died, and during the Shiva Eli came out to his family as gay. “They were amazing about it,” Eli tells A Wider Bridge. “I was in a relationship then, so they accepted the boyfriend too. They were very surprised but they supported me.”
After his first son, Arad, was born, the option of Thailand closed but the option of India opened, and even though he had 8 frozen embryos left in the clinic in Thailand, he couldn’t get them to be transferred to India, and had to start the process from the beginning. “In the first two pregnancies I worked independently and sent photos of me and my surroundings to the authorized clinic,” Eli explained in an interview for Israeli newspaper Hazman Hayarok. “In both cases I had the feeling that I and the surrogates had a mutual goal. In both cases it was important to me that they get to know my extended family, and know that I’m a very well established person and that my reasons for having kids are pure.”
For his 3rd child Eli sought help from an Israeli agency, in order to make it faster and finish the process before Arad started 1st grade. The Israeli agency decided to work for him in Nepal and fortunately managed to transfer his 7 embryos from India and 8 embryos from Nepal. Eli asked to use all of them, so now, actually, he doesn’t know which one of the embryos took, and whose genes the little baby has, and who she looks like.
“The biggest bureaucracy in Israel concerns the right to become a parent,” Eli says. “In order to go through all the processes you need to pay a lot of money in third-world countries. Not everyone can afford it financially. I paid for my sons from my salary, even before I came to the kibbutz,and the process of having Ori was funded by my savings. All of my savings are dedicated to raising the children. I weigh every purchase and everything I can pass on in order to bring kids into the world and raise them. It’s a matter of priorities.”
Though his kids are a top priority, Eli doesn’t intend to end his life alone; he continues to meet other men, and even go on dates. “Eight p.m. is usually my quality time with myself- after the kids have showered and gone to bed. This is my time for friends and even for dates,” he explains. “I don’t do a lot of dating but inviting friends and dates is something I can do from home.”
The gay men he meets have different reactions to his single-fatherhood life. “The minority don’t like kids and don’t see themselves in a relationship like this or becoming parents,” he says. “Some of them don’t want to get into a relationship where there are already kids, but want to build it from the beginning with a partner. But the majority really compliment me on the decision to be a father and don’t have a problem getting into a relationship like that. But you must understand that living in the north makes getting to know new people more difficult. I’ve had four [significant] relationships so far. Three of them lived in Tel Aviv and one lived in London.”
Eli’s desire to become a father started in an early age, “maybe it’s because I was the youngest child in the family,” he says. He tried to have a child with his wife, but she didn’t get pregnant, and after his divorce he tried mutual parenting with a woman, adoption of a child from Guatemala and even from inside Israel, until he finally found his first surrogate. His kids are now his first priority, and he considered the independent way in which he chose to have them not only a personal breakthrough, but also trailblazing for other single-parent dads.
“Children are being made of love, not because you need to,” Eli concludes. “A child needs stability and therefore I would recommend that any intended parent has the financial and mental ability to be a parent, family support and if not- the support of friends. And above all, to know that you give up on other things in your life, and giving up should be with love. I brought kids into this world in order to raise them, be there for them, and not to bring a babysitter in and continue with my bachelor life. You should enjoy raising your kids and understand that investing in them will bear fruit.”