Jewish Grandparenting

Creating a lasting and meaningful Jewish relationship with your grandchildren.

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Reprinted with permission from The United Synagogue Review.

Grandparents have a unique relationship with grandchildren because in most situations they do not deal with day-to-day responsibilities. Grandparents can be selective in what the focus of their time spent together will be. Grandchildren are often particularly receptive to these occasions since they are special and out of the ordinary. It is thus possible to share one's knowledge and experiences and to relate personal views which can strengthen a child's understanding of Jewish traditions.

 

Creating Jewish Identities

In some instances, grandparents may walk a fine line if their religious, social, or political views differ from those of their own children. In that case, grandparents have an obligation to respect such boundaries, yet remain true to their own beliefs. Adding geographical distance nudges us to more specifically determine our roles and our limitations.Grandfather reading to children.

Judaism does not take place only in the day school, synagogue or synagogue school. Judaism "happens" during the family time of a Friday night Shabbat dinner, at the blessing of the children, in the magic of the Hanukkah candles, or in the smell of fresh-baked hamantaschen. By dropping a coin in the tzedakah box, or sending a card--or paying a visit--to a sick friend--we are helping to shape Jewish memories and create Jewish identities.

In like manner, learning "happens" at expected, and often at unexpected, times. Sitting at the seder table, our granddaughter responded to the question of what the Pesah celebration was all about. She asked if she could put on a play. Moments later, she returned with several scarves and items from her dress-up box and a baby Moshe basket and seder plate (made at her synagogue nursery school). In her own words, she told of yetziat mitzrayim, the exodus from Egypt--of how we were once slaves but now we are all "really" free. She told us: "A voice came out from the burning bush and said, 'Take off your shoes! You are standing on holy ground.'" Her story was "illustrated" with songs accompanied by movement--"Baby Moshe," "The Frogs" and "Let My People Go--No, No, No!" Her big brother chimed in and added an original Hillel Sandwich song from his kindergarten class at his Solomon Schechter Day School. Her performance was fairly brief (15 minutes), but her words taught us all a good deal.

Teaching by Example

Grandparents can help pass down, and create, Jewish experiences for their grandchildren. Focusing our impact takes planning and thought. When grandparents discuss Judaism, it should be natural and relaxed. One needn't be a Jewish scholar to discuss the true meaning of Judaism as a way of life. It is appropriate for grandchildren to know that their grandparents continue to learn, to study and to grow.

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Kay Kantor Pomerantz was assistant director of the department of education at the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

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