Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Schools have had to make innumerable changes since the start of the pandemic a year ago. Most of those changes focused on the students and staff, safety and ensuring academic standards. Yeshivat He’Atid implemented all these new policies as well, but they also turned their attention outward to their greater school community.

When PTA Co-President Ayelet Mermelstein met with school administration about programming for the 2021-2022 school year, one major focus was how to be more inclusive of grandparents at the school. Though He’Atid had always included grandparents for major events like plays and performances, this year Mermelstein wanted to do even more. She was very sensitive to the strain the pandemic had placed on grandparents; how secluded many felt with their usual pastimes and activities canceled and visits with family or friends suddenly on hold for the foreseeable future.

That meeting planted the seeds for the Yeshivat He’Atid Grandparents Association, dedicated to programming for this group. The new association had three main goals: To have grandparents interact more with their grandchildren; to support grandparents through the pandemic; and to connect them to and with the school community.

With those goals in mind, the committee planned numerous Zoom activities for students and grandparents to do together throughout the year. A napkin folding workshop was a big hit for all participants. “Grandparents really like napkin folding. Who knew?” quipped Mermelstein. An interactive “Cooking Together” event, led by parent Toby Moses, was an enormous success prompting calls between grandparents and grandchildren to discuss shopping for ingredients, prepping and finally eating the same meal, together—albeit in different places. There was also a pre-Purim “Hamantaschen Bake” which drew rave reviews.

“I had so much fun learning napkin folding with my grandkids and was especially proud that I was the only grandpa among the grandmas. We are looking forward to using our napkin folding skills over Pesach and appreciate all He’Atid has done to reach out to the grandparents this year,” shared Harry Reidler, He’Atid grandfather of Lev (nursery), Sarelle (kindergarten) and Layla (third).

All of these workshops provided a shared interest, helping to build relationships between grandparents and their grandchildren. Mermelstein explained, “These events opened up avenues of communication between grandparents and grandchildren, giving them additional conversation topics and a reason [for students] to call their grandparents. They discussed ingredients, preparation, ‘do you have the Zoom link’ etc.”

The committee was also mindful of the emotional toll the pandemic has taken and created the Yeshivat He’Atid Wellness Series which featured three different mental health presentations, specifically for grandparents, via Zoom. They included: “Who’s Afraid of Big Feelings? How to handle your child’s and grandchild’s anger, sadness, fear and frustration,” with Estie Reidler, Ph.D.; “Linking the Generations: Strengthening Relationships Through Challenging Times,” with Mark Staum, LCSW; “Grandparenting: Get it Right and Everybody Wins,” with Alex Bailey, Psy.D. Each drew a nice crowd, with participants asking questions and happily engaging with each other.

Mermelstein noted, “Some grandparents even logged on from Israel. Feedback was so great and participants were happy to connect, even if far away.”

“As a first-time grandparent to a Yeshivat He’Atid student, I can speak on a personal level to the ingenuity of this program. Kol hakavod to the parents that led this initiative and further developed relationships within our Yeshivat He’Atid extended community,” said Rav Tomer Ronen, head of school at He’Atid and grandfather to Jannette (Toddlers).

This way of thinking is the new norm at Yeshivat He’Atid. Anytime there is a program at school, whether a speaker, performance or even Kabbalat Shabbat, a Zoom link is sent to grandparents so they can be involved. The broad reach that Zoom allows may be the silver lining to the coronavirus cloud.

Though not generally known to be tech-savvy, many grandparents’ skills have improved tremendously during the pandemic, “so now going on a Zoom is not so foreign,”said Merlmelstein. “Zoom has made it much easier to connect and has opened doors for them to be part of He’Atid and develop more as the school grows.”

Not to overlook parents in this equation, an email is sent to parents in advance of every event, encouraging them to to invite their parents so grandparents feel included and wanted by their families. “It shows a caring and connection,” said Mermelstein, “that is so important.”

The focused and deliberate way that He’Atid has reached out to grandparents shows a shift in perspective of including them in every aspect of the school and fostering that connection so they can be full-fledged members of the He’Atid community.

By Michal Rosenberg