May 16, 2024
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The Importance of Grandparents for the Jewish Future

It is a truism that grandparents are dedicated to their families and are committed to transmitting Jewish values and traditions. Grandparents are often caregivers and babysitters. Grandparents often sacrifice their own time and pursuits and even retirement to care for and be with grandchildren. Some grandparents will fly cross-country to provide childcare for the weekend. Many grandparents will spend time studying with each of their grandchildren in preparation for their bar or bat mitzvah. Grandparents love to bake and cook with grandchildren and share recipes and the stories that accompany them. In short, grandparents play critical roles in the lives of their families and grandchildren.

The relationship of grandparents to their grandchildren has been studied and published in general and Jewish scientific journals. Researchers have found that children, teens and young adults who have strong relationships with their grandparents are healthier emotionally. They have also determined that grandparents play a major role in nurturing the Jewish identity of their grandchildren. The vast majority of Jewish grandparents feel that it is important to transmit Jewish values to grandchildren. Similarly, grandparents who live within an hour or less of their grandchildren provide daytime or overnight childcare or transportation on a regular or as-needed basis.

Traditionally, our bubbes and zaydes, omahs and opas, or whatever we call them, have performed these services as part of their genetic makeup. There was an inherent connection. There was no need for a guidebook to teach them how to relate to their eyniklach. Apparently today things are different. We live in a digital world and too often the person-to-person relationship is sacrificed.

There is an organization called Jewish Grandparents Network that supports and advances grandparents’ roles as supporters of today’s families and as transmitters of Jewish values and traditions. It engages, educates, and celebrates grandparents as an essential influence in Jewish family life.

JGN offers a program called “The Family Room.” It is a virtual space where Judaism and Jewish life comes alive through activities and adventures for grandparents and grandkids. There are eight different “destinations” in which grandparents and grandchildren can explore Arts; Celebrations & Holidays; Cooking & Food; Family Stories; Gardening & the Earth; Health & Wellbeing; Play and a Reading Room. Each destination contains multiple experiences.

The guiding philosophy is that nearly any activity that grandparents love doing with their grandkids can include some form of Jewish learning. The Arts space in The Family Room offers a dance/movement expert with three 5-minute videos for grandparents to move creatively with their grandchildren—in-person or long distance. The Family Stories section provides templates and ideas to learn about and share family histories through video and audio recordings, photos and creative portraits.

Whether gardening, yoga, cooking, dancing, Minecraft—all of these activities can be enriched with Jewish learning and values. The Family Room offers this perspective and makes it easy for grandparents to create loving and meaningful moments. Granted that this website is not crafted with the Orthodox family in mind, and some offerings may be somewhat outside a strictly traditional framework, it offers a starting point for families to be creative within their own comfort zone. Grandparents should preview a segment prior to sharing with grandchildren.

It is a sign of the times perhaps, that what once came naturally to grandparents now requires a guided program. On the other hand, it might be a good thing since our overly technology-oriented grandchildren occupy a world with which most grandparents are unfamiliar. Hence some guidance might be helpful. As the old Yiddish maxim goes: “What was, was, and is no more.”

In addition to the importance of engaging grandparents in Jewish identity development, there’s another reason to include grandparents in this relationship-building. According to The Wall Street Journal, the elderly will leave some $70 trillion between 2018 and 2042. Approximately $61 trillion will go to heirs—with the balance going to charity. In the U.S., 45% of giving to nonprofit organizations comes from grandparents. It is estimated that in Bergen County alone, $100 million annually goes to non-Jewish charities. Traditional Jewish grandparents would agree that it is important to support Jewish charities and causes. The grandparent-grandchild connection can strengthen this notion.

It is important to cultivate and expand meaningful family and Jewish life through the grandparent-grandchild relationships. In addition to The Family Room, as we look at the changing face of today’s Jewish families, there are plans for focusing on inclusion and outreach efforts to engage multi-faith and multi-racial families, families with LGBTQ+ members, and those with children and adults with physical or developmental differences.

“Grandparents are a hidden treasure in plain sight, a living bridge from our past to our Jewish future,” said Lee M. Hendler, president and co-founder of JGN and a grandmother of six. “By helping grandparents engage grandkids in Jewish experiences, family ties are strengthened, families have deeper Jewish connections and we help to ensure a more vibrant Jewish future,” added David Raphael, executive director and grandfather of two.

The Jewish Grandparents Network (https://jewishgrandparentsnetwork.org) gives today’s grandparents the confidence, ideas and tools to promote special interactions with their grandchildren. The future of Judaism will be guaranteed if the vision and beliefs of the grandparents are shared by their grandchildren.

“A threefold cord is not easily broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)


Rabbi Dr. Wallace Greene and his wife are proud grandparents who strive to bond with their grandchildren, each in their own way.

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