Jewish Grandparenting

Creating a lasting and meaningful Jewish relationship with your grandchildren.

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As role models, we must take seriously the religious component of our own lives. We need to recognize that the goals we embrace in the religious education of our children ought to make us look seriously into our own beliefs. After all, we can't tell our grandchildren about something we don't do. In addition to synagogue attendance and home observance, there are many opportunities to do volunteer work and perform gemilut hasadim, acts of loving-kindness. In all our communities across North America, there are opportunities galore to continue to study Torah and Jewish texts with rabbis, scholars and knowledgeable Jews.

Today, even isolated communities are within reach of "distance" learning, via the computer and videotapes. There are many excellent books that can assist in telling the story of the Jewish people. Our response to the challenge of how we bind our grandchildren to their Jewish heritage is the one that has been used throughout the ages--we bind ourselves to our history, our land, our God and to one another by learning and teaching Torah.

Parents and grandparents teach by example. What a child sees, at any age, can convey as much to that child as a planned activity. Preparing for Shabbat and holidays together, jointly volunteering at a nursing home or soup kitchen, making bikkur holim visits to the infirm or working on a family genealogy project help transmit Jewish experiences and values.

I never knew my grandparents. Both maternal and paternal grandparents perished in Europe. My parents often spoke of them and passed along stories and their favorite sayings. I often find myself contemplating what nahas they would have had from my family, from me. For them, their Jewishness brought war and worse. For my parents, brothers and me, America granted religious freedom to be anything we wanted to be and to do anything we wanted to do. I imagine their delight in knowing their grandchildren and great grandchildren have become Jewish educators, rabbis, cantors and teachers (and a few doctors, too!); that our lives are richer and more meaningful because of our Jewishness. And I continuously contemplate how to most effectively pass these emotions on to our own grandchildren.

Ah, but first I hit #1 on my speed dialing program. It is 8 PM and five-year-old Benjamin answers the phone and says he's ready to be tucked in for the night. I am quite ready. He takes the portable phone into bed with him and I tell him a bedtime story. (Sometimes, these are his favorite books, but often they are created "on the spot" and tend to be pedagogic but fun.) Next, we sing one or two songs (his choice). And then when he says the shema and recites ve-ahavta, no matter how many times we've done the routine, my eyes swell up with tears. I am struck with awe and wonder and feel God's presence. The words may be coming from his lips, but they are uttered with the blessings and love of many generations.

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