As we already know, interfaith marriages can put quite a strain on the relationship between parents and the children getting married. But when those parents become grandparents, the conversation takes on a new dimension – Jewish grandparents are now seeking ways to help their interfaith grandchildren find meaning in a Jewish life.
That’s why JOI has started a program called The Grandparents Circle, which is based on the book “Twenty Things for Grandparents of Interfaith Grandchildren to Do (And Not Do) to Nurture Jewish Identity in Their Grandchildren,” by our own Rabbi Kerry Olitzky and Paul Golin. The program offers grandparents skills and techniques to nurture, and in some cases help establish, their interfaith grandchildren’s Jewish identities. It was piloted in Los Angeles in January, and is now starting in Hartford, Connecticut, where it was recently featured in The Hartford Courant.
Writer Elizabeth Hamilton talked to a few sets of grandparents to find out how they reacted to the news their children were going to marry someone of a different faith. One couple said they were in mourning, another said they embraced the idea because “we felt we had no choice. We didn’t want to alienate our son.”
But all the grandparents interviewed want the same thing – they want to create and maintain a close knit “cultural and religious relationship with their grandchildren.” For some, that means inviting their family over for Shabbat dinner. For others whose grandchildren live out of town, it’s giving Jewish-themed presents on holidays and birthdays. What’s most important is that the grandparents respect the decisions their children have made and stay involved, not grieve over what they might perceive as a loss. One of the grandparents interviewed, Rona Gelber, summed it up nicely: “There’s never a ‘no.’ There’s always an opening.”
The Grandparents Circle provides participants with a supportive and open-minded environment to share their achievements, express their frustrations, and acknowledge their challenges. For more information, or if you would like to bring the Grandparents Circle to your area, please contact LMarcovitz@joi.org.