At Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI), the organization that created The Grandparents Circle, we are committed to providing content and resources to help you discover new ideas for nurturing the Jewish identity of your interfaith grandchildren. One of the best ways to engage grandchildren of all ages in Jewish life is to make learning fun. The artists and puppeteers at Sesame Workshop—the creators of Sesame Street—have been masters of this since the 1960s. This expertise has extended to Jewish educational programming through Shalom Sesame, a cross-platform media initiative developed to introduce American children to Jewish culture, Hebrew language and the diversity of Israel.
JOI is thrilled to be partnering with Shalom Sesame to create materials which aim to speak to the increasingly diverse Jewish community of today. Our shared Jewish heritage is a powerful link that can connect us across a variety of backgrounds, and embracing that diversity will only serve to strengthen our individual and shared Jewish identities.
Our holiday resource guides help you to navigate ShalomSesame.org from this perspective. The guides list activities, crafts, Shalom Sesame videos and accompanying discussion questions. This is an easy-to-use tool to explore Judaism with your interfaith grandchildren, and to be a part of their Jewish learning. And it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a little help from the Muppets!
We are excited to release our newest Passover-themed guide. To access the PDF, please click here!
Did you know that National Grandparents Day 2012 is this Sunday, September 9?
Seize the chance to celebrate the special relationship between grandparent and grandchild with this exciting opportunity!
Starting Sunday, the Legacy Project in partnership with Generations United is kicking off its annual “Listen to a Life” contest. The contest gathers 300-word testimonials from young people around the country who have interviewed an older adult about their life experiences. The two organizations work to promote intergenerational unity and connection through a variety of initiatives, which is so beautifully aligned with the spirit and mission of the Grandparents Circle.
In sharing memories with your grandchildren, you are inherently creating new memories together, and a project like this could be a wonderful impetus for that conversation. It also provides a perfect opportunity to infuse the conversation with Jewish memories, thereby bringing your grandchild that much closer to his or her Jewish heritage. In associating Judaism with such positive memories and interactions, you can create that much more of an impact on your grandchild’s Jewish identity.
What story would you share about your Jewish life experience? How can you make Grandparents Day a little more special this year (or even acknowledged)?
Happy Grandparents Day from JOI!
Through the help and hard work of our excellent partner institutions, we at the Jewish Outreach Institute have brought Grandparents Circles to 49 communities across North America. Over 800 grandparents like you have completed the course and now feel empowered to nurture the Jewish identities of their grandchildren in a respectful, yet meaningful way. Today, you can find circles in Greensboro, NC, Philadelphia, PA, Miami, FL and beyond!
Nevertheless, we know that some of you may not have access to Grandparents Circle courses. There may not be a class in your neighborhood, or you may prefer to explore these sensitive topics on your own. For this reason, we have created two new Grandparents Circle programs that will help you learn the strategies offered by the Grandparents Circle course in order to share your Judaism with your grandchildren. For example, you can now explore the Grandparents Circle recommendations and techniques through a an introspective new reading guide, Grandparenting Your Interfaith Grandkids, to accompany Twenty Things for Grandparents of Interfaith Grandchildren to Do (And Not Do) to Nurture Jewish Identity in Their Children by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky and Paul Golin. By signing up and working with this self-guide, you will emerge with an action plan and sense of optimism in sharing your Jewish identity with your grandchildren.
The summer is already winding down and kids are heading back to school in the next few weeks. This transition back to the classroom can bring about many anxieties among children. They may wonder: “Will I be smart enough? I’ve heard third grade is the hardest…” “Will I be included at recess this year?” “What if I don’t make the basketball team?” Such thoughts can make kids extremely nervous before that “first day.”
Even if you are not on the frontlines and with your grandkids all the time, it is important to recognize how you can support your grandchildren at the beginning of the new school year. As a Jewish grandparent, you have the advantage of wisdom, experience, and the ability to share Jewish lessons for everyday life. What mitzvot can you teach, activities can you share, or conversations can you have to help your grandchild become mentally prepared for the next school year? How will you prepare your grandkids for the big step back into the classroom?
Here are some ideas to infuse your time with your grandchildren with love, fun, and Jewish living before they enter their next scholastic chapter:
- Go School Supply Shopping Together: Take your grandchild school supply shopping, and use it as an opportunity to discuss your memories of school. Who was your favorite teacher? When did you feel most challenged? How do you remember your school days? Make sure to talk to your grandchild about any anxieties they may have before starting school.
- Buy Extra Supplies to Donate: Purchase some extra school supplies and choose an organization together through which you can donate to children in need (eg: Operation International Children, Develop Africa). In this conversation, you can discuss what the Jewish idea of tikkun olam (repairing the world) means and convey the importance of education to the well-being of every child in the world.
- Read Together: Get your grandchild ready and excited to read again. Read your favorite childhood book together. Take your grandchild to the library and have them choose a book. You may also consider talking to your adult child about signing their child up to receive books from PJLibrary, an organization that will send Jewish-themed books monthly to families raising Jewish children. Then, you can read Jewish books together on a regular basis or discuss the books over the phone (or online video chatting like Skype).
- Eat Apples and Honey: Who says you can’t eat this delicious treat throughout the year? An apple a day, right? Have some sweet snacks with your grandchildren to start off a good, productive school year. Explain to your grandchild that this is a tradition at Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which you will be celebrating in the coming month.
- Say the She-hecheyanu Together: First, make sure that your adult child and his/her partner would be comfortable with you teaching a Jewish prayer to their child. Then, if you get the OK, call your grandchild or visit him/her the day before he/she starts school. Introduce the she-hecheyanu prayer, which celebrates the arrival of special occasions like the first evening of a holiday, the first time eating fruit of the harvest, or the first time doing a certain mitzvah. Teach your grandchild the prayer and how Judaism emphasizes the importance of cycles and new beginnings. Discuss what it means to start a new phase in your life. How else do you mark special occasions?
Any of these activities can be a special way to spend time with your grandchild. Whether you can add Jewish lessons to the conversation or not, make sure you do all you can to help your grandchild feel prepared to enter the classroom. Showing your love and support is itself a mitzvah.
Now that school is out, kids around the country can enjoy the heat of the summer and free time without the worry of homework or the extra-curricular activities. As such, many children have extended periods of free time – so much so that they are at a loss of how to spend it!
As grandparents, summer is a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time with your grandchildren. You can organize activities for pure fun and introduce the flavor of Judaism into your grandchildren’s lives. With summer being mostly absent of Jewish holidays, this is your time to be creative!
Here are some ideas on how to spend your summer with your grandchildren:
- Host a Shabbat meal for your grandchildren and their family. Try grilling and eating outside to give Shabbat a summer feel;
- If your grandchildren are at sleep-away camp, consider surprising them on Visitors’ Day or Weekend;
- Teach your grandchildren a Hebrew camp song;
- Help your grandchildren learn the concepts of baal taschit, “do not destroy,” and tikkun olam “repair the world” by volunteering in the great outdoors, whether it be by picking up trash, helping in a community garden, or planting trees. For more on these ideas, click here.
- Consider taking your grandchildren on a trip. There often is a Jewish connection in any town or city.
Have you ever done any of these activities with your grandchildren? Or do you have any ideas for summer activities that are particularly fun? Help other grandparents and let us know!
What do your grandchildren call you? Do they use traditional secular names, like “grandma” or “pops?” Or did your grandchildren come up with creative names? How much do you identify with your grandparent “title?”
In a recent New York Times article, “Who Are You Calling Grandma?” reporter, Alexandra Zissu highlights a growing trend among the emerging Baby-Boomer grandparent demographic: the antipathy toward the names “grandma” and “grandpa.” As Goldie Hawn explained regarding her unfavorable opinion of the word “grandmother,” “it has so many connotations of old age and decrepitude!” Her grandson instead calls her Glam-ma!
The Grandparents Circle Blog has highlighted this article because transitioning into grandparenthood can be difficult whether you have grandchildren in interfaith homes or not. Sometimes your grandparent “name” can make a big difference in your attitude toward your new role. What do your grandchildren being raised in interfaith homes call you? If you have grandchildren raised in Jewish homes, do they call you by a different name? Should it make a difference?
This is a guest post by Sharon Morton, Founder and Executive Director of Grandparents for Social Action.
I grew up in a completely Jewish neighborhood – Jewish except for the neighbors on either side of my home. I really loved both sets of neighbors, having either decorated their Christmas trees or spent time on their porch waiting for my parents to get home after work. My relationships with these neighbors proved to be crucial, as I grew up both loving my Judaism and respecting those of other traditions.
As an adult, I married an assimilated man, whose mother had converted to Christian Science when he was young. While he had no Jewish or Christian background, his family did display a Christmas tree. I enjoyed his family’s tree when we were dating, but once my children were born, I was less than thrilled to have them participate in the tradition. We had chosen to raise our children to be Jews. Nonetheless, my husband and I later divorced, and he married a Catholic woman. In the end, my children grew up participating in both religions. Two of them married Jews and have Jewish homes. One married a Christian and her children are being raised as Christians. As the Director of Religious Education at Am Shalom in Glencoe, Illinois, the reality of my children’s religious upbringing was not always easy for me. Interfaith issues began to arise once my daughters began to date.
When my youngest daughter, Cindy, began dating a wonderful young man in high school, I thought she could not have asked for more; he was a mensch. I had been divorced for many years, so I was quite thrilled to witness my daughter with such a fine person. To be sure, while they were dating, I told Cindy that I would never be sad about her marrying a man who wasn’t Jewish, so long she chose to raise her children as Jews. Following our conversation, I assumed that she would do so.
I turned out to be wrong. On a subsequent trip to Florida with Cindy, she informed me that she and her boyfriend would marry, attend church together, and send their future children to church as well. Though she assured me that she loved me dearly and never wanted to hurt me, she had chosen God, as she knew Him.
Of course, I was devastated. It pained me to think I would not have Jewish grandchildren. I did not tell many people about her decision, nor did I tell my friends that she wanted to be married by a minister. Instead, feeling conflicted, I met with the rabbi of my congregation and offered to quit my job as the Director of Education. How could I possibly stand up each day and tell people how to raise their children to marry Jews when I could not even make it happen for my own family? The rabbi gave me answers that put me at ease. First, he asked me, “What is really important to you as a mother? What do you want most for your daughter?”
He knew my answer even before I said it.
“I want a daughter who is honest, ethical and good to her toes, who has a sense of self esteem and delights in doing good for others.”
“And you certainly have that. When she gets married and goes to church, she will still be all the things you wanted the most. And if she walks on the other side of the street from you, while you continue go in the same direction [as before], then that is not so bad.”
Then, the rabbi addressed my professional role in the Jewish community. Rather than encourage me to leave my position, he argued that by staying I would be better able to help members of my synagogue. With these new experiences, I would understand the issues of my congregants better. Having Jewish grandchildren is never a guarantee, no matter what you do. He then reminded me of a story from the rabbis of long ago:
A rabbi went to God and told God that his son was marrying outside the faith. God asked him, “Do you love your son?” “Of course I do,” said the Rabbi. Then, God said, “Love him even more.”
In the midst of this big family development, I went to see the movie, “My Big, Fat Greek Wedding.” During the film, there is a scene depicting the father harassing his daughter for her intention to marry out of the faith – demanding that she break up with her fiancé. In the following scene, the mother and daughter sit together on a bed, and the daughter asks the mother how she feels about her marrying a non-Greek. The mother’s answer was simple and profound, and it hit me right between the eyes. She said, “My daughter, I did not give birth to you so you could be me. I gave birth to you so you could grow and become your own person, and you are a beautiful person.” I knew that was true for me too.
In the end, my daughter and future son–in-law were so understanding of my feelings that they chose to forgo marrying in a church, deciding that an outdoors wedding would be easier for me to handle. This decision allowed me to begin accepting their choices as a couple. In turn, I explained that wanting them to have a Jewish home was slightly selfish on my part. I wanted my daughter’s family to celebrate my holidays. I wanted to attend the Bar/Bat Mitzvah of my grandchildren and tell my friends about my children’s Jewish lives. These desires were really about me.
Today, Cindy’s children are beautiful, fun, loving and delightful boys. They respect me, my religious beliefs, and even attend all of the Jewish holidays at my home. The boys have made Shabbat challah covers and other Jewish gifts for me. They participated in Shabbat blessings when I babysat every Friday night. They know the blessings and are proud to say them.
As a grandparent, I have chosen to take an active role in my grandchildren’s spiritual growth and journey exploring their self-identities. I took them on Jewish grandparent/grandchild retreats and now, being at the ages of 13 and 16, I answer their questions as honestly and respectfully as I can. I am indeed, blessed by my child and her family exactly as it is.
Now the question is: what is the legacy that I can leave to my grandchildren? What is the greatest gift that I can give to them? My choice has been to start a very small philanthropy fund for each of them. Additionally, I have founded an organization called Grandparents for Social Action, which helps grandparents find ways to commit to social action projects with their grandchildren. It has always been imperative for me as a Jew and grandparent to teach my grandchildren the importance of social action or employing acts of tikkun olam (repairing the world).
This collaborative social action work with my grandchildren has helped my grandchildren and me immensely. At this point in my life, I am truly content with the life decisions my daughter had made. She has a wonderful husband who is kind to me and to everyone he encounters. More importantly, he teaches this same kindness and generosity of spirit to his children. My daughter, son in law and I have a beautiful relationship. As I become older, I am aware that they are all truly a blessing in my life.
If you find my story and organization dedicated to tikkun olam inspiring, you too can commit to social action with your grandchildren, no matter their religion. You can find social action projects for you and your grandchildren, by visiting grandparentsforsocialaction.org and signing up for a free once-a-month e-newsletter. The newsletter
provides ideas to empower your grandchildren to be social action activists and philanthropists.
This Sunday, May 8th is Mother’s Day, a day we thank and recognize all the mothers in our lives, whether they be our own mothers or the mothers of our grandchildren. This year (and every year), the Jewish Outreach Institute would like to encourage you to take the time to honor your daughter-in-law of another religious background. Mother’s Day is a great opportunity to thank her for the hard work and dedication she has shown in raising your grandchildren to be good, ethical people.
So, this Mother’s Day, embrace the positive, and focus upon all the good she has done. Send her a message that tells her you support her. Prepare a meal for her with your grandchildren. Even though you may not see eye-to-eye on all aspects of child-rearing, you can still thank your daughter-in-law and acknowledge her efforts and accommodations. Make her know that she is appreciated. She will return the goodwill. If you are looking for any ideas to show your gratitude, this article gives some creative tips.
Happy Mother’s Day!