The Grandparents Circle is an education and support program for Jewish grandparents whose adult children have intermarried. Learn more ...

What’s a Grandparent to Do?: Sharing Judaism with Grandchildren in Interfaith Families

Posted August 22, 2014 in Uncategorized | Add a Comment

This article was originally posted on CJ Voices, Conservative Judaism’s online publication, and features an interview with Big Tent Judaism board member Bettina Kurowski, who was instrumental in creating the Grandparents Circle program. To view the original article, click here.


To highlight the powerful role that grandparents play in children’s lives – including children in interfaith families – Big Tent Judaism is hosting a weekend of activities to coincide with Grandparents Day on Sunday, September 7.

Bettina Kurowski with her grandchild

The word “millennial” is at the center of conversation in today’s Jewish community. But we shouldn’t ignore another group that is equally pivotal to Jewish continuity – grandparents.

To highlight the powerful role that grandparents play in children’s lives – including children in interfaith families – Big Tent Judaism is hosting a weekend of activities to coincide with Grandparents Day on Sunday, September 7.

The National Grandparents Circle Salon Weekend, from September 6– 7, will convene informal gatherings of Jewish grandparents whose children have intermarried. These salons create a space for discussion about how to foster the Jewish identity of grandchildren being raised in interfaith families, while at the same time improving relationships between grandparents and their adult children.

Led by a grandparent, participants learn strategies for creating Jewish experiences for their grandchildren and establishing positive relationships with their adult children that are informed by the book Twenty Things for Grandparents of Interfaith Grandchildren to Do (And Not Do) to Nurture Jewish Identity in Their Grandchildren, by Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky and Paul Golin. Grandparents Circle Salons are part of Big Tent Judaism’s Grandparents Circle, a series of free educational programs for Jewish grandparents whose adult children have intermarried. These programs have been implemented nearly 150 times in nearly 100 communities across North America.

Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute board member Bettina Kurowski was instrumental in developing the Grandparents Circle, which she piloted at Valley Beth Shalom, a large Conservative Synagogue in Encino, California. Bettina spoke with me about her role in helping to create the Grandparents Circle, how her participation in the inaugural Grandparents Circle helped her shape positive Jewish memories with her family, and why the Grandparents Circle is important for the Conservative Movement.

What led you to your involvement in creating the Grandparents Circle?

Bettina Kurowski: I was a new grandparent of a child being raised in an interfaith family. I had no friends who had children who had married people of other faiths. Big Tent Judaism had been engaged by my local Federation to do a community assessment, and it happened that I was president of the local Federation at the time. This was approximately 12 years ago. I was so impressed by Big Tent Judaism and Rabbi Kerry Olitzky that I started to look into what they’d done previously. Lo and behold, Kerry’s book on grandparenting had just come out, maybe a month after I first met him. I bought it right away, read it, and knew that Big Tent Judaism also had The Mothers Circle (a program for women of other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children in the context of an interfaith marriage).

It occurred to me that there were many other grandparents like myself, who were younger and/or more vibrant than what we think of as grandparents in the preceding two generations, and there were many of us who wanted an opportunity to learn, to get ideas about how to deal with certain situations and to develop a group of other people in similar circumstances. Since I am an academic type and lifelong learner, I immediately took an Introduction to Judaism class, because I knew that I was embarking upon a world where needed to be able to explain what Judaism was, in contrast to the religion of my grandchildren’s father.

I approached Kerry and asked, “What would it take to create a curriculum with the same approach as The Mothers Circle?” And my husband and I were able to fund it, to get it started. Big Tent Judaism developed the curriculum, we pilot tested it in L.A. at my own synagogue, Valley Beth Shalom (Encino, CA), which is a large Conservative synagogue, and it was very successful. Big Tent Judaism evaluated the program and then they began growing it in other places. I recently moved to Denver, and shared with the local Denver JCC my involvement with Big Tent Judaism. The JCC had already taken advantage of The Mothers Circle, and they are going to be starting the Grandparents Circle at two locations here in Denver in the fall. So I feel very good about that.

Why do you think the Grandparents Circle is important for nurturing grandchildren’s Jewish identities?

I meet more and more people like myself, who want an avenue for learning and for sharing feelings about the importance of being a good role model in these circumstances, because I feel strongly, as Big Tent Judaism does, that we as Jews have to do a much, much better job at welcoming these families into our fold, making it comfortable for these families to embrace Judaism, and it’s very important that grandparents be supportive and sensitive of the issues. There are so many things that we might say as grandparents in this circumstance that could be offensive. We don’t want to do that. We want to make it possible for our grandchildren to feel good about their Judaism and possibly embrace it more as they learn more.

How has the Grandparents Circle changed the way you approach Judaism with your family?

I take each of my grandchildren on a trip wherever they want to go when they turn nine. I just got back from taking one of my grandchildren to New York. New York is just filled with Jews, and it was an opportunity for me to lace my conversation with the things that we saw or did: we would only eat kosher hot dogs on the street, I would explain why, and why Jews care about keeping kosher, and look! Other people care about that too! Muslims eat halal food, meat products from animals that have been killed and treated in a similar way.

Another example: During holidays when I would celebrate with my family, I used to insist that the men all wear a kippah (head covering), and this always led to fighting. Now, I tell them that they can also wear a baseball cap. Everyone is fine with this. It’s important to be respectful of everyone. My relationship with my family is great. Everyone calls me Bubbe (Yiddish for grandmother)—even my son-in-law! Just imagine this big, grown man calling out, “Bubbe, Bubbe! Where are you?” I love it.

Why do you think the Grandparents Circle is important for the Conservative Movement?

It gives you a chance and helps you start thinking about how we can weave Judaism into [grandchildren’s] lives and the conversation, without criticizing or putting down the other faith of the parent. The more they know about Judaism in a positive light, the better—this is why Conservative synagogues should want to do this! The Grandparents Circle gives the tools to present Judaism in a non-judgmental, positive light. The more our grandchildren know about Judaism in that way, the more likely they are to embrace Judaism of their own choice. Isn’t that what we want, to bring these kids into the fold? It shows what their Judaism is, what it means, and that they are a part of our people.


For more information about the Grandparents Circle and to host a Grandparents Circle Salon during National Grandparents Circle weekend or any time, please contact Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute Program Associate Katie Singh at 212-760-1440 or KSingh[at]JOI.org.


Grandparents Circle Salon, Coming to a Community Near You

Posted August 6, 2014 in Uncategorized | Add a Comment

Grandparents Circle Salon Weekend is a little over a month away! The Grandparents Circle Discussion Salon brings grandparents together in an informal, peer-led setting to initiate discussion and create the sense of optimism needed to improve relationships with adult children and help grandchildren identify with Judaism.

We are excited to announce that the following communities are hosting Grandparents Circle Salons during Grandparents Circle Salon Weekend, September 6-7:

  • Indianapolis, IN
  • Rockaway, NJ
  • Lynbrook, NY
  • Columbus, OH
  • Reading, PA
  • Houston, TX

If you would like to learn more and participate in a Grandparents Circle Salon in one of these communities, please contact program associate Katie Singh at KSingh[at]JOI.org or 212-760-1440.


Celebrate Grandparents Day with Big Tent Judaism and the Grandparents Circle!

Posted July 30, 2014 in Holidays | Add a Comment

Celebrate Grandparents' Day with Big Tent Judaism!

Sunday, September 7 is Grandparents Day. To celebrate, Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute is hosting National Grandparents Circle Salon Weekend on September 6 and 7.

Honor Grandparents Day by joining us on September 6 and 7 to celebrate your role as a grandparent in building a Jewish identity in the next generation of Jewish children.

The Grandparents Circle Discussion Salon brings grandparents together in a peer-led setting to initiate discussion and create the sense of optimism needed to improve relationships with adult children and help grandchildren identify with Judaism. They are easy, fun, and can be hosted at home, much like a book club. Hosting a Grandparents Circle Salon is completely free, and we will provide all the materials necessary to get started. It’s an informal lay-led discussion that shows the community recognizes grandparents’ needs as members of an interfaith family.

Grandparents Circle Salons help grandparents learn, share, and support one another in nurturing a Jewish identity for their grandchildren. This can be an important resource to help foster a more inclusive community.

“Participating in the Grandparents Circle has made me determined to develop a better relationship with my non-Jewish daughter-in-law so she is comfortable discussing Jewish choices.”

-Marge, participant

We invite you to share this information with anyone in your networks who you feel would benefit from this resource, and encourage them to host a salon for their friends. For them to host a salon, all they need to do is get in touch with us, and we’ll provide the all the necessary materials.

Celebrate this Grandparents Day with a Grandparents Circle Salon, and be a part of the dozens of salons taking place across the nation. Do your part to help build a Jewish identity in grandchildren being raised in an interfaith household, and support the Jewish future.

Please contact Big Tent Judaism Program Associate Katie Singh at KSingh@JOI.org or (212)-760-1440 if you’d like to get more information about hosting a salon.


This Hanukkah, make the miracle happen here…

Posted November 25, 2013 in Holidays | Add a Comment



How Will You Celebrate Hanukkah & Thanksgiving with Your Interfaith Grandchildren?

Posted November 13, 2013 in Holidays | Add a Comment

Jewish grandparents whose grandchildren are being raised in intermarried households can play a big role in shaping the Jewish identities of their grandchildren. And they’re more likely to get the chance to share the fun and meaning of Hanukkah with their grandchildren this year because of the once-in-a-lifetime convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah.

If you’re a Jewish grandparent who often gets to spend Thanksgiving with your grandchildren, but rarely Hanukkah, can you introduce a menorah-lighting before or after the Thanksgiving meal? Or whip out a dreidel for a little fun during halftime of the Lions game? Or maybe you can add latkes to the usual Thanksgiving dishes?

Careful! Just because this year’s holiday conflict is with Turkey Day instead of Christmas, it doesn’t mean you can disregard the sensitivities of your adult children and children-in-law. Broach the subject beforehand. Keep it lighthearted and fun. Don’t let the season’s joy get gobbled up by any preexisting tensions!

To talk it out beforehand with your peers who are also thinking about this opportunity, and to address other challenges and opportunities of being a Jewish grandparent of children being raised in interfaith families, join the free Grandparents Circle email listserve at www.GrandparentsCircle.org. We welcome your voice in the conversation!

And Happy Thanksgivukkah from the Grandparents Circle and everybody at Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute!


Writing Our Intermarried Children Out of the Will?

Posted October 30, 2013 in In the News | Add a Comment

I gasped when I read a recent article by David I. Bernstein in eJewishPhilanthropy that you should cut (or threaten to cut) your child’s inheritance in half if they intermarry– even though most of us know that our parents are living longer and there probably won’t be all that much to inherit. Bernstein goes on to suggest that you should only send your children to colleges with large Jewish populations. (Read: Only pay for college if they go where you want them to go.)

But Jews are no longer (for the most part) meeting their spouses in college. According to the National Jewish Population Study, only 10% of college-aged Jewish men and 18% of college-aged Jewish women are married. That means 90% of all Jewish men and 82% of all Jewish women marry after they get out of college. So there goes your child meeting his or her Jewish spouse in college. Maybe you could put in your will that your child must become a Jewish communal professional in the hopes of meeting another Jew in the workforce. Or we could carry the stereotype even further – they can only work in finance, medicine, or the law – that’s where the Jews are, after all, right? Or media – do we still control the media?

These responses to intermarriage are purely punitive. As parents, we know that punishment only goes so far toward achieving the behaviors we desire in our children. If we cross the line, the rebellion can create a wedge in relationships that last for generations.

Continue reading…


Using the Muppets as Jewish Engagement for Your Grandchildren!

Posted March 11, 2013 in Holidays | Add a Comment

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!


Happy Grandparents Day!

Posted September 6, 2012 in Uncategorized | Add a Comment

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!


New Grandparents Circle Programs!

Posted October 27, 2011 in Uncategorized | Add a Comment

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. 

Continue reading…


Getting Your Grandchildren Ready for Back-to-School

Posted August 19, 2011 in Uncategorized | Add a Comment

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.