How to Be a Good Jewish Grandparent


Julie Wiener’s new column focuses on the Jewish Outreach Institute’s new book, Twenty Things for Grandparents of Interfaith Grandchildren to Do (And Not to Do) to Nurture Jewish Identity in Their Grandchildren. One of the book’s main points is that grandparents can be a powerful model of Jewish identity for their interfaith grandchildren, but they must respect their children’s boundaries.

The book is an answer to the many people who call the Institute when an adult child intermarries, eager for future grandchildren to be raised Jewish yet nervous about appearing meddlesome. My friend “Leah” whose brother recently married a Buddhist woman, tells me that her mother feels so awkward that she frequently tries (to her daughter’s annoyance) to make Leah a go-between, asking her to “remind him that Rosh HaShanah is coming.”

“There’s a general sense of not knowing what to do and feeling paralyzed,” Rabbi Olitzky says, noting that the new book offers “optimism,” as well as concrete suggestions. Those include throwing “the best holiday parties ever”; fostering a positive relationship with your grandchild’s parents and, if possible, offering to help pay for things like Jewish summer camp or other Jewish activities.

Children–and their parents–will respond best to organic activities, ones that don’t feel forced upon them. If you weren’t Jewishly engaged before your intermarried child had children and then all of a sudden start nagging your kids about holidays and Hebrew school, you probably won’t get anywhere. But if Judaism is an important part of your life, and people know it, your grandchildren are more likely to respond. Wiener says:

The book’s best advice, I think, is to “be the best Jew you can be.” You can’t share a passion you don’t actually have, and the more you immerse yourself in Jewish life — whether lighting Shabbat candles, studying Talmud or volunteering for the local federation — the more substantive and meaningful your Jewish identity is going to be. Plus, even if it doesn’t influence your grandchildren, it just might enrich your own life. I will never share my grandmother’s enthusiasm for Yiddish jokes or whitefish salad, but I’m glad she gets pleasure from them.

Laurel Snyder, author of Half/Life: Jew-ish Tales from Interfaith Homes, looks at the issue from a slightly different angle in a recent posting on her blog, Faithhacker. She points out how it’s important for intermarried people to explain their boundaries to their parents:

Because (in the best cases of intermarriage) our generation may be creating new models for the Jewish family. We may be sitting in therapy, learning to communicate, and finding new expressions of shared ground to bridge the religious gap. We may be setting clear boundaries.

But our parents are… well, old. And they’re used to things being done a certain way. And most of the time, they really do just want to help and support us… but they don’t understand the lives we’re constructing. And they don’t want to “intrude” a lot of the time. But they don’t know what crosses the line.

How can they, if we don’t tell them?

I expect in the coming years that we’ll see significant growth in outreach programming directed to the parents of intermarried children.

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