In conversations with grandparents across North America, we hear remarkable stories of their dedication to their families and of their commitment for transmitting Jewish values and traditions:
A grandmother leaves her position as a successful midwife to care for her grandchildren four days a week. Grandparents who fly cross-country to provide childcare for the weekend.Grandparents who studied for three years with each of their grandchildren in preparation for their B’nai mitzvah. Grandparents lovingly baking and cooking with grandchildren and sharing holiday recipes and the stories that accompany them.
These conversations bear out what past research tells us: Grandparents play essential roles in the lives of their families and grandchildren:
Children, teens and young adults who have strong relationships with their grandparents are emotionally healthier (University of Oxford 2019, and Boston College, 2016). Grandparents play a major role in nurturing the Jewish identity of their grandchildren (Kosin and Keysar, 2014 and the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, 2015).
Our 2019 National Study of Jewish Grandparents provides significant additional data about the demographics, attitudes and aspirations of today’s Jewish grandparents. For instance:
71% of grandparents agreed that “It is important to me to transmit Jewish values to my grandchildren and 70% also responded that “It is important to me to teach my grandchildren about Jewish heritage.”75% of grandparents who live within an hour or less of their grandchildren provide daytime or overnight childcare of transportation services on a regular or as-needed basis).
The Jewish Grandparents Network supports and advances grandparents’ roles as essential supporters of todays’ families and as transmitters of Jewish values and traditions. Our newest offering, “The Family Room,” is a unique virtual space where Judaism and Jewish life come alive through activities and adventures for grandparents and grandkids. Through eight different “destinations” grandparents and grandchildren can learn and explore the Arts; Celebrations & Holidays; Cooking & Food; Family Stories; Gardening & the Earth; Health & Wellbeing; Play and a Reading Room. Each destination has multiple one-of-a-kind experiences, with more coming on a rolling basis.
An essential strategy of the Family Room is to demonstrate that nearly any activity that grandparents love doing with their grandkids can include some form of Jewish learning. The arts space in the Family Room offers a dance/movement expert offering three 5-minute videos for grandparents to move creatively with their grandchildren—in person or long distance. Family Stories offers templates and ideas to learn about and share family histories through video and audio recordings, photos, and creative portraits. Whether gardening, yoga, cooking, dancing, Minecraft—all of these activities can be enriched with Jewish learning and values. The Family Room unlocks this potential and makes it easy for grandparents to create those loving and meaningful moments.
The Jewish Grandparents Network recognizes the importance of partnering with Jewish organizations to share this content with their communities and is offering access to the Family Room to Jewish organizations at no cost. We believe that there is great potential for schools, JCC’s, camps and synagogues to use these activities to enrich children’s and families’ Jewish engagement experiences.
In addition to the importance of engaging grandparents in partners in Jewish identity development, there’s another self-serving reason to include grandparents in outreach and programming: Older generations will hand down some $70 trillion between 2018 and 2042. Roughly $61 trillion will go to heirs – with the balance going to philanthropy (The Wall Street Journal, July 3, 2021). In the US, 45% of giving to nonprofit organizations comes from grandparents. And for Jewish grandparents specifically, 70% agree that it is important to support Jewish charities and causes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has elevated and illuminated the “vital connection” between grandparents and grandchildren. Grandparents are stepping up in so many ways; filling gaps in childcare, playing lead roles in remote and distant learning programs, bringing parents and grandparents into their homes, often for months at a time.
Today, there is an unprecedented opportunity to cultivate and expand meaningful family and Jewish life through the grandparent-grandchild relationship. In addition to the Family Room, we soon will launch a new podcast, “skip-gen retreats (designed especially for grandparents and grandkids), in-person and virtual grandparent support groups, a learning series and more. Our research and advocacy efforts will continue to make the case to Jewish communities that grandparents are essential partners in organizational and communal Jewish identity development, education, and engagement. Finally, as we look at the changing face of today’s Jewish families, JGN plans on focusing on inclusion in its activities and outreach efforts to engage multi-faith and multi-racial families, families with LGBTQ+ members and those with children and adults with physical or developmental differences.
Grandparents are a hidden treasure in plain sight, a living bridge from our past to our Jewish future. By helping grandparents engage grandkids in Jewish experiences, family ties are strengthened, families have deeper Jewish connections and we help to ensure a more vibrant Jewish future. Let’s give grandparents the confidence, ideas and tools to foster even more special interactions with their loved ones.
David Raphael is co-founder and CEO of The Jewish Grandparents Network.