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Being a Grandparent – Joy and Traditions – August 20, 2013

We have just returned from our annual summer vacation with our children and it was wonderful!  We hiked in the rivers and valleys of the Galilee and the Golan Heights, splashed in the streams and springs of the North and just enjoyed our time together.  When the children were young, all of our children went with us each year and since they are all so close in age, it was easy to plan a vacation that everyone would enjoy.  As the children got older, there were some days where we split up and the older children did a more strenuous hike while the younger ones stayed with Ed and me and we did a lighter walk.

Today, not all of our children join us each year,   Each summer some are busy with other plans but there are always some who do join us.  This year, my oldest two children joined us.  My youngest son, our only married son, joined us with his wife and for the first time, with our grandson!

Ever since Elitzur was born, he has become the star of our family.  When our married children come to visit, the first question we ask is “Where is Elitzur,” and then Ed and I compete to hug him first.  While I was in the US a few weeks ago, I was so excited to show everyone I knew the photos of my grandson which I had saved in my cellphone.  And when Ed sent me a current picture of Elitzur in the bathtub, I was over the moon.

What is it about a baby just 3 months old that sends us into squeals of excitement and melts us like butter?  I know I am not alone in this feeling because everyone I meet who is also a grandparent makes sure to tell me that it is such an amazing thing to have grandchildren.  So how is it that a little papoose sends us into euphoria?

I well remember having my own babies and I have to say that they, too, created enormous feelings of euphoria.  I especially remember how I felt right after giving birth, that amazing high that comes from witnessing a birth and from knowing that this beautiful child has come from you, is part of you.  But with grandchildren, we don’t give birth to them.  But yet, they are ours.  We didn’t have to carry that heavy baby around during months of an uncomfortable pregnancy, we certainly did not have to go through labor, but the baby still has that special connection to us.

And isn’t that what being a grandparent is all about.  All the joy and none of the aggravation?  We don’t have to  worry about their teeth, so we can give them chocolate and candies.  We don’t have to worry about them turning out as spoiled brats, so we are happy to pamper them when they come to visit.  We can leave it to their parents to educate them and ensure that they turn out as wonderful, responsible adults.  We just have to love them and give them the amazing feeling that they are part of a family, of something a bit bigger than just them, their siblings and their parents.  They continue our names, our traditions and the quirks of personalities.  And while the experience of being a grandparent is something we can all share, as a Jew, it is just one more way that I feel connected to my past.

Just a few weeks ago, I was in the US and on one of my speaking engagements, I spoke about the history of anti-Semitism from a personal point of view.  I talked about my grandmother on my father’s side who fled Russia in the 1920’s after her husband and baby son were murdered in a pogrom.  She found refuge in the US.  I spoke about my grandfather on my mother’s side who fled Czechoslovakia just ahead of the Nazis, also one of the lucky ones to find refuge in the US.  I talked about how these stories were part of who I am and how my yearning to move to Israel and my fiercely Zionistic passions grew not only from my Biblical connections but from a more personal need to have a home of our own.

After my talk, many people came up to me and expressed strong feelings as they related to the personal stories I told.  They told me they had no idea this was my background and were moved that I shared these stories with them.   In a way, I was surprised.  After all, these are stories that are shared by everyone I know.  Growing up in the US when I did, every one of my friends could tell a story of a parent or grandparent who had experienced something similar.  And I was a lucky one!  One quarter of my classmates were children of Holocaust survivors.

To me, history has always been mixed with  the personal, because that is what Jewish history is for Jews.  It was only after talking to those friends after my talk that it dawned on me that what we take for granted as our personal history, is just history for so many others.  I only then realized how personal history can become if it is indeed about your parents and your grandparents.

And that enabled me to understand a valuable lesson about the role of grandparents.  I have an amazing understanding of Jewish history because it was always so personal.  I knew the story of my parents and the story of my grandparents.  And my maternal grandparents were with me throughout my growing up years so I was able to enjoy the stories of years past, the good and the bad.  The jokes, the tears and the anger.

Jewish traditions have always been passed from grandparents to parents to children in much the same way.  I don’t keep the laws and the traditions with reference to books and written rules, although that certainly plays a role in enabling us to remember details and the history of our traditions.  But our traditions have been passed down to us.  We celebrate the holidays in the way our parents did and that includes the laws and the more trivial aspects of things, such as recipes and the color of the tablecloths at the holidays.

Now that I am a grandparent, I know that it is my turn to ensure that tradition is passed on.  For the stories that grandparents tell span the generations and connect our children to history — the history of a people that is a personal one indeed.