This past week, as we returned to school and real life after the chag, we educators noted that it was the first whole week of school in some time. As we all got back into the swing of things, my life was still not quite back to normal, as my mother was sitting shiva for my grandmother, a”h, who passed away on Chol HaMoed. My grandmother, Edith (Esther) Haberman, was 92 years old. Although she had been ill for many years, the sadness is still palpable. She was a Holocaust survivor who survived the war with false papers provided to her by Raoul Wallenberg, and lived as a worker in a laundry in a hotel which served as Nazi headquarters. Her miraculous survival, and her numerous brushes with death were inspirational. But, more than anything, I knew her as my Bobbi, who with her Hungarian accent and her love of life, transmitted a confidence in oneself. Whenever I was with her I felt that no one was more special, prettier, smarter and kinder than I. She knew exactly what to say to make you feel better. No matter how old I get, I will always miss her arm in mine.
As I think about my grandmother, I realize that being a child of survivors, my mother never knew her grandparents. I also think about, yibadel l'chayim, the privilege that most of our children today do have of knowing their grandparents. There is something essential in this grandparent- grandchild relationship.
In today's America, which emphasizes youth, the elderly are not particularly venerated. Rabbi Moshe Grylak, writes that in Parashat Noach we witness first hand what happens when the young have no reverence for the “older generation,” as we see the difference between the way Cham and his brothers Shem and Yefet reacted when they found Noach drunk. Cham, “saw his father was exposed, and he told his two brothers outside,” with no effort to help his father. On the other hand, “Shem and Yefet took the robe and placed it on the shoulder of each of them, and walking backward, they covered their father with their faces turned back, and they did not see their father's uncovered state.” Rabbi Grylak asserts that Shem and Yefet had “respect for the past... Through their noble conduct, they showed that if the past is disdained, there is no present and no future. They knew a man cannot start a new civilization all by himself, independent of the heritage he received from his predecessors...” This story of Noach, according to Grylak, is like what Nobel Prize winner Konrad Lorenz wrote in Civilized Man's Eight Deadly Sins. “The revolt of many of the younger generation toward their parents shows a good measure of conceited contempt, but no understanding... In other words, today's rebellious youth reacts to the older generation in the same way that a culture group or 'ethnic' group reacts to a foreign, hostile one.”
We know that in Judaism, disdain for the older generation is unacceptable, as they transmit the Mesorah and tie us to our past. However, even modern day research demonstrates that there needs to be more of an effort to connect our youth with their grandparents. A 2011 study indicated that adolescents who have close relationships with their grandparents, (who do not live with them), are more likely to engage in positive social behaviors, have high school engagement, and are more prone to help others who are not friends or family members. Clearly, we need to make more effort to create these grandparent- grandchild connections. (Yes, the grandparents out there are paying me to say so!)
Why is this bond so important? There are various roles grandparents play, according to Patricia Holmes.
- Family Historian/Living Ancestor- They share stories about the past and important traditions. Hearing these stories provides children with a sense of their place within the family, and “contributes to family identity.”
- Nurturer, Mentor and Role Model- Grandparents may come by to babysit and do carpool when needed, but also can become confidantes to their grandchildren. They provide advice and serve as role models of the “good old values.”
- Playmate, Wizard and Hero- Often grandparents come by just to play with their grandchildren. As “wizard” they often mesmerize the children with their “tricks.” As hero, they can be there with an non-judgmental listening ear- always there to provide support. Especially in adolescence, when parent-child conflict might increase, grandparents can encourage positive development without disciplining negative behavior.
It is interesting to note that on each Shabbat, as we bless our sons, we utilize a beracha that Yaakov gave to his grandchildren, Menashe and Ephraim, not his children. When we think of Jewish continuity, this is expressed better with a beracha from grandfather to grandchild. As Rabbi Berel Wein shared, the “Talmud teachers us that if there be three consecutive generations of Torah scholars in a family then the Torah always finds an ability to make a home for itself in that family.” So, it is now up to Menashe and Ephraim to ensure the Jewish future. This is what the Mesorah is all about. Yaakov was able to bridge the “generation gap,” which was vast, as Menashe and Ephraim were raised as Egyptians. Yet “distance in time and place did not detract from their ability to bond.” When we learn Torah, we can overcome that generation gap- as we all are another link in the chain back to Har Sinai. How essential is that grandparent- grandchild link.
What if a child does not have grandparents? Research indicates that connections with the elderly in general are beneficial to the social development of children. Visits to nursing homes or even encouraging children to engage with the elderly in shul or on their block, are at times uncomfortable for children, but can provide them with essential life skills.
My grandmother Esther bat Pinchas, served as the link to my ancestral past- although we wish we would have asked her more questions about her life when she could have answered. She served as nurturer, as she listened to me and stepped in whenever my parents needed support- no matter how far away we lived. She was a playmate, as I vividly recall the paper dolls she drew, the songs she sang with us and even the games she played. She was a role model and my hero, as I clearly sensed her Emunah and optimism for life no matter what challenges she faced. Like Esther of the Purim story, she had to hide her identity and was fearful for her life. And, like Esther's other name, “Hadassah” (Myrtle) she was like the myrtle leaves whose sweet fragrance can only be released when the leaves are bruised and crushed. My grandmother had a hard life, and was “bruised and crushed,” and yet that sweet fragrance prevailed. She and my grandfather taught me, by being living examples, not to give up and to always believe in the salvation of Hashem. I pray that we, the grandchildren, will provide them with the Nachat they deserve as we continue the next link in the chain with our children.
Sixth Grade- - Through role playing they learned the important skills needed in group discussions. They also had the opportunity to share with each other the positive and negatives of how sixth grade is going so far.
Seventh Grade- They learned the skills of Assertive Listening in their communication skills unit.
Eighth Grade- Students discussed, “How do you choose a high school?” What elements go into their decision making? They also were able to view some of the applications on-line.