Rabbi Berel Wein

JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review / Nov. 8, 1999 / 27 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

The joy -- and responsibility -- of being a grandparent

By Rabbi Berel Wein

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- KNOWING THE PAST is the surest way to deal with the present and live for the future

My wife and I have had the pleasure over the past few weeks of visiting with our children and grandchildren who reside in the United States. As is true of all grandparents, my wife and I feel that we have a special relationship with our grandchildren, and that there is a deep bond of affection and unspoken understanding that passes between us.

Cynics say that the strong relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is based on the fact that they have a common enemy. But that is really only a joke, and a bad one at that.

I am convinced that this powerful bond is based, at least on the grandparents' side, on the realization that we are looking at ourselves beyond the grave. We are getting a view of our immortality, at how we will be judged decades after we have departed from this world.

And since we all wish to be remembered favorably by future generations, we invest a great deal in our grandchildren. We shower them with our love and attention, our guidance and experience.


We tell them stories about our own grandparents and parents, about our own life experiences, about our triumphs and disappointments and hopes and dreams, so that they will acquire a deeper sense of family and continuity, of security and serenity. For knowing the past is the surest way to deal with the present and live for the future.

Grandparents are always concerned over the future of their grandchildren. We vicariously live with them and suffer their disappointments and cheer them on with their accomplishments. We worry and laugh and cry and pray and hope for their success and future.

We are always troubled over what we can leave them. I do not mean material goods or money, for these inheritances are often a source of family strife, rather than the blessing that the testator intended them to be.

Instead, I wonder what we can leave them in terms of memories and ideals, vision and hope. And perhaps most importantly, I wonder if their values and ideals, their way of life and behavior, will be in consonance with the values and ideals that my family has treasured for generations.

They will certainly live in a different world, technologically, politically and economically speaking, than the one that I live in. But ideals and values are unchanging and that is what I hope my real inheritance will be to the youngest members of our blessed family.

The current generation of Jews is confronted with a generation gap. Many have rejected the ideals and value systems of their grandparents. This is not only true in matters of religious observance - though there the attrition rate has been stemmed and reduced mightily over the past decades - but is a reality throughout all sectors of the Jewish world.

The grandchildren of the early founders of the kibbutz, in the main, no longer desire to devote their lives to collective farming.

The grandchildren of the warriors who saved the Jewish state from being strangled in its infancy during the War of Independence have rewritten the history books to make their grandparents appear heartless and unjust. They have removed the halo of heroism from their grandparents' heads and substituted the iron helmet of unwarranted conquest and cruelty upon them.

The grandchildren of the early Zionist believers have created the new "post-Zionist" era, thereby calling the entire Zionist venture into question.

The grandchildren of the Reform Jews of Germany and the US are in the main no longer Reform Jews or, in fact, Jews at all. The astronomical rates of assimilation and intermarriage have decimated the Jewish ranks of their grandchildren, making one wonder about the entire concept of "Progressive Judaism."

What will the grandchildren of modern-day Jews, whether Israelis or Diaspora residents, say about their grandparents? Will they even remember that they had grandparents? That, to me, is really the burning question of today's Jewish society.

I am encouraged by the belated but significant move of many Jews and Jewish organizations, including Reform, to include more ritual and Jewish tradition in their daily lives. A meaningful Pessah seder, a succa, and a synagogue service are powerful weapons in building the bridge of generational continuity.

These are true items of priceless heritage by which grandparents can be remembered. Loyalty to Israel - the state and the people - an appreciation of the ideals and dreams of the past generations that have forged our present Jewish world, and a tenacity to wish to identify positively with our past are all necessary to guarantee the future of Israel and the Jewish people.

Grandparents can be valuable instruments of good to guarantee the Jewish future of their grandchildren, and of their descendents, generations later. We who are blessed to be grandparents should not squander that opportunity.

JWR contributor Rabbi Berel Wein is one of Jewry's foremost historians and founder of the Destiny Foundation. He resides in Jerusalem. You may contact Rabbi Wein by by clicking here or calling 1-800-499-WEIN (9346).


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©1999, Rabbi Berel Wein