Unfortunately, one of my daughters has estranged herself from me  … Sadly, my granddaughter is cheated out of having her grandparents in her life.

As grandparents, my husband and I have been the major Jewish influence in our grandchildren’s lives.”

My level of exhaustion directly influences how much I am willing to do things to influence my grandchildren.”

How did the presence of grandparents influence your Jewish life? If you’re a grandparent, how are you – or are you – transmitting Jewish values, rituals, culture or ethnic intimacy? With these issues top of mind, The Jewish Grandparenting Network, spearheaded by Lee Hendler and David Raphael, partnered with the Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership at The George Washington University to host a two-day convening (June 12-13, Pearlstone Center) to share the results of an in-depth survey on Jewish grandparenting and lay out avenues for further research. The central result: today’s modern Jewish family is more complex than ever, and the organized Jewish community stands before an immense opportunity to respond to trends, to provide support and to chart new territory.

The convening brought together 30 academics, national agency heads and senior leaders of denominations and foundations – many who had never met – to study, critique and think out loud about demographic trends and possibilities. After a text study called “The Silver Crown – Grandparents in the Bible and Talmud” conducted by the Mayberg Center’s director, Dr. Erica Brown, Karen Radkowsky, founder and president of Impact: NPO, shared the results of a survey answered by close to 8,000 North American grandparents, across a wide spectrum of Jewish background and practice. Radkowsky teased out the salient findings into categories of grandparents, from those who found their role joyful and Jewishly engaging to those who are not interested in passing on anything Jewish to the next generation.

Grandparents with multiple sets of grandchildren may find they can be meaningfully involved with one set of grandchildren and not another, depending on the family gatekeepers and the relationship they have with their birth and in-law children. Cognitive psychologist and former head of Israel’s Mandel Center, Dr. Eli Gottlieb, added greater levels of complexity by framing the conversation around changing notions identity generally – a disregard for exclusivity, a need for acceptance, the speed at which people move in an out of identity today and the technology they use to showcase their identities. Compounded by the demographics of aging (people living longer) the rise in intermarriage rates, and strong economic demands on the family, multi-generational families may find themselves re-configuring in unexpected new ways.

One of the survey results demonstrated that grandparents are anxious to share their family stories and want the tools to do so effectively. In that spirit, Dr. Marshall Duke, Jewish grandparent and Charles Howard Candler Professor of Psychology at Emory University, worked with Dr. Sharon Blumenthal-Cohen of the Mayberg Center, to create a session on the importance of story-telling, helping participants weave memories of their own grandparents or thoughts about grandchildren into six word memoirs. In the evening, Dr. Eric Goldman, professor and film historian at Yeshiva University, showed clips of Jewish grandparents in film to catalyze a conversation on roles and stereotypes, from the old Yiddish grandfather reciting a psalm with his grandson in a village to the modern grandfather counseling his grandson out of a bar–mitzva hangover. Multi-racial families, interfaith families and same-sex parents mean that these stereotypical images no longer resonate when we see Jewish families on the screen.

Jane Isay, former publisher and author of Unconditional Love, a book on grandparenting, addressed the group by constructing four pillars of the moral imagination critical to being a loving and thoughtful grandparent: empathy, perspective, knowledge and agency. Grandparents have an important counterbalancing role in the family, as she writesin Unconditional Love, “The current vogue in child development is to focus on noncognitive skills: self-regulation, grit, and the ability to process stress. Loving attention from adults is essential to the development of these traits.” Here’s where the grandparent comes in. Often, to establish this role, Isay points to the negotiation that must take place with one’s adult children to smooth old hurts: “Mindful of the boundaries between us and our grown children, we make the effort to take the differences between us less personally.”

The convening concluded with small group conversations around central questions from what kind of support and programming the organized Jewish community should provide to help multi-generational families navigate challenges to how the survey findings could be fine-tuned and disseminated. Across groups, there was concern that the communal hyper-focus on the millennial generation may be blinding the broad Jewish community and its leaders from looking carefully and holistically at the changing family unit. A participant from PJ Library shared a small but potent change inspired by a grandmother who wrote to him and enclosed a photo of herself, challenging him to re-think the illustrations. “I went skiing yesterday. I don’t look like the grandmother in your books.”

So what is your Jewish organization doing to support Jewish grandparents? If Jewish continuity is to be meaningful, it will come from strengthening the entire Jewish family and from a Judaism robust and engaging enough that it deserves to be passed on from one generation to the next.


Every Purim as we celebrate the victory of the Jewish underdog in exile, we are reminded of antisemitism’s most ancient roots. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, enemies of the Jews killed for “rational” reasons. Pharaoh worried that the meteoric population increase of the Jews in Egypt would create a fifth column. Israelites at risk in their desert wanderings were regarded as a military threat. Even when Amalek attacked the young and the elderly, theirs was a detestable strategy but one used in a state of war. Elie Wiesel once asked a perplexing question: “Which is worse: killing with hate or killing without hate?” Enter Haman. Haman might have the dubious honorific of being the first recorded antisemite. He was the first to kill Jews simply because he hated them, a hate that was deep and irrational.

In addition to all the revelry, the Book of Esther reminds us to take time to reflect on the phenomenon of antisemitism and note its pernicious origins and its stubborn constancy. This year, to aid us in this reflection, Deborah Lipstadt’s new bestselling book, Antisemitism: Here and Now, frames antisemitism (her spelling – and explained in the book) as an outgrowth of prejudice: “Prejudice is the act of negatively prejudging or assessing someone’s personal character and behaviors based on stereotypical beliefs about the racial, ethnic, religious, cultural, political, or geographic group to which she belongs.” Lipstadt, in accessible language, contends that the antisemitism of Haman’s variety is not a thing of the past but is, tragically, here and now. To enhance Lipstadt’s reading, The Covenant Foundation supported the creation of a study and teaching guide to the book that contains chapter-by-chapter questions, an interview with the author, case studies and interactive exercises to enrich and personalize the reading experience.

Using Lipstadt’s definition, Haman, in making his case against the Jews, notes how different Jews are from all the others in Ahasuerus’ vast empire: “Haman then said to King Ahasuerus, ‘There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed among the other peoples in all the provinces of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; and it is not in your Majesty’s interest to tolerate them” [Esther 3:8].

The fragment – “there is a certain people” – alerts us immediately to Haman’s evil machinations. He has singled out the Jews by observing their differences, a claim that, in and of itself, was true for every one of the king’s 127 provinces, an empire of multiple languages, faiths and customs. Sixteenth century commentator R. Joseph ibn Yahya from Portugal, explains that in concept Haman’s claims were true: “There is a nation whose characteristics and behaviors are different from others. They don’t eat, drink or marry others…” Hatred of difference is despicable enough. But Haman drew two extraordinary conclusions based on his observations that lace religious intolerance to this day: this certain people do not observe the king’s laws, and, as a result, they should be killed.

The claim that Jews did not observe the king’s law profoundly troubled exegetes for centuries, given the Talmud’s insistence that “the law of the land is law” [See, for example, BT Bava Kama 113a-b, BT Gitten 10b]. Jews must always observe the laws of their reigning government. This principle is derived from Jeremiah’s remonstration that Jews in exile must pray for the welfare of their government [Jeremiah 29:7]. Rashi, among others, ponders what Haman could have meant and concludes that Jews did “not pay taxes for the king’s work.” Yet Jews must have paid taxes because Haman had to bolster the king’s coffers to compensate for the revenue from the empire’s Jews. Haman scapegoats the Jews, all the while covering his own barely disguised desires for the king’s throne. Perhaps what ultimately undoes Haman is that far from the Jews being disobedient, the Jews of the ancient Persia were far more loyal and devoted to the king than Haman and his devotees.

In Character and Ideology in the Book of Esther, Bible professor Michael V. Fox departs from his own scholarly tone to share his emotions as he listens to the megillah each year, “As the annual reading of the Esther Scroll comes to an end, I breathe a sigh relief, but this expresses a prayer more than a certitude…” This Purim, as we hear the megillah, we are more likely to hold our breaths than collectively breathe a sigh of relief. The antisemitism of there and then has sadly become the hatred of here and now as Haman’s canards return to haunt us again and again. Most of us respond to antisemitism with the heart. Antisemitism: Here and Nowreminds us that the only way to combat antisemitism is with the mind. Inspired by Purim, this year let’s make a commitment to be better informed.