Catherine Fischer is the coordinator of the Center City Kehillah in Philadelphia, Penn. The Center City Kehillah is a community building project of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia in cooperation with the Jewish Outreach Partnership.
An Invaluable Resource for Grandparents of Interfaith Children: A Review of Mingled Roots
Review of Mingled Roots: A Guide for Grandparents of Interfaith Children, by Sunie Levin, URJ Press, New York, New York.
Mingled Roots, simply put, is a treasure. In a mere 122 pages grandparents can become empowered with specific ways to share their Jewish tradition and heritage while simultaneously nurturing a caring, loving and satisfying relationship with their grandchildren. In addition, the book clearly reminds the reader of the importance of remaining respectful and mindful of their children's religious decisions for their children and offers approaches to use in clarifying their grandparenting role with the child's parents. Sunie Levin shows us how a close relationship with a grandchild makes it much easier to bring Jewish traditions and heritage to life for any child.
Mingled Roots has been revised and updated from its original and out-of-print version published in 1991 by B'nai B'rith Women of Washington, D.C. The sections on Resources and Books for Grandparents and Grandchildren have been updated with additional information and book titles, including InterfaithFamily.com's own The Guide to Jewish Interfaith Family Life. The advice that Levin gives, however, remains the same. It is straightforward and timeless in its approach. It gives grandparents the respect that they deserve and empowers them with hope and guidance.
Levin addresses the myriad challenges confronting grandparents today. She acknowledges that many of our families are confronted with issues like living long distances from one another, divorce, second marriages, and blended families with children of two religions. In addition, she notes that grandparents no longer fit the stereotype of sitting in rocking chairs and making cookies for their grandchildren, but instead, in many cases, are living longer, quite active lives. Mingled Roots works within this framework to offer many possibilities for meaningful connection no matter what your family's situation may be.
For example, in the beginning of her book Levin suggests that grandparents request permission from the child's parents before the grandparents make any plans to start the process of sharing their heritage. She understands that having the grandparents share their heritage may be difficult for some parents and encourages grandparents to be warm, gentle, sensitive and respectful of their children's decisions while also communicating their own need to share what is important to them. She recommends being forthright and suggests that some parents might appreciate a written outline of purpose and projected plans for the next several months so that they will clearly understand the grandparents' approach. Sharing their heritage might include talking to the grandchildren about who the grandparents are, relating memories of their parents and grandparents, and telling stories about where they were born and what their life was like. The second month could be spent sharing the joy of Shabbat (the Sabbath) and the next month a visit to a temple or synagogue, followed by explaining how you celebrate and prepare for holidays. Levin offers many suggestions on what to include in a plan, depending on what it is a grandparent wants to share. If a grandparent lives far away, Sunie Levin suggests methods to structure meaningful phone conversations and utilize video and audio as useful tools.
Mingled Roots gives all grandparents an opportunity to enrich their grandchild's life as well as their own. Readers are challenged to think of what is most important and meaningful for them to transmit to their grandchildren. For some, it may be specific customs and traditions, such as going to synagogue, celebrating Shabbat, Jewish cooking, holiday celebrations, or doing acts of rightousness. For others, it may be a more secular approach focused on transmitting values and ethics, such as Israel, the Holocaust, lifecycle events, or Jewish humor. Ms. Levin helps the reader to think of meaningful ways to engage children of various ages so that they ultimately begin to appreciate who their grandparents are, as well as gain a sense of their own roots.
The book offers practical ways to strengthen a grandchild's identity. Some children in interfaith homes may feel conflicted, confused and uncertain about who they are religiously and culturally. This book helps grandparents understand how they can ease some of that uncertainty by offering concrete suggestions on how to be a safe and steady presence in their grandchildren's lives.
Although Mingled Roots is intended for grandparents of interfaith grandchildren, it would be an excellent resource for any Jewish grandparents to help them gain a closer, more fulfilling relationship with all their grandchildren, whether or not they are interfaith. Many grandparents would enjoy learning effective methods to share their Jewishness. For example, throughout the book Ms. Levin emphasizes consistent and regular communication and gives specific ways to help guide the communication so it can be fruitful. Additionally, creative ideas such as sending a video and/or audio tape of Jewish stories read by grandparents, writing "love letters," creating an heirloom together, and baking, all fuel intimate moments that deepen identity and create memories.
Sunie Levin ends her book by summarizing three gifts that most theologians and grandparents would want to give an interfaith child: a sense of identity, of life's ethical values, and of spiritual and social responsibility.
Imagine being able to make an impact on your grandchild in these ways! If you haven't figured out what to give your parents, grandparents, or in-laws for their next birthday, here is an answer. This will be a gift that will last for years and generations to come!