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A Grandparent's Legacy

What is our role in the interfaith family unit? We are not just the grandparents; we are the Jewish grandparents. Their other grandparents are Christian, Muslim, Hindu or of another faith. Even when grandchildren are not raised within any particular faith, this is how we will be distinguished. Why? Because interfaith children are part of two family cultures; therefore identifying us as such, is necessary.

We must begin to realize that one of the richest gifts we can give to our families is who we are. As their Jewish grandparents, we have the opportunity to impart our rich heritage to our grandchildren.

Why is it important to provide this legacy about your roots to your grandchildren? Because your roots are their roots. Their sense of identity will develop from a greater knowledge of their ancestors. Sharing your family information can help them understand their connection to their history, giving them something to draw on when making decisions for themselves as they mature. As the Jewish grandparents, we can also help our grandchildren learn and enjoy the feeling of "yiddishkeit" (Jewishness), so much a part of our culture, by sharing traditions that have endured for over five thousand years. We do not know what spiritual choice they will make in the future, but we can enrich their lives by imparting our traditions while we are still here. Of course, do so ONLY with the permission of their parents, to insure that you are not disrespectful of their own spiritual choices.

Here are some ideas to personalize your family history for your grandchildren:

1. Make a written family tree. Identify each person with his or her Hebrew name (if possible).

2. Put family photos into albums, with names and dates (if available). Enlist grandchildren to help out.

3. Write down your memories (childhood experiences of holidays, stories of raising your children, etc.) in a book for your grandchildren.

4. Send letters to grandchildren far away. Children love receiving mail. If they are nearby, work on holiday projects together.

5. Incorporate Yiddish words and expressions into conversations. Find Yiddish words that have crept into the English language and use them. Ask grandchildren for their meanings. They'll love it!

6. Since food is such an important part of Jewish roots, invite family to holiday celebrations, or offer to come to their homes to help prepare for the holidays. Cooking specific holiday foods together will not only give them time with you, but they'll be actively participating in a Jewish tradition as well, leaving an imprint on their memories that can never be erased!

7. Create a special recipe book of your own holiday foods. It's one thing to say my mother made these great dishes, another to have recipes to recreate them for their own families.

8. Send treats for specific holidays, such as hamantashen for Purim, to families far away. Include the recipes with a little history about their connection to the holiday.

9. Make a video history of family holidays. Conduct video interviews with older family members, asking questions that will stimulate their memories, such as about holidays, emigrating history, etc.

10. Read and tape holiday stories for younger grandchildren. Watch movies together with older grandchildren, such as Crossing Delancey, Hester Street, Schlindler's List, and others. (Ask parents permission first, of course.) This will give you the opportunity to answer their questions.

Who knows, they may love these ideas so much that they, too, may want to continue these traditions with their own families for generations to come. It's worth the effort!

Yiddish for "Haman's pockets," and shaped after the three-corner hat of Haman (the villain of the Purim story), these are triangular cookies with poppy seed, jam or fruit filling in the middle. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Hebrew for "lots," referring to the lots cast by Haman, the story's antagonist, to determine the date on which to kill the Jewish people. It's a spring holiday commemorating the Jewish people's triumph. The story is told through the biblical Book of Esther; the namesake heroine, a Jewish woman, marries the Persian king. Their interfaith relationship is central to the story.
Jeanette Bergelson

Jeanette Bergelson is coordinator of "New Beginnings," a Jewish open forum support group for parents and grandparents with children in interfaith marriages, at Congregation B'nai Tikvah in North Brunswick, N.J. "New Beginnings" focuses on the issues and emotions that parents of children in interfaith marriages face today. Jeanette and her husband Bill are the parents of three daughters, two of whom have married interfaith, and she is the "bubbie" of six beautiful, healthy grandchildren.

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