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Leaving a Jewish Legacy to Our Grandchildren

February 13, 2013

Republished with permission from ReformJudaism.org.

My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations. -Michael J. Fox

This quote from Michael J. Fox teaches us that we must try always to see the awe and the wonder and the magnificence of our grandchildren — and not try to change them.

We want to leave a goodly legacy that will help them to face both good and difficult times, that will sustain them when times are rough, that will help them to appreciate themselves and respect others, and, finally, that will ensure that they know their importance in this world because each and every person can have a share in making our world a better place.

To impart this legacy to our grandchildren, what are the values we want to demonstrate? What are the stories we want to share? What do we want them to do and to be when they grow up?

As a bubbe and a longtime Jewish professional, I offer these suggestions for imparting a meaningful legacy to your grandchildren:

Tell Stories: Tell your grandchildren about 10 things that have transformed your life and the lessons you learned from each of them. Use those transformational stories as a springboard to describe to each grandchild your dreams for him or her. Help them to tell their own stories, and discover what lessons they are learning from them.

Teach Philanthropy: It's important for children to know that philanthropists give money, service, and voice to the things that are important to them, but that they need not be wealthy to be philanthropists. Rather, they should understand that it is their responsibility to give. I started a philanthropy fund — $100 a year for each one — for each of my five grandchildren. They can use the fund's money to support causes that are important to them.

Practice Social Action: It's also important for children to talk about and perform mitzvot and acts of tikkun olam. From time to time, I take my grandchildren along to help me when I'm going to help others. I know they're absorbing the values I'm teaching because sometimes, they tell me inspirational stories of people who have done amazing things:

  • From one grandchild I learned about 5-year-old Phoebe, who collected more than $3,000 for medical equipment for Ronald McDonald House.
  • I also learned about Alec, who, together with his grandmother collected more than 23,000 books and made them available to kids who can't borrow books from the hospital library because the books might spread germs from the people who handled them before.
  • Another grandchild told me about a group of 8-11 year-olds who decided they no longer want birthday presents. Instead, they choose a cause and their friends donate to that cause instead of giving gifts. At the birthday party itself, the kids also may make gifts for the cause that go along with the monetary donations.
  • Finally, there's a grandparent in Phoenix, who, together with her grandchildren, donates 80-100 boxes of school supplies and gifts to infant welfare each year.


Be Happy: As Michael J. Fox teaches, accept the lives of your children and grandchildren. Encourage them every step of the way — in whatever they're doing. Take pictures of the good things they do and the goodness they are, and compile them into a keepsake Mitzvah Photo Album. Say a blessing when you see them performing kind acts and then write down the blessings together. Most of all, just keep loving them because it is the unconditional love between grandparents and grandchildren that makes the relationship so very special.

Hebrew for "repairing the world," a goal of the Jewish covenant with God. Hebrew for "commandment," it has two meanings. The first are the commandments given in the Torah. ("You should obey the mitzvah of honoring your parents!") The second is a good deed. ("Helping her carry her groceries home was such a mitzvah!") Plural form of the Hebrew word "mitzvah" which means "commandment," it has two meanings. The first are the commandments given in the Torah. ("You should obey the mitzvah of honoring your parents!") The second is a good deed. ("Helping her carry her groceries home was such a mitzvah!") Yiddish for "grandmother."

Sharon Morton has been the educational director at Am Shalom in Glencoe, IL for 32 years, and is retiring on June 30, 2008. She is the founder and director of Grandparents for Social Action.

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