What’s it like to be a Jewish grandparent in 2020? We asked local grandparents to share their “nachas” and challenges. A few common threads:
• Whether grandchildren live close by or far away, WhatsApp and FaceTime play a big role in keeping in touch.
• Unlike their own parents at this stage of life, many of today’s grandparents work full time, but they make time for their grandchildren on weekends.
• If you ask a Bubby for a photo, she’ll send you twenty.
• Superstitions persist! Many grandparents were reluctant to share the number of grandchildren, and only agreed to be quoted or share pictures if I wrote “bli ayin hara,” “k’neina hora,” or “Hamsa,” “Hamsa,” depending on their Ashkenazi or Sephardic origins.
Here’s what some grandparents have to say about what they all agree is the best stage of life. (Some names have been changed for privacy.)
Hop Across the Street
Life is busy for Janet and Lior (“Lolli and Pop”) Hod of Teaneck, who have twin one-year-old grandchildren living across the street. Janet describes herself as the CEO of her family. Lior is president of ELLKAY, a healthcare data company. Both see their grandchildren daily. Janet babysits two days a week and whenever needed. Compared with their parents, Janet says, “We are much closer and much more involved with their lives.” Everyone is quickly available when needed. They just hop across the street to change diapers and make breakfast.
Lior, who also babysits on nights and weekends, wishes he could spend even more time with the twins. “There is nothing like being with your grandchildren,” he says.
from Israel with ⁄
Shoshana Stein made aliyah from Teaneck a few years ago. Some of her five grandchildren used to live in Israel, but now they all live in America. “Sometimes they are available to visit me here in the summer if I am able to fund the trip, but as the family gets larger, it gets more difficult,” Stein says. “I am grateful that it is easier to travel between continents than it was in my grandparents’ and great grandparents’ time.”
She adds that she and her husband mostly stay in touch with the grandchildren via video chats. “Sunday is the best day since the children are off from school. My husband plays chess with our grandson online,” Stein says. “I am very grateful for the technology. We are able to communicate via WhatsApp. It really helps to bridge the distance.”
Despite the challenges, she says that being a grandparent is amazing. “Being a long-distance grandparent is not the way I imagined my life would be. It was our dream to make aliyah. Unfortunately, some of our children have not been able to join us. Everyone finds their own way to make it work,” she says.
Finding a Balance
Eunice and Mark (“Savta and Saba”) Glassberg are grandparents who work full time. Eunice as a Social Studies teacher and coordinator at Gerrard Berman Day School in Oakland and Mark as a vice president in marketing. All of their 15 grandchildren live in the tri-state area. One set of grandchildren and their parents are currently living with the Glassbergs in Teaneck while the kids’ house is being renovated. “This place is hopping!” Mark says.
“On weekday mornings, I have three munchkins in my kitchen watching me make lunch every day at 6 a.m.,” Eunice says. “Our whole schedule has shifted. It’s a wonderful opportunity to bond, but we’re making adjustments. Given that we work full time, it’s a balancing act trying to figure it all out. But it’s the frosting on the cake.”
Eunice’s favorite time of day is tucking in her grandchildren at night. “I say what my father used to say to me every night: “Snug as a bug in a rug,’” she laughs. “With all the craziness around here, it’s the highlight of my day. We’re creating memories on a daily basis.”
Mark recalls that his own parents moved to Florida when the Glassberg children were babies. “We saw them two to three times a year and we would speak by phone. Our level of involvement with our grandchildren is much more intimate,” he says. At the same time, he adds, it’s important to strike a balance between being involved with grandchildren and being empty nesters, finding time to enjoy their own togetherness as a couple. “I’m often pushing for one Sunday a month to go into New York City and visit a museum or see a movie,” says Mark.
What is sacrosanct is that they try to FaceTime or speak with all of their children, their spouses, and grandchildren on erev Shabbos. “Even if the week is busy, I know I will speak with them on Fridays,” Eunice says.
Quality vs. Quantity
Miriam “Savti” Green has grandchildren in both Israel and in New Jersey. She sees her Israeli grandchildren three times a year and speaks to them every other week. “The time difference makes it hard,” she says. Her husband Steven (“Saba”) sometimes stays up past midnight so he can call the kids when they’re getting ready for school. The family sends daily WhatsApp messages, photos, and videos.
But what Miriam loves most is that when she visits Israel, she stays for three weeks at a time in her daughter’s home. They are together 24/7. “It’s real quality time,” she says.
She and Steven are delighted to have a new granddaughter in their neighborhood. “I’ll be doing a lot of carpools in the future,” Miriam says. “I thought those days were over!”
Rachelle and Mark (“Savti and Papa”) Zomick of Teaneck try to be as available as possible for their two grandsons in Queens. “If we can help out, we are there in a flash. Every minute with them is precious,” says Rachelle, a preschool teacher at Yavneh Academy. “Time goes so fast and our 18-month-old and one-month-old grandsons change so much every time we see them.”
“Queens is 35 minutes without traffic,” says Mark, a Marketing Data and Process Architect, who loves “everything” about being a grandfather, “the good parts of raising children without the bad parts of cleaning up after them.”
Mark and Rachelle’s own parents are their role models. “We live very close to our parents,” says Rachelle. “My parents actually were able to babysit while I taught Hebrew school every week.”
Oma’s Day Care Service
After raising six boys, Freeda “Oma” Muller is a very hands-on grandmother to her two grandsons, ages 2 and 4. Her son is in law school and her daughter-in-law works full time. So every morning, Freeda picks up the children in Teaneck and drives them to school in Englewood. In the afternoon, she picks them up and watches them until about 6:30 p.m. “On nice days we do outdoor activities, like going to the playground, or going for a hike, or a dinner picnic. In inclement weather, we go to the library or playdates,” she says.
“I balance being a grandmother and a primary caregiver. I can’t spoil them like a grandparent that lives far away. The kids understand that. I dote on them and give them my undivided attention when we are together. When they do something that needs a timeout or redirection, they know I will follow through,” she says. “I find I have a bit more insight and maybe even a bit more patience now than when I was raising my own six sons. I did not have the ‘job experience’ while raising my children that I have now.”
Plus she notes, “Everyone is very lucky to have this arrangement in our lives. I benefit as a grandparent to have such a special relationship with the boys and vice versa and their parents have the benefit that a family member is providing safe, reliable and loving childcare.”
Taking Nothing for Granted
“Being a grandparent is one of the most special blessings in the world,” says Helen Goldberg of Teaneck. “My parents were both Holocaust survivors. My father passed away when I was pregnant with my oldest son, Zev. I believe he understood that I was pregnant. My mom was blessed to see three grandsons. As I was their only child, I can only imagine what it meant for them to know that they will have grandchildren in this world. What a difference a generation makes. We have to be so careful not to take anything for granted.” Now Helen (“Grandma”) and her husband Eli (“Saba”) enjoy babysitting and helping with carpools. They feel blessed to have all of their grandchildren living nearby.
Home & Family Makeover
“You finally get to a stage when you have an adult house with no baby equipment, and then suddenly grandchildren come, and you go back to it again! I love that I have a highchair in my kitchen, a baby bath, diapers, a crib, and toys everywhere. And you enjoy it much more!” says Deganit “Savta” Ronen, principal of Westchester Torah Academy. She and her husband Rabbi Tomer “Saba” Ronen, principal of Yeshivat He’Atid, have two grandchildren in Teaneck.
“It’s meaningful to us to give our grandchildren an experience that our children didn’t have,” says Rabbi Ronen. Their family moved to America from Israel when their children were young. “I go over to my daughter’s apartment at least once a week to play with my grandchildren, give them a shower, play games and put them to bed.”
Deganit adds a message from the Torah that she shared recently at a siddur play at her school: “Hamechadesh b’tuvo bechol yom tamid, which means that God is renewing creation every single day and improving on it. I feel that as grandparents, we can renew and improve the way that we raise children. When we were young and raising children we were stressed and had so many things to do. Now we can enjoy every single moment. We can do everything all over again with a different mindset, which I love, love, love.’”
“Grandpa Jerry” Schweibel of Tenafly loves to spend time with his two great grandchildren from Jersey City once or twice a week. He attends classes with them at the JCC on the Palisades and they celebrate Jewish holidays together. “I help make sure that they know the Jewish culture and traditions,” he says.
Grandpa Jerry also shares a wonderful relationship with six grandchildren. “We talk on the phone, watch the Oscars, movies, and sporting events together. We are more like friends,” he says. He makes sure to FaceTime or speak on the phone with the grandchildren who live farther away.
Reflecting on the relationship that his own children had with his parents, he says, “Different world, different times. They were first generation and other than instilling Judaism in my family, they had to work and didn’t have similar interests like I do with my grandchildren. Technology also makes it easier for me to stay close. I’m lucky enough to be able to witness the values my wife and I instilled in my children staying alive and being handed down to future generations.”
Holly (“Mimi”) Gold, a retired recreational therapist, and her husband Ed (“Grandpa”), a physician, from Woodcliff Lake, have one grandson in South Florida. “I travel to Florida about eight times a year and he comes to New Jersey about twice a year,” says Holly. “Most of our communications are through FaceTime.”
That’s quite a difference from Holly’s childhood, growing up in the Detroit suburbs within a five-mile radius of her extended family. “I could visit my grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles,” she recalls. “Today my adult children live in Europe, Florida and Manhattan.
“The challenges regarding living far away from my grandson are missing out on special milestones or holidays,” Holly says. To keep the bonds strong, the family makes an annual family trip, which includes aunts and uncles. “Since I have a long distance relationship with my grandson I truly value our time together,” she says.