Trying to figure out what would bring my children and my grandchildren to a synagogue is challenging. After years of belonging to a synagogue, teaching Sunday school, as well as sending my own children to day school, I always hoped to instill in them the importance of being part of a Jewish community. Until recently, the results of my efforts have been extremely weak.
Then my granddaughter arrived in town, taking a few weeks respite from her studies. I mentioned that our synagogue will be hosting a reception to reveal its newly completed Torah scroll. I was surprised to get a text back from her, “That sounds like fun, Mimi.” I further enticed her by saying I would make her favorite lunch and bake her favorite cookies.
My oldest granddaughter tried to express her Jewishness once before when she was a junior in high school and a teacher she knew, who was also Jewish, discussed some upcoming holidays and traditions with her. She agreed with everything he said and told him she was looking forward to the Jewish holidays. Since she only completed grade two of religious school, I figured she only discussed religion with him to impress him — and possibly improve her grade.
There is reason to believe an association to a religion can provide many benefits, including a sense of belonging and social support. It seems many religiously endorsed behaviors, like acts of forgiveness and expressions of gratitude can boost health and wellbeing. Definitely great traits to help a person get along in life but not a great selling point for our young adult children. My friends have adult grandkids that seem to take an interest in their Judaism. I asked them, “How do you impress your beliefs and religious affiliations on our future generations?”
My friend Beth Waldinger told me about her granddaughters. “Chloe and Caroline grew more attached to their Judaism when they began attending Jewish summer camp. Until that time, they had little interest in synagogue activities.”
Caroline played guitar and Chloe painted beautiful murals for their favorite summer camp. Now graduated from university, they enjoy attending Jewish holiday dinners with their grandmother. Beth reminds me that, “sometimes it is the influences of the friends they meet along the way, and often camp can help form lasting friendships.”
There is no perfect formula. I always had a beautiful mental picture of my life being surrounded by my three loving children and many grandchildren. As much as we try to make time to keep the family together, it does not always work.
Another friend, Ruth Siegel, reminded me, “There is no ‘if’ and there is no ‘why.’ Sometimes it just doesn’t work out as we planned.”
Siegel is from Israel and has two successful daughters. She said that demonstrating a physical connection to Israel and its people is the answer. “There are programs that provide the opportunity for young adults to visit and experience Israel,” she said.
Sam Klein, a religious school teacher, said that some members of his family keep kosher and some do not. Some attend synagogue and some do not. However, his grandchildren are very successful and definitely give back to the Jewish community in many ways. He said the answer originates with the positive impression demonstrated by a faithful and loving grandparent.
“Grandparents can play many important roles in the lives of their grandchildren. My grandchildren look to me as a trusted adviser,” said Klein. “They may not always take my advice but they pretend they are listening. And I think, in the back of their minds, I remain a positive factor.” He also said that he loves telling stories and sharing family traditions with his grandkids.
I remember reading, prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, how young families were returning to synagogue. However, as we continue to navigate around these various pandemic variants, synagogues have had to become imaginative and innovative, like holding services under the stars and sending home Passover kits for streaming virtual seders. It is a difficult task but we also look to our synagogues for creative and fun activities that include all ages, so grandparents can keep bringing their grandchildren. And perhaps that will help us in our efforts to provide that positive impact.
So what is the perfect formula for passing on our connection to Judaism? I know we cannot declare open battle with our grown children nor display covert guilt. But I also know we cannot stop trying. As a senior, I thought I did not need to maintain the expense of my synagogue membership. But, as my young grandchildren keep growing, it seems I still need to demonstrate my connection to the Jewish community.
Donna Harris is a freelance writer living in Phoenix.