As awareness grows of the essential role grandparents play in the lives of their grandchildren, the Jewish Grandparents Network (JGN) is expanding its offerings and engagement to support families who want to engage in, and even rely on, multi-generational Jewish experiences. JGN’s redesigned website offers grandparents curated, timely, and varied resources to deepen their knowledge. It also grounds, in Jewish values and learning, the everyday activities they love to do with their grandkids. The centerpiece of JGN’s expansion is “The Family Room,” a unique virtual space where Judaism and Jewish life come alive through all kinds of activities and adventures.
“Our growth and new offerings reflect the desire of the many grandparents who want to bring Jewish meaning into their grandkids’ lives,” says David Raphael, Executive Director of the Jewish Grandparents Network. “Every grandparent knows the unique impact they can have on their family. The Jewish Grandparents Network gives them the confidence, ideas, and tools to foster even more special interactions with their loved ones. And by helping grandparents engage grandkids in Jewish experiences, family ties are strengthened, families have deeper Jewish connections, and we help to ensure a more vibrant Jewish future.”
The new Jewish Grandparents Network initiatives are informed heavily by its National Study of Jewish Grandparents. Among many findings, the study shows both how integral many grandparents are in their grandkids’ lives (75 percent of grandparents who live within an hour or less of their grandchildren provide daytime or overnight childcare of transportation services on a regular or as-needed basis), and the strong desire of Jewish grandparents to engage in Jewish activities with their grandkids (71% of grandparents agreed that “It is important to me to transmit Jewish values to my grandchildren; 70% also responded that “It is important to me to teach my grandchildren about Jewish heritage).
Building on the organization’s first four years of learning, The Family Room is a colorful, interactive platform with “destinations” covering the Arts; Celebrations & Holidays; Cooking & Food; Family Stories; Gardening & the Earth; Health & Wellbeing; Play; and a Reading Room. Each destination has multiple one-of-a-kind experiences, with more coming on a rolling basis. The Arts space, for example, offers a dance/movement expert offering three 5-minute videos for grandparents to move creatively with their grandchildren—in person or long distance. Family Stories offers templates and ideas to learn about and share family histories through video and audio recordings, photos, and creative portraits.
“Grandparents can infuse nearly any activity that they love doing with their grandkids with some form of Jewish learning,” adds Terry Kaye, who is Director of Creative Partnerships at the Jewish Grandparents Network, following her 30-year career in Jewish education at Behrman House Publishers. “Gardening, yoga, cooking, dancing, Minecraft—all of these activities can be enriched with Jewish learning and values. The Family Room unlocks this potential and makes it easy for grandparents to create those loving and meaningful moments.”
JGN brought on major content partners to fill The Family Room with high-quality, dynamic resources, including Tiffany Shlain (filmmaker and author), Hanoch Piven (Israeli artist), Dr. Marshall Duke (professor and expert on the value of family stories), BrainSavers (cognitive fitness experts), the Association of Jewish Libraries, and more to offer high-quality and varied experiences for grandparents to engage in with their grandchildren. In addition to the Family Room portal, Family Room Live, a series of live virtual conversations with notable thought leaders, will provide insights and guidance accessible to anyone interested in grandparenting. Marshall Duke and Ron Wolfson will share the joys and value of sharing family stories in “Grandma, Grandpa, Tell Me a Story” on Nov.16.
Following the challenges presented during the height of the pandemic, the increase in two-parent working households, and the common occurrence of healthy, longer-living grandparents, Jewish engagement leaders see an unprecedented opportunity to cultivate and expand meaningful Jewish life.
“In the more than 30 years during which I have had the privilege of serving the Jewish communal world in professional positions, I have encountered very few start-up organizations with the potential for the scope and import of contributions I believe the Jewish Grandparents Network will ultimately make,” says Chip Edelsberg, Former Executive Director of the Jim Joseph Foundation. “JGN is doing inspirational work supporting Jewish families to nourish Jewish values intergenerationally.”
On both the individual and communal level, JGN is uniquely positioned for impact. In addition to The Family Room, the Jewish Grandparents Network plans to expand its reach and offerings with a new podcast, retreats designed especially for grandparents and grandkids, in person and virtual grandparent support groups, a learning series, and more. JGN also will expand its research and advocacy efforts to continue to make the case to Jewish communities that grandparents are essential partners in organizational and communal Jewish identity development, education, and engagement. In all of these efforts, JGN offers content and programs for grandparents whose grandchildren have physical or developmental differences, who are part of multi-faith or multi-racial families, or who have LGBTQ+ family members.
“We recognize and embrace the changes in Jewish life and in the Jewish family; they present wonderful new opportunities for engagement,” adds Lee M. Hendler, President and Co-founder of JGN and grandmother of six. “Grandparents are a hidden treasure in plain sight. We are a living bridge from our past to our Jewish future. However we choose to connect with Judaism, we know that it can add joy and meaning to our families’ lives and deepen the special relationship we have with our grandchildren. Supporting and enriching these connections is what we do at the Jewish Grandparents Network.”
The Family Room was originally funded by a grant from the Marcus Foundation.