A new initiative aims to encourage grandparents to take a larger role in imparting Jewish values and traditions to their grandchildren, hoping to capitalize on what Jack Wertheimer, a professor of American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary, called “American Jewry’s great untapped resource.”
There is an influx of grandparents in the 21st century as baby boomers become senior citizens, and many of them may have the time and resources available to transmit Judaism to the next generation.
Called G2, the project provides monthly programming for grandparents together with their preteen grandchildren to connect deeper with their heritage and Jewish peoplehood. The idea is for several pairs of grandparents and grandchildren to meet with others in their city to share experiences of Jewish life, with the aim of inspiring the younger generation to shore up their commitment to a Jewish future. The project culminates in a trip to Israel for the grandparents and grandchildren.
G2 launched last year in a few pilot cities, and organizers are now trying to get it off the ground in Pittsburgh. Informational meetings will be planned in the coming months.
As the baby boomer generation ages, the number of grandparents in the United States has naturally swelled. In 2014, there were 69.5 million grandparents in the U.S., up from 65.1 million in 2009, according to the Census Bureau. Baby boomers have a total population of 75.4 million. They are living longer, and tend to have healthier lifestyles than their forebears.
These boomer grandparents are well poised to take a more active role in transmitting Judaism, wrote Wertheimer in a 2016 article in Mosaic Magazine, citing several recent studies concluding that grandparents can make an important impact in buoying the Jewish future.
One such study, based on interviews with college students conducted in 2014 by researchers Barry Kosmin and Ariella Keysar, found that those college students whose grandparents accompanied them to synagogue and other Jewish settings while they were in middle school are apt to feel strong attachments to Israel and the Jewish people.
Rodef Shalom Congregation is partnering with Beth El Congregation of the South Hills, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and the Jewish Agency for Israel to launch the program here, although no particular congregational affiliation is required to participate.
“We would like to see five to seven pairs (a grandchild and one grandparent), or triads [a pair of grandparents and a grandchild],” said Kristin Karsh, human resources and special projects manager of Rodef Shalom, and Pittsburgh’s G2 facilitator.
G2 is part of the Partnership2Gether platform of the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Participating cities chosen for the 2019 initiative are Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Rochester, New York, Broward, Florida, Sydney, Australia, and those cities’ Partnership2gether regions in Israel, including Pittsburgh’s sister region, Karmiel/Misgav.
“One of the goals of our work is to bring Jews from around the world together with Israelis in a grassroots ‘people to people’ way,” said Jay Weinstein, director of the Jewish Agency’s Global Intergenerational Initiative, in an email. “Pittsburgh has a wonderful partnership with Karmiel/Misgav and an amazing connection in which we could launch G2, bringing grandparents and grandchildren from both sides of the ocean together.”
The Israel component of the program “is critical to G2,” Weinstein said. “Grandparents from Pittsburgh will meet in person (including home hospitality) their new ‘family’ from Karmiel/Misgav.”
The Israel trip — which costs $1750 per person, plus airfare — will be partly subsidized by Partnership2Gether, and Rodef Shalom, according to Karsh.
While the Pittsburgh pairs will meet together monthly, they will also meet virtually with pairs from the other participating cities before joining together in Israel.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for grandparents to really pass down their legacy to their grandchildren and create a bond that will last a lifetime,” said Stephanie Rex, Rodef Shalom’s director of communications and marketing.
The monthly meetings will include opportunities for grandparents to share their experiences of Jewish life, and value-based activities. Last year, Cincinnati participated in the program as its pilot city, said Sharon Spiegel, director of Youth Israel Experiences for the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati.
“It’s a yearlong process of making connections and sharing values and morals and family history between grandparents and grandchildren,” Spiegel said. “That’s an invaluable gift, that grandchildren get to have formalized opportunities and experiences to learn, and share these morals and values and family history.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at