When one becomes a Jewish grandparent, it is one of the most awe-inspiring experiences of a lifetime. I believe it is God's gift to make aging joyous. It is an opportunity to have a second chance to correct the mistakes we made as parents. It is a time to rejoice in our children's adulthood, to see them care for a new life. It can be an extremely painful time if the baby isn't healthy, because you suffer for yourself, for your child and for the newborn.
But there is no ceremony, no acknowledgment, in our day of becoming a grandparent. Perhaps our children live out of town; perhaps they have an interfaith family and have not chosen to have the baby named through a Jewish ritual. Perhaps they are a part of a different congregation; yet recognizing this new stage of life in one's own house of worship is most important.
Therefore I suggest the following ceremony:
- Hold a ritual for all new grandparents twice a year at Shabbat services.
- Have all new grandparents put their newborn grandchildren's pictures on an easel outside the sanctuary, along with the parents' and grandparents names.
- Just before the Torah reading, the rabbi calls up all the new grandparents to the bima together and says a blessing. Then one grandparent expresses a few words of gratitude on the power of seeing a new life or on how we become immortal through our grandchildren. All the grandparents pledge to reaffirm their own identity; to study, pray and do deeds of righteous social action; and to thank God for their blessings. Everyone says the shehehiyanu blessing. Then the grandparents are the honor guard for the Torah. The grandparents are showered with candy as they return to their seats.
- At the Oneg Shabbat, grandparents wear buttons that have the picture of their grandchild (if they can have such a button made) or that simply say, "I am a new grandparent." Everyone congratulates them and shares their own stories. That bonding experience can provide the opportunity to invite the grandparents to join a "Reaffirmation of Judaism" or "Adult B'nai Mitzva" class that will increase their knowledge, facilitate bonding with others, and provide an opportunity to do social action together.
This article originally appeared in the winter 1999-2000 edition of Jewish Education News, which focused on Jewish Journeys -- New Rituals. Additional articles from this and other issues of Jewish Education News, published by the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education, can be found on the CAJE website at caje.org.