Landmark Study of Jewish Grandparents in the US Launches

By Lee M. Hendler and David Raphael

The Jewish community likes studies, with good reason. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves from them. At the moment, for instance, much of the research in the Jewish community is focused on millennials and young families. However, from our perspective, the Jewish community has paid scant attention to grandparents and the heavy lift many of us may be performing to help our families function and thrive. This is why we founded the Jewish Grandparents Network.

Today’s Jewish boomer grandparents are part of the wealthiest, most connected demographic in Jewish life – often the underwriters and dues payers of the organizations most concerned about millennials and young families. And our greatest passion is often our role as grandparents. David Elcott first identified and wrote about this in a 2009 study of Encore Careers that focused on Jews. “If organizations realized that one of the great passions in their (Boomers) lives was their role as grandparents, and addressed them seriously in that way – they might be very surprised to find them interested but not in order to get their allegiance – but to fulfill the organizations’ missions of supporting Jewish life. Grandparents are on the front lines of that effort.”

Elcott realized that Jewish boomer grandparents (currently the largest demographic in our Jewish community) would be at the cutting edge of responding to the changes in Jewish family life. As we watched our own boomlet become parents, and our job description transitioned from parent to grandparent we found ourselves on the front lines of today’s ‘New Jewish Family.” These were our families. We had to confront the complexities of multi-faith and multi-cultural marriages, geographic dispersion, LGBTQ issues, financial hardship for the middle class and other changing family dynamics. These are not the families we assumed we would become when we first started out on our parenthood journeys 30 to 50 years ago. The roles many of us have taken on as grandparents are also more involved or complicated than anticipated. We can be caretakers, financial underwriters or legacy transmitters. Sometimes we are all three.

A year of focus groups and interviews we conducted yielded a motherlode of stories.

Listen to some of the voices we heard:

  • We celebrate the ‘present holidays:’ Hanukkah, Christmas and Easter. Our daughter’s family are ‘Jewtherans.’
  • We pay for our grandchildren’s Jewish education, otherwise they probably wouldn’t have any.
  • My son is married to a woman who is not Jewish. She gets all her Jewish from us. When we light candles, she lights candles.
  • If I want to see my kids or get them together, I send an email a month ahead of time and ask my son to arrange it.
  • We planned for three years to move to Nashville so we could be near to our Jewish son and non-Jewish daughter-in-law and grandchildren.
  • I did first Seder here [in Baltimore] with one family, then I put a frozen kosher turkey in my backpack and flew out to California to do second Seder with my other family. By the time we got there, it thawed.
  • I don’t give Hanukkah gifts anymore, I contribute to my grandchildren’s 529 funds.
  • Our grandchildren sleep over every Thursday night so we can take them to day school on Friday morning. We feel lucky. I have friends who won’t even babysit.
  • It’s the everyday things that matter – playing a game, going to the playground, baking cookies.
  • I have both sides in my family – totally observant and totally secular.
  • I want to take every grandchild on a special trip before they turn 13. The challenge is putting the Jewish content in when it is not a ‘Jewish’ trip.
  • I’ve learned to make peace with the fact that most of my grandchildren are not Jewish and are not getting a Jewish education. I will be there for them.
  • I looked down my family Seder table this year and ‘one of everything’ was there.
  • When I am in town I spend part of every day with my grandchildren.
  • We are a special people. I want them to be proud and understand their family roots and family story.

Though stories are ultimately the way we make sense out of our lives, good data informs our most effective stories. So we commissioned the first national study of Jewish grandparents in the US. Conducted by an outside third-party research firm (Impact:NPO), the twenty minute online survey for grandparents ages 55-80 who self-identify as Jewish is currently available HERE.

This groundbreaking study will explore the interests and family demographics of Jewish grandparents, ages 55-80. Responses from individual grandparents throughout the United States will provide vital information that will help our communities and organizations better understand how we can best reach, engage and serve grandparents and their families.

We are proud to have partnered with 18 federations and national organizations who are excited to learn more about this key constituency.

All of us will benefit from the broadest participation in this effort. Join the thousands who are participating in the first national study of Jewish grandparents! If you are a grandparent, we want to hear from you! Please take the survey. If you know a grandparent or are an organization with access to this population, please share the link.

We look forward to sharing what we have learned when final results are available in early March.

Lee M. Hendler and David Raphael are Co-Founders of the Jewish Grandparents Network. For more information: info@jewishgrandparentsnetwork.org