Our tradition is replete with imperatives to connect the generations, but do we live those traditions today, or how do we live those traditions today? Think Sinai, “You are standing this day … all of you …” Think the Shema, “you shall teach them diligently to your children,” or, “you shall impress them on your children,” depending on the translation in your siddur.
The Pew Studies in 2013 and 2020 gave us fresh data on the risks of losing the non-Orthodox children and grandchildren not only from the easy blame pointing at intermarriage, but from not making it a high enough priority.
To paraphrase The Talmud into more modern language, “When you teach your child, you teach your child’s child.” To do this, you need to create L’dor V’dor moments, spiritual journeys that link one generation to the next. This is an important tool in “How Will Synagogues Reinvent Themselves?” (Los Angeles Jewish Journal, November 4, 2021). Editor-in-Chief David Suissa writes in this article, “… Social programs can connect younger kids to the wisdom of grandparents.”
I suggest two ways to consider doing this. The first one is a generation-to-generation tool you can apply right away, a tool I feel is in a shortfall.Parents-to-be invest considerable effort to select the names (English and Hebrew) of their future child.
In the Jewish tradition, especially in the Jewish Ashkenazic tradition, often the future child is named in honor of a recently deceased relative.This is to “carry on the name,” but it should also be to carry on the heritage.
When I am a chaplain in a hospital with Labor & Delivery, and I have been invited to bless a newborn, of any faith, I always inquire, “How did you select the name?” When the baby will be carrying on the name of someone in the family, I go on to ask, “Please tell me about that person. What will you teach your new child about that relative?” Too often, the silence is deafening, as they say.
For those of us who wear badges in our hospitals, one of my mantras is the badge does not give us immunity from what we treat. I am named in honor of my father’s mother, who died about a year before I was born. In the spirit of self-disclosure, I have never seen a picture of my fraternal grandmother nor has anyone in the family ever told me anything about her.
For the grandparents who are devotees of JewishSacreAging.com, you are in the ideal position to teach the children about the person (z’l) behind the name they are carrying forward. You are more likely to known them, their passions, their legacies, values and their stories. You could make that a part of the story time with the grandchildren. When Lydia Kukoff wrote the curricula for the Reform movements “Choosing Judaism” program, she stressed that learning about a religion, any religion or culture, must include the sights, sounds and smells of the religion or culture.
What can you share about their namesakes in sights, sounds and smells? Did kugel waft through the air? Do you remember the sound of Shabbat candles being lit or the aroma of fresh challah being sliced? What was the Pesach Seder like?
I remember barely coming up to my father’s suit pocket in shul and at Rosh HaShanah, autumn had just arrived, and the fragrance of moth balls that had been in his suit pockets was at the same height as my nose. My father (z’l) had a genuine chazanut voice, which I remember, but which I did not inherit, sadly. My father did teach the cantor’s son to sing in the shul choir, so well, that the cantor’s son, Sidney Liebowitz, grew up to change his name to Steve Lawrence and become a celebrity vocalist. Although my granddaughter is not carrying forth my father’s name, I will teach her you the ancestor in the pictures on my desk.
Another way to create l’dor v’dor moments is to teach the weekly Torah Parsha at the child’s level, simplified to the one or two “big ideas.” If you would like to study role models of this style, loo to the writings and on-line videos from Jewish Shari Lewis and Presbyterian Minister Fred Rogers (“Mr. Rogers”), both, sadly, of blessed memory.
I have begun to teach some of this more child-friendly parsha formats at my shul.For Parsha Vayera, Abraham greeting strangers at the entrance to his tent, I tried to teach the Jewish values of visiting the sick and hospitality to the stranger. For Parsha Chaye Sarah, I tried to teach the Jewish values of feeding your pets before yourself, and the importance of treasuring memories. For upcoming Parsha Vayetzei, I will try to teach the concepts of “Where Does G-D Dwell” and “Can Dreams Come True?”
Magnify the L’dor V’dor” moments by teaching your children and grandchildren about the legacies to which they have been entrusted. My favorite Yiddish proverb translates into, “Memories are all we truly own.” Help make those memories.
Barry Pitegoff is a Staff Chaplain at Bon Secours Community Hospital in Port Jervis, New York. Barry enjoyed thousands of hours of volunteer chaplaincy at hospitals, hospices, and prisons while he was vice president of market research for Visit Florida, the state’s tourism board. After retirement, Barry transformed into professional chaplaincy by taking a second Master’s Degree and two years’ of hospital internships. Barry was awarded the title of BCC, Board Certified Chaplain at the May 2019 conference of the NAJC (Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains). In 2020, Chaplain Barry was elected to the Board of NAJC, serves on Chaplain Review Committees, and facilitates a monthly national video call of Jewish hospital chaplains.