This month we have Mother’s Day, next month Father’s Day – both time-honored holidays for parents, children, and the Hallmark Card Company. After the Fourth of July we have breathing space until Labor Day, when we mark the end of summer by honoring workers and getting kids ready for school. Then, the following Sunday, we observe “Grandparents’ Day.” Well, “observe” may be the wrong word. More like “ignore.”
I started thinking about the bond between children and grandparents a long time ago, thanks to two loving grandparents who lived in Claremont not far from us. They came from different villages in Russia and met in Boston where she had a sister who was married to his cousin. They both spoke Russian and Yiddish, and Polish I believe, but beyond that, and the relatives, they had little in common except for their children and grandchildren.
Being a grandparent is a unique experience – less worry and less responsibility than being a parent, yet brimming with love and hope for the future. A while back, a Russian-born cabdriver in New York asked me, “How come I love my grandchildren more than my children?” I thought for a minute and suggested that maybe he didn’t love them “more,” just “different.” “That’s good,” he said. “I’ll tell my wife what you said.”
My grandfather, whose baseball genes I have inherited, thought I was perfect. No one else has ever been guilty of that particular thought about me. I don’t recall that he told me about his grandparents, but I tell my grandchildren about him, and the day will come when they will do the same with their grandchildren. That is our immortality.
Age thirteen is a big deal for a Jewish boy or girl. It marks the coming of age when they become bar (or bat) mitzvah – “son” (or “daughter”) of the commandments. Every grandparent of a Jewish grandchild looks forward to this occasion. When the day arrives, the child is called to the bimah (the elevated platform at the front of the sanctuary) to recite ancient prayers and receive blessings from parents, family members, and friends. This milestone means that the young person is no longer a child in the eyes of the community but rather a newly minted adult, morally responsible for his or her actions as a Jew and as a member of society.
It is a day one never forgets. I remember mine, nearly sixty years ago at Temple Myer-David in Claremont. I remember the look on my parents’ and grandparents’ faces. Such pleasure, such joy, such nachas (Yiddish for pride in one’s children and grandchildren). My father told me about his, some forty-eight years earlier. I think they had to go to Springfield, Mass. in order to raise a minyan (the quorum of at least ten Jewish adults required for a service).
The press reported last month that the South African Judge, Richard Goldstone, currently a visiting professor at Georgetown University, would not attend his grandson’s bar mitzvah in Johannesburg this month. Judge Goldstone served as United Nations investigator of alleged war crimes in the conflict between Hamas and Israel, and many South African Jews are angry with him for placing a good deal of the blame on Israel. It must have been with heavy heart that he agreed “in the interests of my grandson” not to attend the services because of the threat of protests.
As for the Sunday after Labor Day, “Grandparents’ Day,” I’m not going to worry about it. My grandparents’ day this year will be May 22, when I will attend the bar mitzvah of my perfect grandson, Jacob. And, I’m happy to report, cooler heads prevailed in South Africa just a few days ago, and Judge Goldstone will also share this precious day with his grandson who, I’m sure, is also perfect.