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Jewish learningWhat’s in a Name?

What’s in a name? For grandparents, it can be a lot.

What an honor and a privilege it was to teach Grandparenting Through a Jewish Lens at Temple Isaiah this past winter. While we gathered on cold and often snowy evenings in Lexington Massachusetts, our grandchildren were spread across the country and ranged in age from 2 weeks to preteens. Some of us had known each other for many years and had shared trials and tribulations of child- raising together. Others were meeting one another for the first time. Some of our grandchildren attended Jewish day schools and others had Christmas trees.   

Whatever the circumstances, we were all Jewish grandparents.  Each of us felt blessed to have arrived at this place in our lives, regardless of whether it was exactly how we had pictured it would be. To honor that feeling, together we spoke the words of the Shehecheyanu blessing in English and in Hebrew at the first and last session, a poignant moment as we shared these traditional words that mark gratitude and milestones in Jewish life. For many, the Shehecheyanu evoked so many other powerful touchpoints in our personal journeys. 

Imagine having the opportunity to spend several hours with people who encourage you to kvell about your grandchildren, and at the same time, who are open and supportive as you share your challenges. We realized that we were not alone in this sacred role, and we can be there for each other.  

One theme of our class that resonated for many was that of the power of names. Names, what we call ourselves and what we are called, are so important in Judaism. As we introduced ourselves, we shared whom we were named after and a bit about how that name impacted us. The theme of names continued as we explored how we had each chosen what we wanted to be called by our grandchildren. Our group included bubbes, zaydes, papas, grandmas, nanas, grammas and more.  

For some of us, a “grandparent name” was a re-creation of our experiences as children.  Others did not have the experience of having living grandparents and their names were chosen for different reasons. And, although none of us chose the names of our grandchildren — the first time we were truly confronted with the fact that we had to take a step back and our children were now the decision makers — many of those names were of people that we had known and loved. L’dor V’dor-from generation to generation. From our grandparents to our grandchildren.  As Josh Nelson sings:  

 “We are words and we are stories, we are pictures of the past
We are carriers of wisdom, not the first and not the last”  

 We discussed how we are each not only a link to our past but, through our actions and words, we are also building a bridge to the future.  Grandparenting Through a Jewish Lens gave us the opportunity to embrace our roles as Jewish grandparents -whatever we choose to call ourselves- in this time and place.  

Margie Bogdanow LICSW, is a proud grandmother of 5 and a longtime Hebrew College facilitator as well as creator of the original Hebrew College Grandparenting Through a Jewish Lens course. Margie will be teaching a Grandparenting Through a Jewish Lens class starting Wednesday March 3, 5:30-7 p.m. via Zoom. The class runs weekly throughout the month of March. Register Now! 

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