Gifts is a partnership of Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, Grandparents for Social Action, and InterfaithFamily/Chicago

The Other Grandparents

Navigating family relationships can be challenging, and one of the most complex relationships is with “the other grandparents”—your child’s in-laws. Honey Good, the “grandma name” of Susan Good, writes poignantly about this issue, as well as many other issues for grandparents, on her website. “To all of my followers who deal with “the mother-in-law issue” my advice is: say what is on your mind so you do not harbor anger. Remember you cannot delete your family.” Read the rest of the story here.

My Grandparents’ Legacy

Stories by Adam Bender 6/24/14

A Warm Greeting

Something my Gaga always made sure her family was a part of was her work. She works for USCJ, inside of the central district office, and played a big role in motivating me to get active in USY. While working as a secretary, she was the first smiling face you saw as you walked in the door. She would always gossip to me as to which of the kids on the regional USY board would always said hello to her as he/she walked in, and which ones simply walked by without saying anything. I could tell by her tone that she liked the kids who were friendly enough to say hello to her each and every time they walked into the office, and that she had a better attitude towards those individuals. She would even call the board members who did not bother to say hello, “rude”. Not only are my Gaga’s stories hilarious, especially since I knew who she was talking about, but they taught me a valuable lesson that I still use to this day. Whenever I walk into a building, or even through the halls at work, I always take the time to say “hi, good morning! How are you?”. It is not just saying hello that matters, but being a warm-hearted person who cares about those around you.

Connection to History

One of my favorite activities to do with my Grammy is to talk about our family history. Something that always interested me is where our family came from and all the interesting stories and memories that have occurred over the generations. One afternoon I decided to sift through all the family records with Grammy. We sat at her dining room table for hours sharing stories while we went through old birth certificates, death certificates, passports, etc. Next thing we knew, it was dinner time and we had to clean up. Throughout the afternoon however I learned the importance of remembering family and making sure everyone has a story. Each of our families is unique and special, and my Grammy helped me to make sure their stories live on another generation. One day, I will sit down with my grandchildren, as Grammy did with me, and go through all of the cool old records from our family.

Finding Common Ground

When I was younger, my Papa and I did not connect easily. Old men and young children rarely do. However, sports were always our outlet that brought us closer together. Whether it be a Cubs, Bears, or Blackhawks game, we could sit and watch sports and talk together forever. Nothing else mattered when there was a game on; these were times we both cherished. This common interest stayed constant with us past my childhood years, and turned into a special time for both of us. We turned every Sunday into a holiday when football season started. I would drive over to my grandparents’ house knowing there was always an extra seat in the living room and a cold pop in the fridge. When my Papa went into the hospital and we were no longer able to watch games on Sunday together, I would call or visit him and discuss every aspect of the game. Win or lose, we would be happy that we got to experience the game together. I never truly understood the impact Sundays with my grandpa had on me until he passed, but I will always hold onto the memories of watching sports with my grandpa. Our shared love of sports went beyond watching games together. Through sports, Papa taught me a lot about life as well as just being a good person. The smallest things would turn into lessons that I have only recently discovered. Out of all the sports in the world, baseball was easily his favorite. The only thing he enjoyed more than watching the Cubs, was coming out and watching me play baseball. He would come out to every game and watch me play. My Papa was my number one fan and everybody knew it. He would cheer me on, whether I was pitching, hitting, or fielding. The simple fact that he showed up meant the world to me and I could not get enough of it. Those rare occasions when he was unable to come to my games, he was the first call I got asking whether we won or not. He was the first person to criticize the umpire after a bad call, and the first person to cheer me up after a bad outing on the mound. My Papa put his life into watching my cousins and me play baseball. His grandchildren were his world; we all knew that because he was always there.

A Recipe for Bonding

A longtime hobby of my Gaga happens to be cooking and baking, similar to most grandmothers. So you can imagine the smile on her face the first time I asked to borrow her kitchen for the day to bake challah. When I first came home from Israel, I had an obsession with baking fresh challah before Shabbat. My kitchen is too cramped to comfortably make challah, so I asked my Gaga to assist me in baking a couple before Shabbat. She had everything out and ready to go as I arrived, and we immediately got started. The first time we made it remains fresh in my mind, mostly because I messed up the first batch. Being a 19 year old guy, I thought I could do it all by myself. After my first batch did not rise like it should, my grandma worked side by side with me to make a new batch. The second time around came out perfectly. I could not believe how amazing and patient my Gaga was, even after I completely ruined the first batch of challah. Baking challah after that day turned into a tradition and hobby that we love to share together. Beyond the pleasure of spending time together, she taught me to be patient with others and to not be discouraged by failure, but to learn from your mistakes—in this case giving the yeast time to sit. It also helped me to reinforce the emphasis on two major Jewish values: family and Shabbat.

The Living Shiva

Of all the family stories my parents like to tell, their favorite has always been the story of my Papa Morrie’s “Living Shiva”. When I was just three years old, my Papa Morrie had a major heart attack, which ultimately took his life, but not immediately. After his heart attack, when the doctors knew he did not have a lot of time left, he asked to taken home, rather than sit in the hospital. So, they set up a hospital bed in the living room, and life went on. My Papa had a lot of friends, and I mean a lot of friends. My family did not publicly tell people that my grandpa was home from the hospital, it simply got around by word of mouth. Not long after being home from the hospital, my grandparents’ house was fully packed with people coming to say goodbye to my grandfather. Even though I don’t remember my Papa Morrie, this story specifically stands out. My parents like to call this his “Living Shiva”, since everyone got to come by and say their last goodbyes. What really strikes me though, is that everybody found out by word of mouth. My Papa Morrie had such an impact on hundreds of people’s lives, that they stopped what they were doing just to go and see him one last time. Although I have very few memories of him, since he died when I was so young, his impact on people’s lives really speaks volumes to me. Even more than 15 years since his death, friends and family still tell me how great of a man he was, and that has helped turn me into the man I am today.

Stay Connected

Something that has always struck me was my grandmothers’ ability to keep in touch with so many family members, so often. It is a skill they both have in common, and skill they have handed down to me. As a kid, I would watch as they would take the time to call distant relatives just to see how they were doing, or what their weekend plans were. After being active in USY, I have friends all over the country. My grandmothers’ examples have helped me to make my friendships stronger and a lot more interesting. Even now, as I watch one grandma or the other talk for hours to relatives I’ve never heard of, I can’t help but think that their long-distance calls helped to turn me into the person I am today. I couldn’t imagine not taking the time to call distant friends from time to time, just to say hello.

Family Matters Most

It’s crazy how some of the best moments that I have had with my grandparents did not become clear to me until my Papa had passed away. I agreed to help my Gaga clean out Papa’s closet after he died, and what we found was a goldmine. Along with his old shoes, sweaters, and hats was his wallet. Now, I was not expecting to find anything but old receipts and gum wrappers, but I was very wrong. I found pictures of each of his kids and grandkids, pictures he had carried with him everywhere. After digging a little farther, I found a ticket stub from 1996. The stub was from a “Disney On Ice” show, and on it was written “Adam’s First Show”. My grandfather had held onto a ticket stub for 18 years from the first show that he and my grandmother had taken me to. I had never known Papa to be a sentimental person, but this proved me wrong. His family meant more to him than anything in the world, and to me family is what matters most.

By Shannon Zaid

Shared Experiences are Stronger than Different Political Beliefs

Last summer, my grandmother took me on a week and a half trip to Israel. There were a couple of factors that lead to our decision to take the trip. Two years ago we lost my Grandfather to Alzheimer’s. He grew up in Israel and immigrated to the US in his late twenties. After my grandparents got married, every few years they’d spend their summer with his relatives in Netanya. My grandmother decided she wanted to uphold the tradition in his memory and go to Israel once again.

When she asked me to go on the trip with her, I jumped at the opportunity. I’d only been to Israel once before when I was five, and could barely recall it. My thinking was that I’d be able to get a free trip out of it, and hang around the beach all day. That wasn’t the case.

My grandmother and I have always had a complex relationship. I grew up in an interfaith family, and although I was converted to Judaism at a young age, and identified as a Secular Jew, she always complained about my lack of emotional investment in the Jewish community and Israel. I always felt that her political philosophy of putting Israel ahead of domestic policy here in the US was detrimental. To be fair, she was probably correct about my lack of investment in the Jewish community, but considering her views I didn’t want to hear it. So the trip that initially served as a way to connect to her husband now also served a new one, getting me to connect to Israel. This was her chance to show me firsthand how special Israel is.

In Israel, my grandmother booked us a tour group that had us waking up at 5:30 in the morning and getting back to the hotel at 6 in the evening. We had a drill sergeant for a tour guide, whose sole purpose in life was pushing us past our physical stamina, and my grandmother and I constantly argued about international politics. But despite all that, I saw visions that I would not been able to fathom, and places I never thought I’d be. I came to know what Judaism was, and what the state of Israel stood for. I learned that Judaism goes beyond that of religious beliefs, and strikes at deep cultural values that have survived countless assaults throughout history.

I still don’t agree with my grandmother’s beliefs, but I do side with Israel and the Jewish community. And I do believe in what they stand for. The only complaint my grandmother has from the trip is that I picked up more political views that she disagrees with.

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