When Lily wanted to celebrate her ninth birthday, she decided to volunteer at Bernie's Book Bank in Lake Bluff and bring her friends along. Instead of presents, Lily asked her friends to bring new books to donate. Lily's extended family had their own table, put stickers in the books, and packed boxes.
"Watching her and her friends doing such a mitzvah was just wonderful," said June Gross, Lily's grandmother. "Lily told me it was more fun than a skating party and how she enjoyed helping others. Everyone there also signed up to be future volunteers at Bernie's. It warmed my heart."
Today's grandparents carry tremendous influence over their grandchildren, passing on generations-old traditions of serving those less fortunate. "As teachers and role models, grandparents can encourage the next generation to perform acts of tikkun olam (repairing the world)," said Sharon Morton, the Deerfield-based founder and executive director of Grandparents for Social Action.
Morton, a Jewish retired religious educator with decades of experience in social-action training, said the organization teaches grandparents how to pass along their values of tikkun olam through intergenerational social-action programs and a free monthly e-newsletter.
"I believe we all want to leave a legacy," said Morton. "As our grandparents taught us, so must we teach our grandchildren that together we can change the world; that each individual child can make a difference." More importantly, volunteering together can build strong, lifelong bonds and shared memories between grandparents and grandchildren.
Doris Lazarus, an active volunteer with the Holocaust survivor community, has taken her granddaughter, Talia, age 10, to help set up for the annual 'Café Europa' Chanukah party, sponsored by JUF's Holocaust Community Services. She said Talia felt it was a very meaningful experience. "As the great-granddaughter of survivors, she wanted to do something special for them," said Lazarus. "For me, it was an opportunity to share this experience with her, do something together and pass on my values of volunteering- l'dor v'dor -from generation to generation.
Where to look for ideas
JUF's TOV Volunteer Network connects the Jewish community with volunteer opportunities that best meet their needs.
"TOV offers many intergenerational volunteer projects, ranging from pet visits at nursing homes to organizing food pantries, to serving a meal at the JUF Uptown Cafe (for ages 12 and older), and more. If you're looking for a special project to do just with your family, our Volunteer Concierge can work with you to plan the perfect mitzvah opportunity," said Marissa Comin, assistant director of Volunteer Services at TOV. She also recommends volunteering on Good Deeds Day, April 7, an international day of service around the world. TOV coordinates the local efforts and offers a variety of hands-on volunteer projects across Chicagoland.
Maot Chitim of Greater Chicago welcomes grandparents and grandchildren for holiday food distribution at Passover and Rosh Hashanah. "Everyone can help with delivering the kosher food packages," said Joellyn Stoliar, executive director of Maot Chitim. Volunteers from age 12 can work putting the packages together in the warehouse, and those ages 7 and up can help stuff materials for the packages.
"Volunteering with multi-generations creates a family tradition that kids will always remember," said Stoliar. "It's a beautiful gift they can share together and continue to do with their own children."
"When our children were young, we did family mitzvah projects together," added Gross. "Now this has been passed down to another generation. What more could grandparents ask for?"
For more on Grandparents for Social Action, visit grandparentsforsocialaction.org.
For more on TOV, visit JUF.org/TOV and for more on Good Deeds Day, visit juf.org/tov/gooddeedsday.aspx.
For more on Maot Chitim, visit Maotchitim.org.
Mira Temkin is a Highland Park-based journalist who writes about travel, theater, and lifestyle. Follow her at miratemkintravel.com.