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Asking the Clergy: How can grandparents participate in grandchildren's faith education?

From left, the Rev. Earl Y. Thorpe Jr.

From left, the Rev. Earl Y. Thorpe Jr. of Church-in-the-Garden, Isma H. Chaudhry of the Islamic Center of Long Island, center, and Rabbi Simcha Zamir of Temple Sholom. Credit: Composite photo: Church-in-the-Garden, left, Islamic Center of Long Island and Simcha Zamir

Whether they're called bubbe and zayde, nonna and nonno, los abuelos or grandma and grandpa, the family members celebrated on National Grandparents Day (Sept. 13 this year), can be influential in a child’s religious upbringing. This week’s clergy discuss how grandparents can act as religious role models, passing along traditions and lovingkindness to the next generation.

Rabbi Simcha Zamir

Temple Sholom of Westbury

My grandfather taught me two lessons that have stayed with me since he died when I was 6 years old. He taught Jewish values by example.

Once, my grandfather, father and I returned home from synagogue on a Friday evening. I rush to the table to eat the Sabbath meal. My grandfather just looks at me, motions for me to come back and stand by him. He says to my grandmother, “Hinda, I am so grateful to have you in my life. The apartment looks so clean and beautiful for Shabbas. The aromas from the kitchen are so wonderful. I don’t know how you manage to do all of this.” He then turns to me and says, “You see Simchela, that is more important than rushing to the table.”

He exhibited gratitude, a form of giving. And if God is the ultimate giver, and our purpose is to emulate God, then we too need to be givers. As grandparents we are role models who can show our grandchildren that we take our religion seriously, even if we are not the most observant of people. Judaism refers to this as “gemilut hasadim,” acts of loving-kindness.

The Rev. Earl Y. Thorpe Jr.

Pastor, Church-in-the-Garden, Garden City

I was blessed to have grandparents of deep faith and conviction. I grew up in a church founded by my maternal grandmother. My grandparents (like many of the elders) took an active role in others' lives, especially younger couples and their kids. The church and my grandparents' generation's involvement stressed the value of education and direct social action and engagement. Children learned oratory skills, and parents learned about vital resources (tax preparation, small business consultation, etc.) from those seasoned saints.

It was not uncommon to see many of the church mothers keeping a watchful eye on everyone's kids. There was a collective understanding of the shared responsibility of children and families within the church. I know I felt the prayers and the encouragement of my grandparents when I went off to college and throughout my life. Today's church needs those grandparents whose lives have fortified their faith. We need to allow grandparents to extend their wisdom and knowledge to those reaping the fruits of their labor.

Isma H. Chaudhry

Board of trustees chair, Islamic Center of Long Island, Westbury

The Arabic word tarbiyah refers to the holistic upbringing of children by nurturing religious, moral and educational growth embedded in ethics and etiquette. In Muslim households, grandparents play a significant role in the upbringing of grandchildren.

Because Islamic traditions emphasize respect and care for parents, young married couples bring up their families in a close-knit extended family setup. Grandparents serve as the fulcrum for the grandchildren's upbringing by teaching them about tradition and the value of having a virtuous character. They provide the love, attention, nurturing and time that children need.

The generation gap gets filled with love, benevolence, warmth and patience. This intergenerational connection opens young and not-so-young minds to each generation's strengths, creating a precious bond of love, trust and respect. Grandparents’ involvement, wisdom and sagacity of experience make grandchildren emotionally robust, confident and optimistic about the challenges and frustrations of growing up.

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