The COVID-19  Crisis: A Catalyst for Change


As vaccinations advance and new COVID-19 cases diminish, we can begin to look beyond the difficulties and heartbreaks of these past months to imagine brighter times ahead. Through our research and conversations with grandparenting experts, and grandparents and their family members across the country, we have seen the good that has emerged from the crisis and the ways that many of us have grown and changed in response.

The crisis: Distancing from our families and friends.
The change: Our communications and interactions have been enriched.

Ruth Nemzoff, scholar at the Brandeis University Women’s Studies Research Center, expert on family interfaith relations, and member of the Jewish Grandparents Network board of directors, observes that grandparents have turned to Zoom, FaceTime, and other video platforms in record numbers. Based on the 2019 (pre-COVID) “National Study of Jewish Grandparents,” fewer than half (47%) of grandparents—even those who lived far away—had participated in a video conversation with a grandchild in the previous year. In a follow-up study, “Grandparenting During COVID,” 96% of the responding grandparents had been on a grandparent-grandchild video call, often with loving interactions.

The connection extends further: A cousin in Israel joins us for a virtual Thanksgiving or Passover seder. A long-lost family friend shares in a Zoom shiva call. Families who have never celebrated Shabbat say Hamotzi over the challah together on-screen. We are rethinking religious and spiritual observances to better reflect the lives we are living. Ruth says, “Every week, I light Sabbath candles three times for my grandchildren who live in different time zones.”

The crisis: Parents must manage their children’s schooling, their own jobs, and the smooth running of the household.
The change: Grandparents have become increasingly sensitive to the needs of their adult children.

Ruth Nemzoff recounts how grandparents have stepped up and stepped in: they provide additional childcare like sleepovers and transportation services, share their homes, and co-lead remote learning and homeschooling programs.

The crisis: Losses of every kind—social gatherings, jobs, health, and even life.
The change: We focus more on our blessings.

Jane Isay, author of numerous books, including Unconditional Love: A Guide to Navigating the Joys and Challenges of Being a Grandparent Today, tells how the pandemic helped us “focus on values that we took for granted.” Jane writes, “We began to ask, to what extent was our old life of value? How can we best spend the time left?” We have also become “grateful for small things—a sweet text from a grandchild, a phone call from a friend we haven’t heard from in a year.” We appreciate small kindnesses. And we have come to realize how fully we are responsible for one another.

Renée Cherow-O’Leary, a nationally recognized education and media consultant, observes that the positives of living through this crisis will include “gratitude for the opportunity to live another day with loved ones.” There are and will be new ways of seeing the world, and new learning paradigms. “We will be humbled by nature and try to work with it and not against it to create a world closer to a Garden of Eden than a Paradise Lost.”

Jane Isay concurs: “We will get out of this but we are going to be different.”

As we look forward to getting out, the Jewish Grandparents Network is rethinking our role and responsibility to grandparents and their families in the light of all we have witnessed and studied. Working with partners and consultants, we will launch bold new initiatives for grandparents and their families, geared to the realities of twenty-first-century life and enriched by all we have learned from our collective COVID-19 experiences.

At JGN we are working on:

  • A portal with experiences for grandparents and grandchildren in the arts, cooking, family stories, gardening and the earth, mindfulness and well-being, a reading room, and other subjects—all with the underpinning of Jewish values.
  • A Jewish learning series, “Opening the Heart: Becoming a Jewish Grandparent,” in partnership with Orot (Center for New Jewish Learning), and other programs specifically for grandparents.
  • A customized platform for virtual family gatherings.
  • Ongoing research about grandparents’ and their families’ lives post-COVID and data-based assessment of all our initiatives.

Please join our Facebook group to be the first to learn when our new initiatives go live. In the meantime, we wish you and your loved ones good health, good times together (virtual or otherwise), and good humor.

Lee M. Hendler is president and co-founder of the Jewish Grandparents Network.