On the Shabbat that falls during Passover, something magical happens at Temple Sholom. Grandchildren invite their grandparents to join them for the congregation’s Friday evening service. Grandparents’ Shabbat, a program of the congregation’s Jewish Family Matters project, draws a packed house every year.
The service follows the Friday night liturgy, with enthusiastic singing, especially of prayers that praise elders. (Psalm 92 states, “even in old age they bring forth fruit.”) Then the magic begins. Grandparents are invited to bless their grandchildren (and the middle generation). In each pew, small family groups reach out toward each other and are guided in the traditional blessings by the rabbi—and are encouraged to add their own blessings of thanksgiving. In return, the grandchildren distribute flowers to their grandparents, and return the blessing to them. Elders who do not have local grandchildren serve as surrogates for children who do not have local grandparents. There’s rarely a dry eye in the house.
All too often, grandparents and grandchildren do not have opportunity to bask in each other’s love. Geographic and emotional separations challenge the natural affinity of the two generations. So the synagogue has replaced holiday religious-school assemblies with trips to senior centers on Purim to deliver Shalach Manot and on Passover to conduct model seders for the residents. While grandparents’ Shabbat is a single event, it is anchored in the ongoing education of the congregation.