Many of our richest childhood memories are of celebrating Jewish holidays at our grandparents’ homes. Bubbe and Zayde would set their table for Shabbat and delicious treats like kugles and kreplach flavored the air and warmed us from the inside out. In a way it’s always been tradition for the older generation of the family to uphold the Jewish customs that require the time, effort and dedication to be enjoyable – like hosting a Pesach seder, or Rosh Hashanah dinner. For young millennial families today, who are navigating a new Jewish reality with grandparents spread across the US or even the world, it can feel that much harder to create the memories and positive experiences we had.
Despite the distance, many Jewish grandparents are still doing a lot of the heavy lifting (even from thousands of miles away!) when it comes to raising children with some form of a Jewish identity, and many are struggling with how to make it work. So if you are a family looking for some ideas and inspiration for Jewish activities for grandparents and grandchildren to enjoy together, even over a screen – here is a helpful list for you! These ideas are geared towards toddlers and preschoolers who might not be ready to just have a conversation over FaceTime or who don’t yet have the words or attention span to connect in a meaningful way without some help. These ideas can be incorporated in interfaith families, unaffiliated families as well as those with strong Jewish connections – you can also tailor them to your grandchild and their interests.
1. Read a Jewish book!
Reading over FaceTime is actually one way to hold a little kid’s attention and interest much longer than a conversation. Kids understand how to listen to a story and they understand that iPads are entertainment devices. Flip the camera to face the pages of the book and read it aloud. Ask questions along the way about the things you’re reading about and help them feel connected to you by using the elements of the story to talk about your own life. If you read a book about preparing for Shabbat, show your grandkid your special kiddush cup or Shabbat candles. Make sure to choose a book that’s age-appropriate and you might find it helpful to start with one they already read at home and love before introducing a new one.
2. Share Your Groceries
This one is great for the toddler crowd because young kids love to point out objects, shapes and colors they recognize. When you come home from the grocery store lay everything you bought out on the table and let your grandkids help you find all the items of a certain color, or count how many of something you bought. This works really well on FaceTime with the camera flipped and they can also guess what meals you’re going to make or what a new food item is. This is also an opportunity to mention Jewish foods or recipes you may be preparing even if they won’t be there in person to enjoy them. Your grandkids can also help you plan your Shabbat menu and you can flip the activity to looking in your refrigerator for what you need to buy at the store and getting them to help you make a grocery list.
3. Get Ready for Shabbat
FaceTime your grandchild each week when you’re setting the table for Shabbat, let them help you remember what needs to go on the table and what each item is for. You can stretch this one out or make it funny by hiding things around your home and going on a hunt for them.
You can garden over FaceTime too! We love to check in on my parents garden each week on FaceTime and see how the different plants are growing and even watch them be watered or pruned. For Shabbat your grandchild can help choose which flowers to pick and where to place them around the home.
A few more quick tips for FaceTime:
If you’re struggling getting your littles ones to sit still and focus on FaceTiming try doing it during a meal or snack. If kids are already sitting still and calm it makes it a lot easier. Also, make it part of the routine. We like to FaceTime every day after preschool, sometimes conversations only last a minute because we’re too tired or want to go play – and that’s OK! FaceTime with grandparents is a part of our daily routine and that means our grandparents are too.
You can see more ideas on this topic in my video about it here:
Marion Haberman is a writer and content creator for her YouTube/MyJewishMommyLifechannel and Instagram @MyJewishMommyLifepage where she shares her experience living a meaning-FULL Jewish family life. Haberman is currently writing a book on Judaism and pregnancy titled “Expecting Jewish!” released Winter 2019. She is also a professional social media consultant and web and television writer for Discovery Channel, NOAA and NatGeo and has an MBA from Georgetown University.