Last month we took a peek behind the scenes in various Israeli homes. We saw well-behaved children and not-as-well-behaved children enjoying the infrequent visits of their American grandparents. We heard from happy mothers and stressed-out ones, both hesitant and eager to host their parents/in-laws from abroad. As with anything in life, there are always two sides to the coin. How was the experience for the American bubbies? Let’s take a look at what some of your Baltimore friends and neighbors have to say about visiting their Israeli grandchildren.
Packing: Presents or Presence?
It must be in the Jewish genes – the need to give to your children and grandchildren. The children who are seen regularly receive a steady dose of Bubby’s attention, along with the specialty food items that are available only in Zaidy and Bubby’s house. They get to visit for Shabbos and Yom Tov and enjoy their grandparents’ praise at their siddur parties and graduations. But what about their Israeli counterparts? How do you pack a year’s worth of love and attention into one short visit?
I’m sure that most Bubbies and Zaidies do not want to spoil the grandchildren, nor do they want the children to think that grandparents are all about presents. Yet, many Bubbies I spoke with admitted to spoiling their Israeli grandchildren with both their presence and their presents when they come to visit.
Tova Cohen,* who lives in the Midwest, says she tries to limit her gifting. She has four married children living in Israel, each with a number of children themselves. She jokes that if she had to start buying one gift per grandchild, she would have to save up money for two years to come visit, instead of coming every year! She therefore prefers one shared game per family. Mrs. Cohen emphatically states that the visits are about bonding and spending time together, not about giving gifts. She has no issue, however, with providing the good quality American underwear and socks that her children keep requesting, as she doesn’t consider that in the realm of spoiling them.
Gitty Horowitz, of Bais Yaakov Middle School fame, has three children living in Eretz Yisrael. When asked about her shlepping-stuff-to-Israel experience, she stated that her children come back to visit often enough to buy the stuff themselves. As far as gifts are concerned, Mrs. Horowitz prefers to pack lightly and buy things in Israel, thereby supporting Yidden, though she has no problem bringing a new skill-building toy of lasting value.
Margie Pensak (whose name usually appears in the byline, not in the article!) describes it best. When asked whether she focuses on the presents or presence aspect of her visit, she explains, “Just three days prior to my trip, one of my local daughters-in-law, Ayala, was still helping me by shopping for items on the wish list that I always ask my Israeli kids for. On erev Shabbos, my living room floor was covered with Amazon, Target, and other purchases that she has spent hours of her premium time buying both in person and online for me... It’s a twin focus.”
So, whether you are a believer of spoiling the kids rotten, spending quality time together, or both, get ready to pack up and enjoy your visit!
A Place To Stay
Welcome to the Holy Land! First things first: You need a place to stay! Will you be staying with the children in their cozy (read: cramped) quarters, and enjoying every second of your days together, or will you opt to rent or borrow a place of your own so that you have some elbow room and quiet?
Marsha Grant, of Baltimore, says she’s tried both options. When visiting with her children in Yerushalayim, she stays in their apartment with them. She loves being onsite and available to help her busy daughters-in-law with whatever she can. Her children in Bnei Brak, however, don’t have room for her to stay, so she rents a place of her own, where she appreciates the much-needed downtime from their hectic, lively house. “At this stage in the game,” she says, “I don’t want to be woken up by crying babies!”
Mrs. Pensak prefers to stay with the children, and her children prefer that too, as they seldom see each other and don’t want to give up on any of that time together.
The Horowitzes, too, like to have their own accommodations, so as to not overextend their children, who live in close quarters. They feel, though, that if the separate quarters are too far away, you lose out on the feeling of being with the children.
So, consider the advantages and disadvantages of each option before choosing your perfect place to stay!
The Children Challenge
You’ve settled in, and are ready to enjoy your visit, but the grandchildren just can’t seem to settle down. They are far too excited by their visitors and the change of routine, and may even (gasp!) start to act up! What do you do now? Do you make yourselves discreet, or do you step in and get involved? How do you feel about the sometimes very different chinuch approach that you may observe when visiting the grandchildren? How do you handle the vastly different culture in which your precious eineklach are being raised?
Mrs. Grant finds the kids to be “more aggressive than I’m used to in America.” When taking the grandchildren out, she has trouble dealing with the lack of orderly lines and turn-taking at public events. “It’s hard for me to tell them that it’s wrong, because culturally, that’s what everyone does, but it doesn’t feel right to me.” Mrs. Grant also dislikes the large class sizes and the fact that the girls finish school so early and have nothing structured to do all afternoon.
Mrs. Cohen, on the other hand, loves the long afternoons that the children have to spend with their family, and as far as different chinuch approaches are concerned, she states, “I’m finished raising my children; they’re grown now and are old enough to decide what they want to do and how to do it.”
When asked for her take on the matter, Gitty Horowitz said, “I am a chinuch teacher, I stay out of the way and let my children raise their children. If I see something that’s not just different but harmful, and I see my children could use some hadracha (guidance), I will tell them privately a different time, not in front of the children.” A great idea, indeed!
Was That English?!
So, you’ve packed yourselves up, traveled across the world, and settled in, and you’re ready to spend quality time with the grandchildren. You walk into the kitchen in the middle of dinner time. “Bubby, what you want to eat?” asks the oldest granddaughter. “Ay, I catched it first!” scream the next two children, who are busy fighting over the seat next to you. “Dyyyy!” replies the oldest granddaughter, “You want that there should be for Bubby a headache?” As far as the younger children are concerned, you don’t even know what they’re saying; it’s such a mix of Heblish that you can’t even figure it out.
How do you deal with the English speakers who insist on conjugating their sentences as if they’re Hebrew, and the non-English speaker, whom you don’t understand at all? While many of Mrs. Grant’s grandchildren speak only Hebrew, it doesn’t pose much of an issue. She understands Hebrew and although she is not fluent can speak it as well, so they more or less get by.
Mrs. Cohen has a lot of trouble understanding her Hebrew-only-speaking grandchildren, and feels it really puts a damper on the visits and on their ability to bond. She’s grateful that at least they understand English, as their parents speak only English in the house.
Mindy Fogelsky,* who visits her sister, says regarding her Israeli nieces and nephews, “How is it possible that a child who hears English spoken every day from their parents cannot speak a sentence in English?”
But Mrs. Pensak, whose son and daughter-in-law insist on speaking to the children only in English, says there is no communication problem at all. As a matter of fact, her six-year-old granddaughter attends a Yiddish-speaking school, and is, believe it or not, tri-lingual! The bottom line is that, no matter what language you speak with the grandchildren, you can all communicate with love, the language of the heart!
You are back on the plane, going the other direction. Wow! What a lovely trip you had! You really enjoyed bonding with the next generation. You’re really going to miss them! So, how do you maintain a long-distance bond?
Let’s ask the experts! While Mrs. Cohen, Mrs. Horowitz, and Mrs. Pensak communicate with the grandchildren regularly, via Skype and telephone, not everyone has that benefit. My own children would probably get kicked out of school if we tried to Skype! Mrs. Grant’s children don’t have internet in the home, so Skyping is not an option for them either, and though she manages to converse in Hebrew in person, she finds it very challenging via the phone, when the conversation lacks body language. Many children don’t talk well on the phone in any language, as they have difficulty speaking when they cannot see the other party. What’s the solution? Aliyah! Make yourselves local!
All in All
Despite the differences and challenges inherent in long distance visits, every Bubby I spoke to claimed to love visiting and wishes she could do it more often. When I asked about their overall impressions, I received many beautiful responses! Mrs. Grant loves that the children are much less demanding. “The kids manage with much less materially and are very happy!” She also thinks that Israeli children love their peers more, and appreciates how the older children are so responsible, looking after their younger siblings and watching out for each other. “In America,” she observes, generally speaking, the children are more self-centered.” She is thrilled for her sons that they’ve chosen to live in Israel, and very much values their way of life – though she readily admits that it is difficult living on the other side of the ocean from them.
Mrs. Cohen is impressed with her children’s way of life, too, and how much they’ve grown while setting themselves up in Eretz Yisrael. However, she still dreams of them moving back to America and feels that a part of her is “missing” on a regular basis because they’re across the ocean.
Gitty Horowitz sums it up best: “Their way of life is something that we applaud – their simplicity, lack of materialistic pursuits, their focus on each other and their families, and Torah. We understand the difference in standards, and we appreciate that difference. One of the reasons they’re living in Eretz Yisrael is that we want them to absorb that standard at the beginning of their marriage, so they can stand up to the pressure if they come back to America. We encouraged them to go, and if possible, to remain!”
* a pseudonym
The Outlaws Are Coming
One Bubby’s View
by Sora Berman
I really enjoyed Aidel Matskin’s (nee Berman) article, “The Grandparents are Coming.” After all, I am her mother. I’d like to respond, and although I don’t feel like a redcoat attacking Boston, I do see things from a different perspective.
I was amused that Aidel felt the need to clean before her mother came. I didn’t clean before my mother-in-law came! I agree with Yael, who doesn’t feel the need to put on a show. The visit is all about nachas. And it gives many mothers and mothers-in-law pleasure to help their children with the everyday dishes and laundry. We feel like we are giving our children a mini-vacation to help make up for the chaos our visits cause. Our memories are not so poor that we can’t remember being overwhelmed by endless piles of laundry, dirty dishes, and sleepless nights.
We know how disruptive our visit can be. Our children were off schedule and on a sugar high when we went to their grandparents. Not that I remember Aidel and her siblings falling asleep on the second-floor landing while eavesdropping on the first floor conversations. Or their letting in a cat “kind of by accident.” We are so happy to be with our eineklach that their shenanigans are actually endearing to us.
Yes, as we get older, many of us need more quiet and order, and it may be appropriate to get some of us a quiet room at a neighbor, or rent us an apartment. However, others may not want to give up a moment of the balagan (chaos). The help we give with housework and baby care may lessen as we age, but we still enjoy being with you. (Don’t worry Aidel, I am still up to it! If the baby will take a bottle, I’ll even do night duty.)
We realize our grandkids are growing up in a different culture, and no, I do not think Aidel is crazy for letting her kids have the independence that Israeli kids enjoy. What is not appropriate for Baltimore is appropriate for Kiryat Sefer. We appreciate that they try to teach their kids English, even if we do sometimes nag about speaking only English to them, so they’ll learn it a little better.
We recognize that our children gave up an easier lifestyle for the tremendous zechus of living in Eretz Hakedosha. We are aware of (some) of the many challenges of living there. Our children should remember, before we arrive and after we leave, that we are proud of them, miss them, and love them so much.
The proud mother of the author.
Aidel Matskin (nee Berman) grew up in Baltimore and now lives in Kiryat Sefer with her family.