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Judaism: No Generation Gap

The Torah guides us in grandparent-parent-child relationships.
Published: Friday, November 01, 2013 8:53 AM


A Beautiful Site
My son’s Bar Mitzvah was an opportunity for a family reunion. I recall that on Shabbat afternoon after lunch, while parents, siblings and children lounged and chatted, my brother in law pulled me aside and pointed out a beautiful scene.

A large group of teenage girls were sitting and chatting with their grandmother, my recently departed mother in law, Mrs. Layah Block of blessed memory. The easy chat and happy laughter continued for nearly half an hour, the conversation never once lapsing into uncomfortable silence. Despite the age difference there was no generation gap at all.

Recently, when the family gathered once again to remember our beloved mother and grandmother, this was a common theme. One after another the grandchildren rose and talked about their easy and comfortable rapport with Bubbie. That Bubbie related easily to their high school woes and teenage delights had always been taken for granted, but in retrospect, it is nothing short of remarkable.

This set me to thinking. What causes the generation gap and what does it take to bridge it? I am fairly certain that my mother in law didn’t make a conscious effort to relate to her teenage grandchildren. It came naturally to her. What is the secret of making the generation gap disappear?

Uncanny Resemblance
The other day I visited a friend, who asked me to help him determine which doorways in his home require a mezuzah. Strolling through the house I caught site of several pictures. The first was his wedding photo. It took me a moment to identify him from several decades back, because I mistook him for his son. The son, who is now about that age is a carbon copy of the father’s youthful image.

When I remarked on this, he mentioned that his wife is a carbon copy of her mother. Several moments later we encountered a portrait of his in laws in their youth and there it was. Not only is his wife a carbon copy of her mother, but his second son is a carbon copy of the grandfather. “Frightening,” I remarked,” to see our genetic material imprinted on others.”

The Torah introduces us to Isaac, the son of Abraham and then tells us that Abraham begot Isaac. The commentaries wondered about the redundancy and explained it this way. Isaac was the son of Abraham and in case anyone suspected different, G-d made it so Isaac was a perfect resemblance of his father and everyone knew that Abraham begot Isaac. The father’s genetic material was imprinted on the son.

Generation Gap
The number one cause of the generation gap is grandparents and grandchildren dismissing each other. Grandchildren view their old and frail grandparents as irrelevant. They love their granny and visit often. They love Grandpa and can’t get enough of the doting old man, but when it comes right to it, their grandparents are old folk who sit at home and do boring things. Of course, they join the family on occasion and have fun, but for the most part their interests are archaic, folksy and frankly, dull.

You can tell them that several decades earlier their grandparents were vital, strapping teenagers just like them. You can tell them that their grandparents still feel young and wonder where the years went, how the wrinkles appeared and where the aches came from. You can tell them all that, but it will fall on deaf ears. They will hear it in their heads, but will be hard pressed to relate. The generation gap is too large.

Then one day they see a picture of their grandparents in their youth and are startled by the uncanny resemblance to them. Suddenly the old dotty grandpa is energetic and strong, athletic and adventurous. Suddenly they see their grandparents in themselves. This is Granny? But it can’t be. She looks exactly like me! Indeed, she does. They come to realize that granny was once as strong as them and they will one day be as frail as her. Suddenly it clicks. They get it. What you couldn’t explain with a thousand words becomes crystal clear with one picture. Their grandparents are good, loving, relevant and decent. The wrinkled, old fashioned, appearance is just a shell. What is on the inside matters most.

Grandparents are just as guilty. They see their grandchildren running around doing things they cannot do and interested in things unheard of in their own youth. They conclude that this is a new generation and immediately assume they cannot relate. These kids cannot possibly relate to us, their old fashioned grandparents. We are good for hugs, kisses and lollypops, but beyond that, kids need to be left alone.

Nothing can be further from the truth. Done correctly, the children have so much to gain from their grandparents and vice versa. I look at my children, nieces and nephews and see how their relationship with their Bubbie and Zaidy has enriched them. I know they cherish each memory and I wonder what life might have been like if this were lacking.

Just because children engage media and interests that were not present six decades earlier doesn’t mean they are a different breed at heart. Just because grandparents enjoy old style music and a different form of entertainment does not make them irrelevant. These are just surface pursuits. Underneath we are all the same. Children seek fun, meaningful encounters and so do adults. We pursue our objectives differently, but our goals are the same. High-school woes and parental woes are both woes. Just because these are no longer our woes, doesn’t make them forgettable or unreadable.

The number two cause of the generation gap is our fixation with surface engagements. When my son told his grandmother about his childish scrapes and teenage struggles, she didn’t baby or dismiss him. She looked deeper and saw his pain and determination. She related to his joys and triumphs because underneath they were the same as her own. Just because grandchildren and grandparents go about their goals in different ways does not make them different people. Face-book and I-pads don’t define the youth just like knitting and crocheting don’t define the old. Underneath we are one.

Abraham and Isaac
We now return to our earlier verse, “Isaac the son of Abraham, Abraham begot Isaac.” There was no generation gap between them because its two primary causes were lacking. They did not view one another as strangers that cannot relate to each other because despite the hundred year gap between them, Isaac was a perfect resemblance of Abraham. They couldn’t dismiss each other as old folk or young kid because when they looked at each other they saw carbon copies of themselves.

The second cause of the generation gap is the divergent styles of surface pursuits. Here the Torah tells us that Isaac always remained the son of Abraham. No matter that Abraham hosted guests and Isaac dug wells, no matter the difference in their styles, interests and personalities, they were always a unit. Abraham saw Isaac as his son and Isaac saw Abraham as his father. There was no generation gap.