Because Israel is such a small country, when your children leave home they are typically within a two-hour drive from you. Adult children thus return home frequently for a Shabbat meal and for holidays.
When your children marry and start to have children of their own, they come over even more frequently and rely upon you to pitch in with childcare.
Ideally, there is a symmetry to all of this: Your parents helped you with your children, and in turn, you help your own children with their young children. Except that in America where we lived for the first decade of our parenting (half in Atlanta and half in Miami), we were not a car-ride away from our parents (in Omaha and in Brooklyn) but a plane-ride away.
Not that Sarah and I begrudge our children, but we just want to set the record straight: Unlike young married Israeli couples, Sarah and I were on our own from the get-go, and so we are giving much much more to our adult children (by way of TLC both for them and for our grandchildren) than we received from our own parents.
The Israeli economy indeed seems to rely on grandparents. Early childhood programming as well as grade school after-care typically ends at 4 p.m., at which point a parent has to take over—or a grandparent (usually, the savta, grandmother).
Grandparents in Israel sometimes assume huge care giving roles. Givat Ze’ev, where we used to live, had many examples of this. Some grandparents would begin each day by going to their adult child’s home and taking charge of their grandchildren’s early-morning routine (which could include dressing, feeding, and then taking to school).
One woman, who had several married children living in the town, ran her own “gan” just for her grandchildren. And on the block where I used to live, my neighbor provided a daily hot lunch for her Givat Ze’ev grandchildren when they finished school (around 1:00 p.m.). The children would then do their homework, play, and go to and from afternoon activities until a parent returned in the evening.
These are serious commitments. I once asked my neighbor what would happen if she could not be there for her grandchildren on a certain day. She told me that it would be her responsibility to find a replacement–usually, the other grandmother.
Thankfully, Sarah and I have not been called upon to make a job of our grandparenting. We kind of feel that that’s the beauty of being a grandparent: You can pick and choose. (For example, I like to give my two grandsons baths, but they do not like to have their hair washed. As a parent, you wash your kids’ hair whether they cry or not, but as a grandparent, I can say: You know what? If the kid cries when I wash his hair, I am not going to wash his hair.)
As grandparents who live close to their grandchildren, we can drop in and out of their lives at our convenience. Rewarding though it is, parenting is a job; ideally, grandparenting is pure joy.
Israel is a society where it is often the case that grandparents live close enough to be in daily contact with at least one set of grandchildren. This is a value of the culture here–partially due to economic necessity, but also because of an appreciation that daily contact fosters deep human relationship.
In October of 2019, after 22 years in Givat Ze’ev, we left all of our friends and moved to Herzliya in order to live near our first grandchild, Noam. Has the frequent contact with Noam been as rewarding as we had anticipated? Even more so.
TEDDY WEINBERGER is director of development for a consulting company called Meaningful. He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from Miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies. Teddy and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, have five children.