Audrey Polt was impressed, to say the least, when her two grandsons created a personalized flag to represent their family during a session with intergenerational program G2. “The center is a fist demonstrating the strength and perseverance of our family,” the grandsons wrote. “The tree in the background represents the logo of our school as well as the Tree of Life.” There’s also a bowl containing their family recipe for chicken soup, and musical notes to show they are a musical family.
G2: Global Intergenerational Initiative is a year-long informal Jewish education experience for grandparents and grandchildren. Participants explore connections, family narratives, and Jewish legacies before they go off on a final trip to Israel. The program is developed by The Jewish Agency for Israel, sponsored in Baltimore by The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, and implemented by the Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education (CJE) in Baltimore.
This is the first year that Baltimore has hosted a G2 group. While families participate all over the nation and in Israel, Baltimore’s cohort is a modest two families. Joan Vander Walde, the Israel education associate at the CJE in Baltimore, had aimed for five Baltimore families, but most withdrew at the start of the pandemic.
Audrey Polt, a grandparent in the program, stumbled upon G2 serendipitously when she was at CJE looking for materials to help her grandson Sam prepare for his bar mitzvah.
“We’ve only had two meetings [in person] but I can tell you every activity was my favorite moment,” the Mt. Washington-area grandmother said.
Arlene Bekman from Stevenson learned about G2 from CJE, too, where she is an executive board member. The idea of her grandson meeting his family in Israel sparked her intrigue.
Vander Walde, who leads the Baltimore cohort, initially planned for them have monthly physical gatherings. All was going according to plan as the participants began their journey in January with an icebreaker to define the relationships and learn about family values.
“We paired the grandparents and grandkids to build a tower with masking paper, which was fun, and we played a game like headbands using Jewish, American, and Israeli words around culture,” said Vander Walde. “It was fun to see what the kids would pick up on, and compare it to what the grandparents picked up.”
The second meeting explored family history. Grandparents talked about their heirlooms, Jewish legacy, and shared
This was perhaps Polt’s favorite activity. “[Heritage] was right up my alley as a professional album maker. Everything I do is about sharing that story, so I shared two albums and I told them about their namesakes and how they carry the qualities of their ancestors they’re named for. My husband shared how he would pass down his piano and his love for music,” she said. Everyone included how they’d pass down Jewish values.
Bekman cherished the time she was able to share teaching her 13-year-old grandson Cooper things about the Holocaust survivors in his family. She gave him a book that her mother’s cousin’s granddaughter wrote about their strife. “I think that he would have a better understanding of the courage and resilience of people that are placed in difficult situations — like we are now in a different way,” said Bekman.
After these first two sessions, social distancing forced the cohort to swap to online. This didn’t stop memories from being made. G2 quickly adapted and offered a virtual meeting that looked at the Ten Commandments, its impacts, and had the kids think of what 11th commandment they’d like added to the list.
“In between monthly meetings we plan experiences for them to do together,” said Vander Walde. “One was to cook a family recipe. Our hope was they would have told the story of that, and we have some videos, which were really kind of cute.”
Polt shared her mother’s latke recipe with the grandchildren, for example, while Bekman shared her mother’s recipe for chicken soup.
These relationship-building sessions would have concluded with a visit to Israel. “Initially, because the G2 trip from North America to Israel was planned for the end of December, we were hopeful that we could go,” Vander Walde said. It cannot take place now, and won’t be rescheduled until parents and grandparents feel it is safe to travel internationally, which she doesn’t think will happen until there’s a vaccine.
“We’re all in this kind of, ‘Is it going to happen?’ space,” said Bekman.
Polt was disappointed they can’t go to Israel this year, but it did not negate her enthusiasm for the program. “All I can say is this is a fabulous, well-thought-out program. Every activity is so planned and built on the previous activity,” she said. “There are not enough adjectives to describe how wonderful this program is.”
There will be a virtual Israel week in August instead. It may include virtual tours, delivered packages with ingredients for Israeli cooking, or inter-generational games. Don’t be mistaken; this isn’t a replacement. The current families will go next year, either with Baltimore’s 2021 cohort (if there is one) or with the other cohorts.
Roberta Greenstein, a grandparent in Fells Point who participated in Milwaukee’s program last year, felt the trip to Israel was momentous for her relationship with her grandson.
“We went to our partner community in Israel and were able to connect with grandparents from that community,” she said. They learned much from the two educators on the trip. Most importantly, “I never thought that we’d be able to do this, something like this with [my grandson] Matan. We did things like local road trips, but to be able to take them to Israel and show them Israel, to experience the market the first time and the first time he goes to Masada. He’s learned about these things but to be there with him when he sees it is very exciting.”
G2’s Baltimore programming for 2020 will conclude in August.
“Kids don’t usually sit down and listen to their grandparents,” said Polt. “It gave them an opportunity to listen to those values and gave an opportunity to hear how they think, and how we feel about Jewish values like our community and attending synagogue. This gives you opportunities to speak about things you wouldn’t ordinarily discuss at a young age. I highly recommend it.”
Vander Walde sees a trend in programs like this.
“Having involved Jewish grandparents is so impactful on the development of a child’s Jewish identity,” she said. “This is one of those things I think you’ll see more and more programs on.”