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Who would have thought I’d need tissues for Grandparents’ Day at my third-grade grandson’s school! Indeed, in the beginning there was nothing to cry about. He greeted us with a hug. We saw his classroom. Then we stood in line to have our picture taken for a magnet. All was nice, not very exciting, but pleasant. And then the children were instructed to escort their grandparents to the basketball court for the program.
Several hundred plastic chairs had been set up for us. My grandson joined his friends and schoolmates on the ground. The principal stood up and with his words I began to realize that I’d made a mistake not packing any Kleenex.
When I told my mother that we were having Grandparents’ Day there was silence on the phone. Perhaps we’d lost reception. No, my mother was just searching for a response. Finally she told me that if my school had had Grandparent’s Day when I was young they wouldn’t have needed any chairs. There were just a handful of grandparents alive and able to come.
It was true. In the early days following the establishment of the State of Israel the vast majority of Holocaust survivors had left their parents’ ashes behind in the European cemetery the Nazis had made. Many of refugees from the Arab countries did have parents but most were too old or infirm or working too hard to even think going to a grandchild’s school program.
After the principal spoke it was the school rabbi’s turn. He called eight special students to the stage. They were special because each of them had moved to Israel from France the past year. Every one of them read a few lines in Hebrew. Some read smoothly with no trace of a French accent. Others stumbled with the words and spoke as if they’d just stepped off the plane. It was the tallest girl who touched my heartstrings.
Our grandparents are not here with us but they are sending us hugs from France.
As she spoke the tears leaked out of the corners of my eyes and flowed down the sides of my face. For my children had also depended on long-distance, virtual hugs from their grandparents in America.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget my oldest daughter’s class Bat Mitzvah party. Every girl was told she could invite four guests. My daughter cheerfully asked her parents and two friends from Jerusalem to come. All was well until we entered the building where the event was being held. As I saw grandparent after grandparent I was overcome with emotion and had to make my way outside to shed a few tears of self-pity.
That happened twenty-five years ago. In the interim we raised our children without any grandparents nearby. It wasn’t always easy but we were blessed to marry them off and privileged to become grandparents ourselves.
The program ended with the singing of the national anthem, The Hope. As I gazed at all the proud grandparents surrounding me I remembered that for thousands of years living in the Land of Israel was nothing more than a hope. Now, though, it is an attainable reality. I am so proud and grateful to be able to build my own chain of family tradition here in the land HaShem gave to the Jewish people. I pray that all the Jews will find their way to come home, join us, and build their multi-generations in The Promised Land. Then no grandchild will have to make do with long-distance, virtual hugs.