JGN infographic

David Raphael and Lee M. Hendler believed they were onto something in the summer of 2017.

They were running focus groups and research on what was thought to be an undervalued resource: Jewish grandparents.

And their nonprofit, the Jewish Grandparents Network, just released the report of what it claims to be the first survey specifically targeting Jewish grandparents in the United States.

“A lot of people were very focused on young adults, young families and those are really important issues, but we also felt that in targeting Jewish life, that Jewish grandparents were an important part of that dynamic,” Raphael said. “So we came up with the idea of gathering quantitative data as a beginning to get a better sense of what was needed, at the same time beginning to engage people in the conversation.”

Chip Edelsberg, a Scottsdale resident and the principal and owner of Eldesberg Consulting, was on the advisory board for JGN and said that the value of the study can’t be overstated. “This is an opportunity, I think, that is imminent in terms of what the demographics tell you; there are a growing number of Jewish grandparents, confronting what seems to me — and this is subjective, not empirical — as great an array of challenges as is imaginable in the world. The changing configuration of families, challenges that families face ... there’s an unprecendented opportunity here.”

The voluntary survey was taken by nearly 8,000 individuals who self-identified as Jewish, lived in the United States, had at last one grandchild under college age and were between the ages of 55-80. The 20-minute survey was made available online for one month and gathered detailed information on the demographics, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors and needs of today’s Jewish grandparents.

The study was conducted by Karen Radkowsky of the research firm, Impact:NPO, and targeted two groups of people.

The first, called the nation-wide sample, would be representative of the Jewish grandparents community at large. These approximately 1,000 participants were selected across the country at random.

The second group, comprised of about 7,000 participants, was known as the outreach sample. This group was more likely to be involved in Jewish community organizations and connected to Jewish life. To reach that group, the JGN partnered with 17 national and local organizations to elicit participation through resources like social media. 

An algorithm used the responses to 31 questions on people’s attitude and beliefs to group them into one of five categories.

The first 20% are known as the Joyful Transmitters. These people love being grandparents and feel it’s important to pass on Jewish beliefs and values. Another 16% are categorized as Faithful Transmitters — those who want their grandchildren to have a strong connection to Judaism and to marry within the religion. Next, 23% are Engaged Secularists, who are grandparents active in the Jewish community, but don’t model Jewish involvement for their grandchildren.

Then there are the Wistful Outsiders, 20% wanting to be more involved with their grandchildren, but family dynamics get in the way. “It cuts both ways,” said Edelsberg. “People are living longer. Grandparents are wanting to be involved with their children and grandchildren and don’t know ways to do that well when it comes to matters that are Jewish.”

Lastly are the Non-Transmitters, 20% who are not engaged in Jewish life, nor interested in passing on Jewish practices to their grandchildren.

“The creation of these five segmentations will be enormously valuable in helping Jewish organizations and communities understand how best to connect with Jewish grandparents and their families,” Raphael said. “We believe that once you delve into the data and findings related to each cohort, it provides really important clues to engage with these folks.”

Other study results show that while the vast majority of Jewish grandparents find grandparenting to be a joyful experience, aspects of it can be challenging. Most of the grandparents surveyed showed an interest in passing on Jewish values, and about half of the grandparents in the nationwide sample have a child married to a non-Jewish partner. “Both our sons are in interfaith marriages,” Edelsberg said. “We don’t want to insinuate ourselves in their lives Jewishly, but they’re raising their children as Jews. The core of their being and essence is Jewish; they’re Jewish values. We are in conversation with them regularly about the ways in which they make sense of the world, such that it is meanginful to them.” JN

Additional reporting by Rich Solomon

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