Today I asked young friends what they thought of the practice that the Jewish cultural website Jewcy has of titling many of their articles, Not Your Bubbe/Zayde’s something-or-other – brunch, seder, costume. I find it rather sad. I miss my grandparents and treasure the small things I have from them – old photos, recipes, a pocket watch. My friends & acquaintances overwhelmingly said they loved their grandparents and didn’t feel a need to belittle their “old timer” characteristics.
A friend who recently turned 30 said, “There is no one I ever called “bubbe.” I’m one generation too young for that in my family… and given waves of Jewish immigration to the US, that’s probably true for most Ashkenazi Jews around my age. So to even use the term bubbe is actually to introduce an idea that is not our own – to add Yiddishy content to an otherwise non Jewish subject, like brunch. Interestingly enough, people in my generation and younger are WAY into reclaiming bygone eras, the hipster thing is totally about riffing on things we associate with our grandparents. You know that Macklemore song Thrift Shop? Incredibly popular song with the lyrics “Ima steal your Grandpa’s style, Ima steal your Grandpa’s style”? And since it’s hard to imagine a lot of people younger than I am in the US who had the type of “bubbe” they’re referring to (an immigrant grandmother from a particular era), my guess is that it’s fake teen angst written by someone older, someone who had a bubbe, and for some reason rejected that culture. I doubt that messaging really plays any better with real “young folk.”
I’ll add that for modern adults in interfaith families it is very unlikely that anyone is being called bubbe or zayde. If they are, I suspect it is with love.
What about grandparents? First, grandparents are surprisingly powerful and important. Grandparents can be laid back about rules that parents need to enforce. “Ice cream for dinner? Well, it is hot; we’ll have a healthy breakfast, honey.” I can’t tell you how many young people have told me warm, loving stories of grandparent support and acceptance. This is true of Jewish and non-Jewish grandparents. All grandparents carry the information of past generations, the secrets to where our parents came from and a mystical past that fascinates us more and more as we get older. Grandparents can sooth both the grandchild and their parent. They can intercede, be a voice of wisdom and calm. Who wouldn’t want that? As for their food, I know I was willing to try out food my grandmother made just because she was eating it. Sliced cucumbers in yogurt turned out to be a delicious snack that I would never have tried for my mother.
But if love and memories aren’t enough, there’s the scientific evidence that we are reliant on the knowledge that our elders carry. Check out this fascinating story of animal elders.
Where ever you fall in the family tree – child, parent, grandparent, or all three – I hope you are valuing those around you and being valued by them in return. As for your grandmother’s recipe or your grandfather’s favorite jig, I hope you keep them close.