For those of you who are lucky enough to be grandparents, whether you’re called Bubbie or Zeyde, or Grandma or Grandpa, or Safta or Saba, you have at least one thing in common. During Covid’s seemingly unending social isolation period, so many grandparents longed to see and hug their grandkids in the flesh. Before the vaccine was available, and with travel restrictions in place, grandkids everywhere were missing out on the love, playtime, cuddling, cooking and wisdom that grandparents routinely provide.
While FaceTime and Zoom were a blessing for cultivating multi-generational relationships, as weeks turned to months, these on-line visits could also be challenging. How do you capture and hold the attention of busy youngsters, or, even harder still, easily distracted tweens and teens? Some creative grandparents have found ways to make on-line check-ins something grandkids actually looked forward to.
David Friedman and his wife, Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, have four grandchildren; and they typically saw them multiple times a year before the COVID shutdown. But their trips to Washington, D.C. to see grandchildren suddenly stopped during the Pandemic, and it began to get Friedman down.
“I started thinking, ‘What can I do?’ I knew we were having giant family Zoom meetings with about 14 of us each week, but that wasn’t building individual relationships with each of my grandkids. That’s when I decided, ‘What if I talked to just the two older grandkids, ages 10 and 13, once a week, and have a chance to impart things that I’ve learned, or think I am learning in my life,’” Friedman said with a laugh.
With that idea in mind, right after New Year’s 2021, Friedman’s weekly “Saba Says” Zoom sessions were born.
Even though Friedman was turning to technology to reach out to his grandchildren, he was tapping into his own childhood memories of the simple power of multi-generational connections. “I’m always trying to teach my grandkids what’s important in life,” says Friedman. “I remember conversations with my own grandfather, Louis. We lived in the same apartment building when I was growing up.”
From the start of “Saba Says” sessions, Friedman knew he needed a compelling approach to capture and hold the attention of his grandkids. He decided the Zoom discussions needed some structure, and needed to be short. “I know it would be much better if I leave them wanting more, then if Saba is going on too long. I wanted our time together to flow, to make it interesting, to make it so it’s enjoyable and a learning experience. I decided it should be weekly and last 30 minutes max,” he says.
“I considered just reading to them each week, but decided to throw in a few things so they would want to come, not feel obligated to come,” said Friedman. “In the Jewish world we are so connected by food, so I thought what if they could take turns ordering delivered food — Mommy wouldn’t have to cook — and it gives them power to choose Mexican food, deli, pizza, whatever, and of course Saba was happy to pay for it…so it was a win, win, win!”
The zoom call starts with 10 minutes of catching up on life and school, and then the “Saba Says” conversation begins. Friedman starts by offering a bite-sized piece of wisdom each week and tells a little story about how it applies to his own life. Then each of the kids have a chance to talk about how it relates to their own lives. And finally, just for fun, after the “Saba Says” discussion, Friedman reads to them for a few minutes a young adult Sci-Fi fantasy book. And finally, the Zoom call ends, always the same way, with Friedman saying, “Saba Says Goodnight!”
So what kind of pearls of wisdom does Friedman share?
One week, when Friedman’s grandson was faced with a pile of homework, the “Saba Says” advice for that week was ‘When you are feeling overwhelmed, use the salami technique.’ “I told him that sometimes my life can get to be too much, so the first thing I do is take one thing at a time, take it in slices, like cutting a salami,” remembers Friedman. “I knew we were onto something one week when we we going to miss our time together but my grandson said “I wanna hear Saba Says!
“Honestly, I don’t know what sticks, but if I can plant a seed that may sometime come up for them later on in life, then I’ll know something good has happened.”
If you are interested in starting meaningful conversations with your own grandkids, either virtually or in person, here are a number of “Saba Says” life lessons Friedman has shared over the months with his own grandkids to get you started.
Saba Says, “Always do your best.”
Saba says, “As long as it’s safe, be courageous, Be willing to try new things, and it’s a good idea to ask questions and even ask for help.”
Saba says, “Feel grateful. There is always something to feel grateful for.”
Saba says, “Don’t play the blame game, starting with don’t blame yourself.”
Saba says, “Always be Grateful.”