A Beautiful Sight

My son’s bar mitzvah a few years ago was an opportunity for a family reunion. On Shabbat afternoon after lunch, my brother-in-law pulled me aside and pointed out a beautiful scene. A large group of teenage girls was sitting and chatting with “Bubbie,” my mother-in-law, Mrs. Layah Block. The easy chatter and happy laughter continued for nearly half an hour. Despite the age difference, there was no generation gap at all.

Recently, my mother-in-law passed away, and our family gathered once again to remember our beloved mother and grandmother. One after another, the grandchildren talked about their easy and comfortable rapport with Bubbie. The fact that Bubbie related easily to their high school woes and teenage delights had always been taken for granted, but in retrospect, it was remarkable.

This got me thinking. What causes the generation gap and what does it take to bridge it? I am fairly certain that my mother-in-law didn’t make a conscious effort to relate to her teenage grandchildren. It came naturally to her. What is the secret to making the generation gap disappear?

Generation Gap

I’d suggest that a major reason for the so-called generation gap is grandparents and grandchildren dismissing each other.

All too often, grandchildren view their old and frail grandparents as irrelevant. They love Granny and visit often, they love Grandpa and can’t get enough of the doting old man, but when it comes down to it, their grandparents are old folks who sit at home and do boring things.

You can tell them that several decades earlier, their grandparents were vital, strapping teenagers just like them. You can tell them that their grandparents still feel young and wonder where the years went. But it will often fall on deaf ears. They will hear it in their heads, but will be hard-pressed to relate. The generation gap is too large.

Then one day they may see a picture of their grandparents in their youth and are startled by their uncanny resemblance to them. Suddenly, the old dotty grandpa is energetic and strong, athletic and adventurous. Suddenly, they see their grandparents in themselves. This is Granny? But it can’t be. She looks exactly like me! Indeed, she does. They come to realize that Granny was once as strong as them, and they will one day be as frail as her. Suddenly it clicks. They get it. What you couldn’t explain with a thousand words can become crystal clear with one picture. The wrinkled, old-fashioned appearance is just a shell. What is on the inside matters most.

Grandparents are often just as guilty. They see their grandchildren running around doing things they cannot do, with interests unheard of in their own youth. They conclude that this is a new generation and assume they cannot relate. “These kids cannot possibly relate to us, their-old fashioned grandparents,” they figure. “We are good for hugs, kisses and lollipops, but beyond that, kids need to be left alone.”

Nothing can be further from the truth. Children have so much to gain from their grandparents, and vice versa. I look at my children, nieces and nephews and see how their relationship with their Bubbie and Zaidy has enriched them. I know they cherish each memory, and I wonder what life might have been like if this were lacking.

Our external pursuits may be different. But underneath, we are all the same. Children seek fun, meaningful encounters, and so do adults. We pursue our objectives differently, but our goals are the same. High-school woes and geriatric woes are both woes. Just because these are not our woes at this time doesn’t make them unimportant or unrelatable.

A second cause of the generation gap is our fixation with the superficial. When my son told his grandmother about his childish scrapes and teenage struggles, she didn’t baby or dismiss him. She looked deeper and saw his pain and determination. She related to his joys and triumphs because underneath they were the same as her own. Just because grandchildren and grandparents go about their goals in different ways does not make them different people. Facebook and iPads don’t define the youth, just like knitting and crocheting don’t define the old. Underneath, we are one.

Abraham and Isaac

In this week’s Torah portion, we are introduced to “Isaac, the son of Abraham.” The Torah then explicitly states that “Abraham begot Isaac.” The commentaries wonder about the redundancy and explain: Isaac was the son of Abraham, and in case anyone suspected differently (since Isaac was born when Abraham was 100), G‑d made it so that Isaac perfectly resembled his father, so everyone would know that Abraham begot Isaac. The father’s genetic material was imprinted on the son.1

Isaac the son of Abraham, Abraham begot Isaac.” There was no generation gap between them because its two primary causes were lacking. They did not view one another as strangers who cannot relate to each other, because despite the hundred-year gap between them, Isaac was a perfect likeness of Abraham. They couldn’t dismiss each other as old folk or young kid, because when they looked at each other they saw carbon copies of themselves.

The second cause of the generation gap is the divergent styles of surface pursuits. Here the Torah tells us that Isaac always remained the son of Abraham. No matter that Abraham hosted guests and Isaac dug wells, no matter the difference in their styles, interests and personalities, they were always a unit. Abraham saw Isaac as his son and Isaac saw Abraham as his father. There was no generation gap.2