From generation to generation


Lucy Rose Engels, my granddaughter, was born at 8:11 p.m. on Aug. 5, 2004, at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. Lucy arrived approximately seven weeks early, and weighed in at just under three pounds – two pounds, 15.2 ounces, to be precise.  (Having turned 73 in June, I have been experiencing increasing difficulty remembering details, but the grandfather in me remembers everything about my eldest grandchild.)  Lucy more than doubled her weight during her first two months; if she had continued to grow at this rate, she would have been 192 pounds by her first birthday!

Most of us have been told by one enraptured grandparent or another that grandparenthood is one of life’s supreme joys, a blessing beyond imagining. It is!  Of course, we have all heard the joke that one of the joys is that we can give our grandchildren back to their parents at the end of the day. Moreover, we grandparents take a not-so-secret delight in watching our children go through what we had to endure with them – those seemingly endless stretches of sleepless nights, the whining, the worry, the constant struggle to strike an appropriate balance between the need for discipline and the urge to heal our children’s hurts. 

We all want to help our children learn to behave, but we are unprepared for the curve balls our sons and our daughters are forever throwing at us. As grandfathers and grandmothers, we can at last say to our children: “Your turn!”

There is, however, a far more profound aspect to being a grandparent. When I held infant Lucy in my arms – whether she was staring wide-eyed at my face, wondering who this strange “other” was, or whether she was drifting off to sleep – she was doing nothing less than teaching me the reason for my mortality. While I hope to live long enough to see Lucy thrive as a mature adult, I accept the fact that I and the members of my generation must one day yield our very lives so that Lucy and her contemporaries will have the physical, intellectual and spiritual “space” they need and deserve.

That tiny girl, the first of my five grandchildren, who entered this world at just under three pounds, celebrated her Bat Mitzvah on Aug. 12 at Congregation Dorshei Tzedek, in Newton, Massachusetts.The sanctuary was crowded with regular Dorshei Tzedek worshippers, supplemented by family and friends. Looking around, I found it particularly poignant to see some members of my generation, Jewish and Christian alike, who, despite severe physical handicaps, managed to make their way to the second-floor sanctuary so that they could demonstrate by their very presence their love for Lucy.

Lucy led us in many of the traditional Hebrew prayers at the beginning of our worship, and she was front and center for much of the Torah service. After the congregation had risen when the Torah was taken out of the ark, Lucy – now taller than her maternal grandmother, my wife – carried the scroll around the crowded sanctuary, beaming with pride, as if to say: “Our Torah and its traditions remain in safe hands.”

As Lucy stood at the bimah, chanting with self-assurance three sections from parashah Ekev (from Chapters 9-10 of Deuteronomy), I was filled with the gravity and the wonder of the Hebrew phrase l’dor vador, from generation to generation.

My wife, Sandy, and I were privileged to hear our daughter Karen chant Torah at her Bat Mitzvah and to hear our son David chant Torah at his Bar Mitzvah; now Lucy, our eldest grandchild, was chanting from that same sacred text that binds us to our past and our future. 

Lucy, sister to Clara and Isaac, cousin to Charlotte and Joey, represents the first flowering of our five grandchildren, the first to take those tentative steps into the earliest stage of adulthood.

Of course, Lucy’s Bat Mitzvah was not only about Lucy; her Bat Mitzvah was also about reinforcing the web of connections among family and friends, and about reaffirming those intangible bonds that bring together uncountable generations of the Jewish people. 

Lucy devoted her Bat Mitzvah talk to the theme of gratitude. With simple eloquence, she told us how thankful she is for her family, for the opportunities she has had, and for her desire to express her gratitude by helping those less fortunate than she. 

As she was speaking, Lucy reminded me how grateful I am to be a link in the great chain of Jewish tradition. I pray that Lucy and my four other grandchildren will have the good fortune to experience first loves, new hopes, new ideas, new achievements. I dare to dream that their tomorrows will be more beautiful, more peaceful than our todays.

JAMES B. ROSENBERG  is rabbi emeritus at Temple Habonim, in Barrington. Contact him at