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Me, A Zaidy?

July 4, 2021 | by Rabbi Boruch Leff

I cringed inside every time my granddaughter called me Zaidy.

A couple of years ago my oldest daughter gave birth to a delicious baby girl and named her Yehudis, for my mother, of blessed memory. I was totally unprepared for this blessing. I'm not a Zaidy! My Zaidy was a Zaidy!

All was well and good for the first year of my granddaughter's life because she was the cutest little baby ever and no one was calling me Zaidy. But then it happened out of nowhere. She had started saying a few words here and there and one day she pointed at me and said, "Zaidy!"

Part of me felt overwhelmed with warmth and love, but a good part of me was cringing inside.

I felt too young to be a Zaidy. I wasn't ready to be "that" older generation.

For months, Yehudis would point at me and say "Zaidy!" whenever she saw me, and I felt guilty for experiencing such negativity inside. I had no idea how I would ever get over this hump.

Then one day an old song came on while I was at the dentist's office which transformed my outlook.

In the 1980s a Jewish folk singer named Moshe Yess composed a song called "My Zaidy" about a European Zaidy who had survived the Holocaust and had tried to transmit his Jewish heritage to his American children and grandchildren but had only limited success.

His grandson sings:

And I don’t know, how or why – it came to be
It happened slowly over many years
We just stopped being Jewish like my Zaidy was
And no one cared enough – to shed a tear.

I was moved by the song. But then the song reached its climax and I had a eureka moment that resolved my Zaidy issues.

The song ends with:

Many Winters went by
Many Summers came along
And now my children sit in front of me
But who will be the Zaidy of my children
Who will be their Zaidy – if not me?
Who will be the Zaidys of our children
Who will be their Zaidys – if not we?

My granddaughter needs a Zaidy. And who will be her Zaidy if not me? I might be dealing with my own midlife challenges regarding how to accept getting older positively. But that has got to remain between me and myself. I can't let that get in the way of fully embracing my role to be a Zaidy to my precious grandchildren.

I can feel as young as I want for my entire life, but I must enthusiastically welcome being Yehudis’ Zaidy.

I need to be a strong link in the chain to help my daughter and son-in-law nurture the connection to Judaism, God and the Jewish people that I received from my parents and grandparents. I need to be that loving and doting grandfather who can give an instant boost of love and confidence to my grandchildren, to make them smile with joy whenever I see them, whenever they come over.

This was my new outlook on life. The next time Yehudis would point at me and say “Zaidy!” I would feel only love and pride with zero cringing inside.

The next day Yehudis came over and I couldn’t wait for her to point at me. When she called me Zaidy I felt a wonderful feeling of joy and relief. And something surprising.

I felt my mother talking to me and cheering me on.

Yehudis is named for my mother who passed away 12 years ago, and as my granddaughter called me Zaidy that day it felt like my mother was telling me:

“You are my baby, the youngest of my children, and you will always be my baby. But the time has come to know who you are at this stage of life. Just like I was a Bubby to your kids, you are a Zaidy. Your granddaughter has a bit of my soul in her with me being her namesake, so when she points to you it is I who am pointing at you and saying, ‘I’m so proud of you! My baby is a Zaidy!’ You got this my son. I love you forever.”

No more cringing for me… because who will be the Zaidy of my children? Who will be their Zaidy – if not me?


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