Saba and Savta Model 2016

The new Israeli grandparent is still family-focused, but a lot more tech-savvy than ever before.

Savta Sylvia and Saba Abel still play Monopoly with their grandchildren (photo credit: ILANA SRAIER-PHILLIPS)
Savta Sylvia and Saba Abel still play Monopoly with their grandchildren
The front door of Saba Abel and Savta Sylvia’s kibbutz house swings open, revealing the grinning faces of two disheveled boys as they burst into their second home. The children rush over to fling their arms around the two elderly figures they so dote on. Out comes the Monopoly, accompanied by the mate (a South American herbal tea), and so begins a typical afternoon in the home of the Sraier grandparents.
Occasionally the boys busy themselves on the computer or watch TV while Savta grants their wish for tzalahat Elokim (“God’s plate”), a sacred dish embellishing an array of the children’s favorite appetizers.
In her absence, Saba unavoidably takes on her role, following a failed attempt at outsmarting the boys on the pretext that “God” is in Argentina. Frequent visits harbored by love, warmth and pampering have strengthened the ties between the two generations.
In the city apartment of Granny Riva and Oupa (“grandpa” in Afrikaans) Maurice a different scene unfolds. A knock on the Phillips family’s door announces the boys’ arrival, followed by the sound of a key turning in the lock. A few seconds later the door slowly opens to reveal Granny’s expectant face. Although a warm welcome awaits the young visitors, infrequent visits coupled with a language barrier hinder communication between the two generations.
Granny bustles around the kitchen, preparing schnitzel and French fries for her beloved grandsons, while Oupa turns down the volume on the TV, attempting to communicate with his grandsons. Inevitably, the TV or mobile phone wins the battle and Granny sighs despairingly, wondering what has become of the society in which grandparents were respected and looked upon as mentors.
“Where are the days when grandchildren thrived on the love of doting grandparents instead of being held captive by technology?” she questions.
A recent survey conducted by the Mediterranean Towers retirement home, a private chain offering protected housing for the elderly in collaboration with the Geocartography research institute, explored the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren. The findings of the survey, which was conducted among 520 men and women aged 65 and over, revealed that Israeli grandparents relish family and are tech-savvy. In fact, for more than a third of respondents, technology forms the style of their relationship.
Messages on WhatsApp (25 percent) and conversations on Skype (10%) constitute the primary means of communication. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are used by 8% of the respondents.
Some 6% send or receive pictures of their grandchildren via a mobile device and 5% correspond with them via text messages.
FOR GRANDPARENTS finding themselves in a similar predicament to Riva and Maurice Phillips, technology can be instrumental in facilitating communication between the generations. No longer foreign among grandparents today, applications like Skype and WhatsApp have changed the concept of instruction, with grandchildren teaching their grandparents how to use all these applications.
Although it will never replace the warmth and love afforded by faceto- face encounters, by eliminating obstacles of space and time Skype narrows the gap between generations separated by the miles.
Vivienne and Ivan Maron, a religious couple in their 70s, alternate between yearly visits to their grandchildren in South Africa and daily visits with their grandchildren living in Israel. Skype forms the basis of their relationship with their South African grandchildren.
“For sure we have a very good relationship,” affirms Vivienne, “but it’s not the same if you don’t seem them every day and you see them for two weeks a year; it’s not the same, but it’s pretty good.”
Although a firm supporter of technology, Vivienne acknowledges its negative ramifications. “People lose the ability to talk. They sit in the same room and they SMS each other. Or when you’re sitting on a bus or train and everybody’s busy with their phones. Nobody’s chatting – they’re just looking at their screens. But there certainly is a positive, because you relate to people in a different way.”
Shabbat meals constitute a significant part of the Marons relationship with their Israeli-born grandchildren; however the closeness they share is largely based on Vivienne’s role as a substitute mother.
“We are vital to our children because, especially when they’re working, they depend on us for a lot. When my grandchildren are sick I look after them.” As in the case of the Marons, 25% of the survey respondents assist in raising their grandchildren, but only 12% would like to offer their support more frequently.
EIGHTY-ONE-year old Miriam Saidi, a Mediterranean Towers resident boasting 11 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, hesitantly admits that technology contributes to the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren.
“It makes people feel better; it relieves their longing,” says Saidi. “If it weren’t for the phone and Facebook, the connection would be much weaker.”
When Noah and Bracha Manor’s only son decided to emigrate to the US with his family, the retired couple was faced with a dilemma. Not willing to relinquish the strong bond shared with their three grandchildren, relocation seemed to offer the only solution. The move has been challenging for the Manors, but the alternative – being separated from their family and seeing their grandchildren twice a year – was not a consideration.
Tech-savvy Noah professes that technology has strengthened the relationship between him and his grandchildren.
His elder grandson, especially, delights in the interest Noah takes in his activities on the computer.
Another of the survey’s most notable findings reveals that the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is reflected mainly in family meals (45%) and activities outside the home (37%), with 23% of the respondents expressing a desire to meet with their grandchildren more frequently for family meals. In the case of Miriam Saidi, family undoubtedly comes first.
Saturday night dinners at her home in the Mediterranean Towers have been a staple for the past eight years. Saidi’s family savors her Persian cooking while updating her on the latest family news.
Many of those interviewed and survey respondents stressed that quality time centered around family meals.
Its during these times – and when the computers and phones are away – that grandparents can mentor their grandchildren.
However, it appears that grandchildren no longer consider their grandparents the ultimate source of information.
This change in perception can be accounted to Google, which has replaced grandparents as the fountain of knowledge. “Whereas before, children maybe would have asked us for information about things, they now look it up and see it in writing,” claims grandmother Vivienne Maron.
GRANDMOTHER MANOR is representative of the 25% of grandparents who, according to the survey, expressed a high rate of satisfaction with the way in which the connection between grandparents and grandchildren is reflected today.
On average, Israeli grandparents meet their grandchildren 12 times a month.
Satisfaction with the frequency of these meetings is very high, with nine out of 10 saying they are “very” or “fairly” satisfied with the frequency of these meetings.
Some 12% expressed dissatisfaction with the frequency of these meetings, with satisfaction increasing among more educated respondents.
Although grandparents play a significant role in the lives of their grandchildren, the relationship, albeit no less meaningful, has taken on a different form. Activities like chatting on the Internet, playing computer or video games, attending after-school programs and meeting friends occupy the busy lives of today’s children, making free time scarce; however this change is reflected too in the lives of modern-day grandparents, with employment, social activities and enrichment courses leaving less time for activities that include the grandchildren.
Michal Shviki, gerontologist and online content manager at the Mediterranean Towers network, asserts, “There is no doubt this generation of grandparents is different than the last: They are busier, more vital and more active. This does not leave much free time on the one hand, and on the other hand enhances the nature of the relationship with the grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“In recent years, gaps between the young and the old have been narrowing."
Facebook, WhatsApp and 3G phones are no longer considered unfamiliar to the elderly.
“The new generation of grandparents is more curious, more open to innovations and allows itself to continue to be active and therefore prefers to direct the relationship with its grandchildren to entertainment outside the home rather than baby-sitter duty and helping at home."
“We see the extent to which the quality of the relationship with the grandchildren is significant for adults and will continue to encourage this.”
Today’s world is a far cry from the pre-Internet days, yet it appears the modern-day Israeli grandparent is embracing this change.