With Grandparents Day (Sept. 12) just three weeks away, West Bloomfield grandmother Elaine Serling is celebrating the 15th anniversary reprinting of “Bubbie’s Baby,” her musical tale of the bond children and grandparents share.
“Bubbie” is the affectionate Yiddish term for “grandma,” and Serling wears the title with pride, billing herself as “the Singing Bubbie.”
The book and accompanying CD from Danza Publications made its debut in 2006 and has since become a favorite in Jewish communities around the world. It eventually spawned a sequel geared toward children and grandparents of all backgrounds.
Detroit native Serling began singing as a youth, performing at the Michigan State Fair and for the Michigan chapter of the USO, and started writing folk tunes in her late teens. After graduating from Wayne State University’s College of Nursing, she spent a year living and working as a nurse in Israel in the early 1970s. It was an experience that gave her a new world view.
“I believe living in any other country from your own is going to bring changes to a person. Even though I’m Jewish, living in Israel was finding a different culture. The mores are a little different; the day-to-day life is different. I was 23 at the time, and I continued my nursing career but also performed. That period was a challenge for me, but I really grew musically and creatively, giving me new confidence. Living there helped me to realize people everywhere are more alike than we are different. I brought that thought home with me and that became a part of the books I write.”
The follow-up to “Bubbie’s Baby,” “Grandma and Grandpa’s Darling,” sees children from around the world saying “Hello, Grandma!” and “Hello, Grandpa!” in 24 languages.
Serling, a Jewish music educator of four decades who has taught at temples and religious institutions around the region, has a background in philanthropy, volunteerism and community advocacy. She and her husband of 51 years are longtime supporters of Michigan State University, and the namesakes of its Michael and Elaine Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel.
Gentle and modest, Serling mentions none of this when being interviewed about her work as an author and singer-songwriter.
“I do interactive concerts and book readings for kids at nurseries and Sunday schools,” she said. “I’ve been performing over 60 years, and there are always new things to do. The year I spent in quarantine gave me time to do another book and the music to go with it, and that will be out later this year.”
Yael Aronoff, director of the Serling Institute at MSU as well as Serling Chair of Israel Studies, said Serling’s work holds value for children
“Elaine brings the community together through generational songs and books that parents and grandparents and children can enjoy together. She really promotes diversity and inclusion that fosters a sense of pride in one’s identity, but also knowledge of multiple identities and cultures.
“She’s also done so much for the Jewish community in the Detroit area,” Aronoff said, “and for education at Michigan State University. Our institute now educates 850 students a year in 30 courses, and we have about 40 Jewish study minors every year, as well. Those classes didn’t really exist before and don’t exist in many universities around the country.”
“When I lived in Israel,” said Serling, “I worked in a clinic in Jerusalem that serviced an Orthodox Jewish part of the region. Israeli Arab families came to the clinic, too, though. And what I realized was that there’s no difference between people when someone is in need of help or wellness. Their backgrounds made no difference. At the clinic, when it was time to help people get better, we were all the same. It was a wonderful, inspring experience, and it led me to many of the ways I embrace tolerance and share that message with children and families.
“During my nursing career,” she said, “I used music to help certain patients. I’d sing a tune they knew, and there was a calming, comforting feeling between the two of us. I’d get them to sing with me, and whoever the patient was, we’d sing together. That went on so long they started calling me ‘the Singing Nurse.’ I loved caring for people and I love music, so I put the two things I love together and now I’m ‘the Singing Bubbie!’ “
She laughed and, after a pause, added, “I’m very blessed.”
Serling’s books and music are available at elaineserling.com, and her songs can be found on Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube Music.